Thrust into the world of learning and development (L&D), but don’t have any formal training in instructional design? You’re not alone. A surprising number of L&D professionals come into their roles by “accident,” and often this is their second career. Just because you aren’t an instructional designer doesn’t mean you can’t create successful training material.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you navigate the world of instructional design:
1. Build Your Knowledge Base
Whether it’s a side gig, building a new career or a new responsibility that’s been given to you, create a strategy for staying up-to-date on industry trends. A good place to start is to subscribe to the major publications in your industry. Browse the headlines, read an article or two (or maybe three) and begin to gather some knowledge and advice. Research who the leaders are in your industry and learn from them as well. Here are two to get you started: Erica Keswin, a bestselling author and workplace strategies and business coach; and Colin Steed, founder of The Learning & Performance Institute and host of Learning Now TV.
2. Familiarize Yourself With Adult Learning Theories
Learning about educational theory can offer some of the best frameworks to follow for training programs — and this doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Some popular learning frameworks are the Kirkpatrick Model, learning cluster design or the 70-20-10 Model.
3. Review the Work of Others
Browse different forms of existing learning content and figure out what works best. What makes one course more effective than another? What strategies were used? Could these strategies work for your industry? Find effective training and use it to benchmark against your own work. Checking out the work of other instructional designers is also a great way to gather ideas if you’re not confident with your own abilities yet — or just want to find some inspiration.
4. Create an Outline
An outline is a great way to visually map out your course, giving you a place to start and work from. It can help you design the overall flow of the course, showing the path a learner will need to take, while also listing the details that must be included. You can use it to share your ideas with others and you can also reference it throughout the creation process to ensure you’re staying on track. Elements of an outline can always be tweaked, so don’t feel like you need to stick to the original.
5. Give Yourself Time
It takes time to build effective training. Sometimes, the brain needs a change of scenery to view something in a whole new way. That’s why, when planning a schedule, it’s important to give yourself time to step away from your work. Whether it’s five minutes, an hour or an entire workday, it could be exactly what you need to think of the perfect way to word that question, open up that video or to honestly critique the structure of your learning path. Make sure you give yourself time at strategic points, like after an outline or first draft has been completed.
6. Be Your Own Test Driver
How do you like to learn? What kinds of activities help you retain information better? What images and layouts grab your interest and make you excited to learn? While you have to recognize that your own biases might tilt your answers in a particular direction, there’s no reason why you can’t use yourself as a barometer of effectiveness when reviewing your own work. Of course, if you can add a few perspectives to the test list (hello, unsuspecting co-workers), then all the better.
7. Recognize That Learning Is a Constant Process
You’re going to make a mistake — it happens to beginners and seasoned pros alike — but that’s okay. It’s part of the learning process, and just like instructional designers leave room in their courses for learners to make mistakes, you have to do the same when it comes to your own learning curve. Just make sure that you fix the mistakes you can and learn from each one. You’re probably not going to be making sensational training from the start, but as long as it delivers the information it’s supposed to, you’ve succeeded! Some training will not be as effective as you’d hoped, but use it as a learning moment instead of being discouraged. You’ve got this! Just like anything, it takes practice.
8. Know Your Audience
When you are ready to start building, make sure you evaluate who the training is to be given to — is it adults, Gen-Zers or English as a second language (ESL) learners? These factors play into the way you will word your training, the format and timeframe and how it should be presented. For example, for a Gen Z audience, microlearning through a series of short videos that are accessible while on the job might be a better format than longer training videos that need to be sat through. The key is to keep it simple. If you must reread or watch something more than once to get its meaning, try again. Remember the goal of each training piece and keep it focused on that goal.
9. Strive to Do Better
The world of instructional design is constantly changing. There are always new tools to learn or new research that explains why one method of teaching is more effective than another. Strive to stay informed about these changes and don’t be afraid to utilize them in your own work if you think it can improve things. Gamification is a perfect example of this. Years ago, including game-like activities in training may have been perceived as distracting and unhelpful, but today it’s a perfectly sound strategy to increase learner engagement.
Training and instructional design can be fun! The goal is to help people be successful, so don’t be afraid to solicit feedback and ask subject matter experts to pitch in with suggestions as well. Think of your programs as ever-evolving and you will get better and better with each new program and iteration.