ID and Course Reflections

CECS 5210 has been an enlightening journey. Working with a real client to solve a real problem through instructional design has enabled me to learn the following things:

  1. Things rarely go as planned. I had set some lofty goals for myself during the first meeting with my client. What first began as an online course with different modules for front desk training (scheduling appointments, answering phones, verifying insurance), clinical training (taking case history, performing a visual field, applying insurance benefits to contact lens purchases), and optical training (frame styling, lens options, applying insurance benefits to glasses purchases) quickly turned into an online course for just lens options alone. What first began as an online course in SmartBuilder quickly turned into a built-from-scratch website with Captivate presentations and activities.
  2. It’s important to be flexible. With things rarely going as planned, it’s important to be flexible. I had originally decided to build a SmartBuilder course because it was a free authoring tool that also offered free hosting. But after spending an entire day trying to learn how to use SmartBuilder (and not getting very far), I realized that I should probably invest this time learning an authoring tool that a large majority of companies like to use: Adobe Captivate. The $299 price tag for the student edition was money well spent. I was able to learn the program much more quickly since I was already proficient in other Adobe products, and I was able to quickly produce presentations and activities. (Being able to add Adobe Captivate to my resume was another bonus, too, of course.)
  3. If a topic of instruction is new to a designer, he or she must perform a great deal of research to create effective instruction. Due to my inexperience, I greatly underestimated the time it would take me to create an online course on lens options because it took me a lot longer than I anticipated to learn about all of the different lens options. The more I learned the more I realized that there was a lot left to learn. As I learned about the purpose of each lens option, I realized that the optometric assistants also had to understand the availability of lens options; how to select them based on a patient’s prescription, preferences, hobbies, and daily activities; how to properly communicate the lens options based on the patient’s personality type; and how to calculate the pricing. I could not create meaningful practice activities without learning about each of these aspects first.
  4. The client often takes longer than you like to respond. Regardless of who the client is, it is likely that he or she has many urgent priorities and that answering your email for a training project isn’t one of them. My subject matter expert for this project, for example, is an office manager for a busy optometric practice. Being the omniscient one of the office, she’s constantly having to put out fires, addressing employee and patient issues and managing vendors. Even though she would love an online training course for lens options as soon as possible, answering one of my emails just isn’t at the top of her priority list. Who has the time to answer an email when a disgruntled patient is standing right in front of her? They’ve lived without the training for years already; how could putting it off a little longer hurt? Fortunately, the instructor of our class is very understanding. She warned us from the very beginning that we should try to accommodate the client’s schedule as much as possible, and that she would work with us to iron out any kinks. One meeting with my subject matter expert helped me see exactly how busy she (and the office) really was. With her working well over forty hours a week, I did not want to add to her stress at all. In the end, we agreed that quick meetings and phone calls instead of emails worked best, and the plethora of information available online helped reduce the number of questions I had to ask her.

Armed with the lessons learned from this class’s two instructional design projects, I’m ready for more. What does CECS 5211 (Instructional Systems Design II) have in store for me? I’ll keep you posted.

Designing Instruction

Designing instruction is a lot like writing. You must take into account a topic, an audience, and a purpose to construct a work of art with the right language. When the elements are orchestrated well, the audience walks away changed. Such a task requires empathy, foresight, resourcefulness, organization, a passion for learning, and a strong understanding of how people learn.

In order to meet the needs of a learner, you must understand the learner and see where the learner is coming from. Empathy allows you to place yourself in the learner’s shoes, so that you can reduce the chances of boredom or miscommunication. Instruction with forced audio and no skip button, for example, may frustrate learners who already know the material and want to skip forward to a more unfamiliar section. Multiple-choice questions are too often written with no empathy. Take this example provided by Vanderbilt University. The writer considers answer choice D to be correct, but answer choices A, B, and C could also be considered correct by some since a cell with 46 chromosomes also contains 12, 18, and 32 chromosomes.

Foresight is required to prepare for the unexpected. Technology may fail during a lesson, or an activity may be too simple for a particular audience. Having the foresight to incorporate flexibility can prevent wasted time and money. Resourcefulness is another time and money saver. With projects commonly having tight deadlines and budgets, instructional designers must be able to use what they are given to create the maximum effect.

Although pictures, audio, and videos can enliven a piece of instruction, they can be distracting and nonsensical as well. An organized approach to designing instruction ensures that all of the necessary elements (e.g., the content, the practice activities, and the feedback) are there and aligned with the goal(s).

A passion for learning enables instructional designers to gain the knowledge and skill themselves, and a strong understanding of how people learn enables them to pass them on.  I have worked with writers and instructional designers who do not take the time to learn the process themselves, and the result is an inaccurate product of no use that can only be resolved with several more rounds of feedback and revisions (and several more rounds of frustration and waste).  As Herbert A. Milliken states in his paper on “The State Certification of Music-Teachers,” “one cannot teach without knowledge, but many cannot teach who have it.”

Let us salute all of the instructional designers out there who manage to constantly learn new things and create effective learning with empathy, foresight, resourcefulness, and organization. Corporate America needs you!