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Youthful e-Learning Design
Monday, November 19, 2012
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On a recent flight, I forgot to charge my iPod for the trip home. I was sitting one row in front of a young girl and her mother.  The young girl was full of questions: “How fast are we going?” “Why didn’t we take the car this time?” “Does this window open?” “Where is my green marker?” I spent the first few minutes wishing I had remembered to charge my iPod, but then I started to find her inquisitiveness entertaining. I remember asking my mother so many "why" questions that she eventually answered with the parental requisite response: "Because I said so."

Think back to your first job as an instructional designer. You were (hopefully) filled with enthusiasm and excitement. You dreamed of the amazing things you would create and started down a path filled with new opportunities. However, through experience, you learned what you liked, what worked best, and what was most likely to cause problems. You likely began to gravitate toward doing more of what worked in the past and avoided things that did not work.

Life’s experiences give us beneficial knowledge. However, lack of experience provides fresh opportunities and an open mind. Kids are not inhibited by experience. They ask a million questions, try many different things, and make lots of mistakes along the way.  As adults, the obstacles we have faced discourage creativity and open-mindedness. As I pondered this, I could not help but see the similarities we encounter designing quality instruction.

How can we reenergize our youthful enthusiasm in the face of our daily challenges? I suggest you challenge everything and start anew!

Our Successive Approximation Model (SAM) empowers design teams with strategies and techniques to deliver creative, engaging, and interactive learning experiences that break through the monotony of the tried-and-true. Let me share with you a few of the ways that SAM, an agile model for instructional design and development, helps you recapture the youthful outlook on the design and development of training.

Jumpstart your project with a brainstorming session to uncover the real performance change needed. Starting a project by collecting all of the documents and information that your organization has on a subject will only drive you down the path of creating training that provides information rather than engaging performance change. Instead, kickstart your project with a meeting to build excitement, uncover expectations, and creatively generate design ideas. Get people together to ask them what they think is important and how performance really occurs.

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Redefine what you expect to create. You know that good training is more than just good information. Set out to build something totally different than you have in the past, or different than what your organization typically uses. Design learning experiences that place learners in meaningful contexts filled with memorable challenges and that provide them with motivational consequences.

Never let a design go unchallenged. Often, our best ideas come after two or three iterations. Continue to challenge your design by questioning if it can be better or different. Make your designs stand-up to critical analysis early in the process so that you have the time and energy to create and incorporate something better. An iterative process means more than just adding media or content to a design in small steps. It means actively challenging each step as a means to improving the quality of the learning experience.

Foster creativity, but provide structure. Research shows that children thrive when they have routine and structure. It doesn’t stop them from being creative or inquisitive, but simply provides them with a sense of security. Your development of great learning events is no different. Just because something is creative does not mean it must be chaotic. SAM provides the structure necessary to productively and efficiently progress towards the successful completion of your endeavor.

This process helps me and my co-workers maintain our youthful view of e-learning design and development. We have a clear picture of good instruction; we kick start our projects with a brainstorming session; we challenge everything; and we have a solid structure that help us know when we have reached our goal.

I’d love to hear your thoughts here or on Twitter: @rhillsites.

*Richard Sites is co-author of the book Leaving ADDIE for SAM by Michael Allen.

(This article was cross-posted at the Allen Interactions blog.)

About the Author
Vice President, Training and Marketing, Allen Interactions  Richard H. Sites is the vice president of training and marketing at Allen Interactions, where he leads the strategic vision of Allen Interactions’s custom development learning services, training and outreach, and authoring system, ZebraZapps. He also oversees the awareness of the company’s advanced design and development approaches created by Michael Allen: CCAF-based design and the SAM process for iterative, collaborative development. Richard has more than 20 years of experience designing and delivering learning solutions to support improved workplace performance for many Fortune 500 companies in both academia and private industry. He has held the positions of vice president, client services and studio executive for Allen Interactions’s Tampa studio. Richard travels the country speaking to groups and organizations on the value of SAM, the importance and power of engaging, performance-changing learning experiences, and other topics related to the design and development of high-quality training. He is the co-author of ATD’s bestseller Leaving ADDIE for SAM and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide. Richard holds a doctorate of education from the University of West Florida along with a master of education and a bachelor of business administration. He is also a frequent blogger on the Allen Interactions E-Learning Leadership blog.  
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