ATD Blog

What Is Instructional Design? (You May Be Surprised!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I recently had lunch with a friend who heads up an instructional design team made up of subject matter experts. He is fairly new to the company and gaining traction with this team has been a bit tricky.

My friend has a deep background in instructional design. In fact, he is one of the best instructional designers I know. His team, however, doesn’t understand why they need him. They have, after all, been designing instruction since long before my friend arrived.

So, what is the difference between what they have been doing and what my friend is striving to move them towards?

Instructional design involves doing far more than designing instruction. In that sense, it is really a misnomer. Instructional design is designing a system that enables employees to not only learn, but to do. Here are the components of this system:

Work Environment
Instructional designers analyze the work environment to ensure that it supports training. This involves identifying and making recommendations to remove possible roadblocks that are present in systems, processes, authority levels, responsibilities, and accountability. These roadblocks, if left in place, block employees when they try to apply what they’ve learned. They set them up for failure.

Success Criteria
Instructional designers also work with management to determine what observable changes in behavior or changes in business metrics will indicate that training was a success. Will employees use reports generated by the new software to present business results at the weekly team meeting? Will the number of customer complaints be reduced? Will the number and amount of add-on sales increase?


Pre-Training Activities
Instructional designers design activities that take place before the training to whet learners’ appetites and prepare them for the training. Examples of pre-training activities could include having learners gather sales call notes to discuss in training or take a survey or quiz. It could also include a conversation between a learner and their supervisor to set expectations for what the learner will do differently when they return from training.

Course Materials
Instructional designers design and develop course materials based on the principles of adult learning theory. At a bare minimum, the course very clearly and explicitly answers the question, “What do I do when I get back to work?”

Post-Training Support
Instructional designers think beyond the training to what happens when learners return to work. They design checklists, glossaries, quick reference guides, and other job aids for learners to refer to if they forget something they learned. They may also design coaching calls, mandatory labs, and specific work assignments to help support learners as they begin applying what they learn.


Evaluation Data
Instructional designers circle back to make sure the training worked. They evaluate business metrics and look for observable changes in behavior in the work environment.

Remediation Plan
If the training didn’t work, instructional designers determine why and develop a remediation plan to ensure that it does work.

So, you can see, instructional design is much, much more than designing instruction. Yes, I think instructional design is synonymous with performance consulting. I believe that, in fact, is where its real power lies.

About the Author

Diane Valenti, founder of Applied Performance Solutions, Inc., uses her instructional design ninja skills to help companies reduce their sales onboarding ramp time and help sales teams rapidly acquire product knowledge. She works with Fortune 500 and startup companies, alike. Get Diane’s checklist to learn if you are making these 10 incredibly common mistakes that slow sales onboarding.

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