As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we tend to like structure and organization. We match what we create to all things Bloom’s Taxonomy and Kirkpatrick or other systems. We love our work and hate rework. We want to use instructional design frameworks or some semblance of them, but we recognize that there is often an imbalance between business needs and learning excellence.

How can we become more intentional about our work and set ourselves up for success ahead of time? How can we create space that helps employees view learning as an evergreen and ongoing process? How do we help the business move from thinking that content consumption equals learning and toward a focus on behavior change through experiential learning and demonstration of knowledge? How do we create curious learners who are self-directed?

The answer is simple. I will use the ADDIE model to illustrate it, but the answer is true regardless of your preferred design model or framework.

ADDIE: Stop DIEing Over and Over!

We need to return to the basic frameworks that make our programs successful. Unfortunately, with the world moving toward shortened timelines and quick “check-the-box” thinking, we have lost much of what made us successful in the past. It’s a good thing we are not architects, or we might end up with houses built with the garage on the second floor.

Let’s go back to a systematic approach to developing solutions, even though we think we know what to teach and can hit the ground running. In project management, they call this process discovery. In L&D, we’ve somehow lost the art of discovery, focusing more on the design, development, implementation and evaluation than we do on the analysis. In doing so, we’ve also lost our seat at the table. If we do not understand the full intent of what we are delivering, we could end up wasting time, reworking courses or — worse — creating scrap learning.

Instead, let’s approach our projects in an organized fashion, first by ensuring we understand business objectives and then by understanding which behaviors need to change to reach successful outcomes. Good discovery helps assess gaps and generates ideas that lead to more successful training outcomes. identifies over 20 design frameworks. It does not matter which one you use. The point is that using a good design framework with an intentional discovery process enables you to communicate the purpose and reasoning behind your strategy.

Discovery Checklist

What should be included in your discovery? There are as many thoughts on this issue as there are designers. My favorite questions to ask stakeholders are listed below; feel free to adapt and add to my list.

  • What is the business need or the problem they are trying to solve? Training may not be the best solution.
  • What skills or information do they think will have the biggest impact on behavior change?
  • How will they measure training success? What is their return on expectation? This answer may not be as intuitive as you think. Part of it includes what tracking and reporting will look like.
  • What is their preferred delivery method? The training may not end up using this method, but answering this important question can help you drive the conversation as you learn more about what is needed and how you can create the most effective solution.
  • Who is the main contact, and how accessible is he or she?
  • What additional resources are needed (people and systems)? You will also need to ask about barriers and bandwidth issues.
  • What is the preferred timeframe? You will have to reverse engineer this answer, and it may or may not be negotiable.
  • Who is the learner? Answering this question may include a review of the job description, interviewing a superstar or talking to employees who are struggling with the task to understand their challenges. During this process, document as much as you can of the learning journey, and then validate it.
  • Ask the subject matter expert (SME) why training is needed. What gaps is the business trying to fill, and how does the training fit into the role they perform? Their responses may be different than the business leaders’.

The learning landscape is changing at a rapid pace. While we need to keep up, we will never be successful unless we can speak the language of the business and design for behavioral outcomes that are based on the initial discovery.

Discovery should be our principal fact-gathering method. It helps minimize the overall cost of training by identifying the specific issues that must be addressed and uncovering assets that may be useful, and it helps protect your and the stakeholders’ best interests.