Today's post however is about one of my pet-peeves. Very recently Rupa Rajagopalan wrote about how instructional design is a profession very similar to technical writing. While my thoughts resonate with a lot of what Rupa usually writes, I strongly believe that Instructional Design is less of a writing job and more of a consulting job. I've written earlier about how Instructional Designers need to leverage SME's better and the more I think about iterative design and development, writing increasingly becomes a secondary skill for Instructional Designers. The ability to think through a learning problem, understanding learning styles, people patterns, (NLP anchoring) and the overall ability to consult and problem solve is so much bigger for me than the transaction of writing. As a matter of fact, I expect every professional in a learning organization to have plain english writing skills.
So, my expectation from an Instructional Designer is very different from the standard "should be able to write a script/ design document"! I love Garrey Reynolds' recent post about the 10 tips to think like a designer. Here are some of the skills and knowledge I expect Instructional Designers to be able to display.
Consulting SkillsAt ThoughtWorks we believe that everyone's a consultant, regardless of the role they play. We're a technology firm, but there's no reason why internal training organizations or learning and development firms should not think this way. In his book Flawless Consulting, Peter Block defines a consultant this way: "A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs." As designers we can only make clients use our expertise, but we have no direct power to make changes. Yet as learning professionals, we're constantly changing things - the way people learn, the way SME's think, implementing new programs and what have you. Much of what separates a successful consultant from an unsuccessful one is their ability to work with customers and to help them improve themselves and their organizations. Some of the most important consulting skills in my opinions are:
- Relationship Building: - Dale Carnegie's How to win friends and influence People can be a starting point to build this skill.
- Problem solving & Decision making: - the Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe is a great book to start off on this skill.
- Presentations: - The Mckinsey Mind calls presentation skills the killer skill. I tend to agree. One of my favorite books in this area is Garrey Reynolds' Presentation Zen named after his blog with the same name.
- Influencing: Linda Rising has written a great book on Influencing Patterns. Its called Fearless Change - I strongly recommend it for all Instructional Designers. Kerry Patterson's Influencer is a great book too.
- Negotiation: A skill often confused with Influencing, I look at Negotiation being transactional as against Influencing which happens over a period of time and is a more strategic skill. Getting to Yes and Beyond Reason are great books to learn more about this skill.
Teaching SkillsBeing a passionate facilitator, I know how much the experience has helped me in becoming a confident designer. An effective designer needs to practice all four of the traditional learning skills:
Analysis SkillsI'm not a big fan of traditional training analysis of "Death by Matrices" infamy. I prefer analysis techniques that are visual, tactile and involving. To that end I prefer that Instructional Designers use Back of the Napkin techniques to understand performance problems. I prefer that they use Action Mapping instead of writing out learning objectives. I strongly recommend that Instructional designers communicate instead of writing scripts. Most importantly I prefer that just like when building user-centric software, designers build learner centric elearning by using wireframes. In the recent past I've become a devotee of tools like Balsamiq Mockups, which help you create wireframes very quickly which you can collaboratively build with your customers/ SMEs. See below for a worked out example:
Learning SkillsThis is where I tend to lump every other skill that people say ID's should have. So knowledge of tools, understanding of evolving theories, neuro linguistic programming, domain knowledge and what have you, fit here. When you put smart people together, great things happen. I expect a smart consultant with great consulting skills to be able to pick up these skills with ease. Just like they say in sport - "Form is temporary, class is permanent.", I say "Tools are temporary, intelligence is permanent".
I belive that an ideal instructional designer is easily one of the most skilled professionals in the learning world. For years we've undermined this career by setting the bar really low. As we start to explore various modes of learning, I believe instructional designers will lead us in the road to learning innovation. While my post may generate controversy in certain sections, I hope that I can create the realisation of how important this profession is and that we can start growing these skills above all else in our ID teams.
Did you like my post this week? Please comment freely to let me know what you think. I love instructional design and you may want to take a look at some of my other posts on the subject here.