10 Instructional Design Commandments Every Instructional Designer Should Abide By To Help Their Organization Thrive

Whether you’re looking to hire an instructional designer, find some help for your next project, or are an instructional designer looking to improve your skills, this blog post is a must-read. Its goal is to help instructional designers as well as organization leaders understand how instructional design benefits the business when done right.

If these “commandments” are followed, practiced, and lived each day then the organization will thrive with a learning environment driven by good instructional design practices.

As instructional designers, our task is to create training resources that help employees ultimately benefit the organization and help it thrive. So, it’s primarily about the organization and secondarily about employees but you can’t cater to one without the other since they’re so tightly integrated.

These commandments will make your next training project a success.

For training resources to have maximum impact, instructional designers must adhere to the instructional design commandments. There are of course challenges in following these commandments but ultimately fighting for a thriving organization is worth it.

We all know that instructional design requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and communication with various groups in the organization. Sometimes the most important thing is to simplify the process, though.

This is why you should understand and live by these instructional design commandments. These commandments are aimed at helping instructional designers help the organization. You know, help me help you.

These commandments won’t only help you become a better instructional designer, it will help your employees perform better which ultimately will help your organization thrive. In their most basic form, they’re simple rules that all instructional designers should follow to produce useful content that creates value.

Ready to get into the nitty-gritty of the instructional design commandments that will help employees do better and by extension boost your organization’s effectiveness and profit?

The 10 Instructional Design Commandments

Most of these commandments should be common sense for every instructional designer. But then again common sense isn’t a thing especially when it comes to something as complex as the science of learning and psychology.

But, if you’re a practicing instructional designer then these commandments will help you stay on track and bring your craft back to what’s important. Serve your organization better by keeping its best interest in mind.

Let’s get started on the most important commandments that will help you thrive as an instructional designer and add value to your organization. You can add a thou shalt in front of each one if you want to pretend this is in the style of the bible all old fashiony and stuff.

1) Know Your Audience

This one is first for a reason. It’s because you can’t do anything meaningful without knowing your audience as well as their needs. That’s why analysis is the first step of the ADDIE process because you need to know who you’re dealing with, what they know, and what the organizational problem you’re solving for them is.

Just don’t rely on the needs analysis to tell you everything, it’s not meant to nor can it tell you everything about your audience. Certain attributes of your audience are true across all employees and you won’t find that out from a needs analysis.

For example, don’t rely on a needs analysis to tell you if there are disabled members of your audience and your content should be accessible. No analysis within an organization will tell you that because the majority of people who have some form of disability likely never report it or perhaps wouldn’t know they even have a disability. Sometimes they can be subtle and vary a lot in degree of seriousness.

You can’t create training that’s effective and helps your organization without knowing your audience.

It’s important to understand who is being trained, what they need, and more. You must find out the skills and knowledge they already have and develop a strategy to help them acquire the new skills and knowledge they need.

Understanding your audience will also help you create more engaging and meaningful content for them. Once you know your audience and what they need to do, you can create content that is valuable, relevant, and engaging.

It’s also helpful to consider the cultural background of your audience. Different cultures have different ways of learning and different meanings behind what you might think is common knowledge. It’s important to respect and honor these differences. You must be aware of what is appropriate and what is not, and use the proper language for all your audience.

2) Establish Clear Goals and Objectives

set clear goals and objectives for your training content. To effectively deliver training materials, you must have a plan and clearly defined goals and objectives. This of course is part of the design phase if you’re a fan of ADDIE.

A good instructional designer will set goals that are achievable, measurable, and contribute to business, department, or project goals. By establishing goals and objectives, you will be able to focus on the right content for your audience.

Learning (or performance) objectives ensure your training has focus and never veers from that focus.

The important part of this is to always ensure goals are aligned with the overall objectives of the organization. There’s always some debate on this one, but if your learning or performance objectives are well formulated to be actionable and helpful to employees then we find it helpful to communicate them clearly with actionable language.

When employees understand the goals, they will know what they should be focused on and the instructional designer knows how to best focus each part of the content. They can and should be written in a way that is useful to employees as well as instructional designers as long as the ultimate focus is on employee performance.

3) Align Content with Goals and Objectives

With clear goals and objectives, it’s also essential that all content aligns with them. Every part of the content you create should always be relevant and reflects the goals and objectives of the training which ultimately should link back to the organization’s goals.

Our strategy of starting with nothing has this in our plan. We work through each piece of content and tie everything back to an objective so there’s nothing extraneous or unneeded in our training content.

When selecting essential content, make sure it’s always aligned with the learning objectives. It should also reflect the culture and values of the organization, and be presented interestingly and engagingly. This will ensure that employees are receiving the best possible learning experience.

4) Create an Engaging Learning Environment

There’s nothing worse than page-turners or blocks of text. Nobody learns from that on a computer when the content is dry, boring, and not relevant.

So you should always create an engaging learning environment. Create an environment that is conducive to learning and encourages engagement. You can do this by providing relevant activities (please no activities or games for the sake of them only) and engaging materials that are relevant and gives employees real practice or critical thinking skills.

Realistic scenarios, branching choices, and relevant activities can give employees a new dimension of learning that makes what they’re learning more real.

We want boring page-turner training that puts us to sleep.

– Nobody ever

Sometimes it’s helpful to use videos to explain complex topics and sometimes an activity helps explain information best. It all comes down to choosing the right type of engagement for the content.

Learning by social means is extremely popular so if you have the option, tie content into an enterprise social media network (hello Viva Enage). That’s better than water cooler conversations!

Some of our favorite types of interactions since we work with corporate IT training are realistic software simulations that have realistic scenarios woven into them. The key phrase is always realistic, though, because without that there’s not a lot of value.

Allowing employees a safe environment to learn and engage is essential to them being comfortable to fail and learn. This will help create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and makes people more likely to stay engaged.

5) Focus on Accurate and Appropriate Measurement

Focus on relevant measurements of learning and behavior change. It’s not always necessary to measure everything but when your goal is to change performance then you better measure that.

If you measure the effectiveness of training then you can also make changes and adjustments to make sure it meets its goals. There is no progress without measuring progress. It’s best just to assume the training was a failure.

For some things such as new employee onboarding, evaluation for behavior change is impossible of course. You have to have a starting benchmark. The good thing here is that it’s a great opportunity to gain some benchmarks so that you might more accurately evaluate new employees later on.

If you’re evaluating employees then you can also provide feedback to them. This will help them know their skills, progress, and even motivate them and encourage them to keep working towards their goals.

6) Maximize Retention and Accountability

Maximizing retention and accountability is important to ensure employees are actively engaged in their learning and that they are held accountable for their progress. You can do this by providing regular feedback and providing them with resources that are tailored to their needs.

An instructional designer may not do this personally but training programs can account for the need for this and for front-line managers to work with their direct reports. It’s kind of nice when employees are aware of the expectations and are motivated to meet them.

It’s also important to develop a plan of action for employees to follow. This ensures they’re staying on track and that they are held accountable for their progress.

7) Use Appropriate Technologies

Technology is an important tool for instructional designers, and it’s important to make sure you select the right tools and technologies for the task at hand.

Make sure that the tools and technologies you select are appropriate for the goal you need to achieve. Always ask yourself if you’re doing this for the benefit of the organization or if you just want to play with a new shiny toy. Never fall for the new tech to play with trap, it’s a slippery slope to poor quality training.

It’s also important to ensure the technologies you use are secure and reliable. That means you shouldn’t plug private company information into ChatGPT. We’re pretty sure that’s going to get you into some trouble.

8) Develop Innovative Solutions

It’s important to think outside the box and come up with creative and innovative solutions to complex problems. That is as long as you’re ultimately looking to serve the goal of the project and your organization.

Innovation should always lead back to helping the organization thrive. By looking at the problem from a different perspective, you might be able to come up with new and unique solutions.

Being innovative is important except if you innovate for innovation’s sake.

The first solution you come up with might not be the best so keep an open mind to throwing things out and trying again. Or better yet, come up with the solution, set it aside, and try to come up with an even better solution. You could do this 2, 3, or more times and you might surprise yourself.

Be sure you know what’s available for innovations, though. That means staying hungry, staying foolish, and staying up-to-date on technology. But at the same time don’t simply look for ways to use something just to be able to use it. We’ve seen this happen way too many times with Articulate Rise. It’s a good tool but it simply doesn’t fit every type of training.

This will help you stay ahead of the curve and ensure that you are providing the best learning experience possible without distractions that don’t contribute to the success of the project.

9) Communicate

Communication is an essential skill of instructional designers. No project can be a success without communicating thoroughly and regularly. You should always be asking questions and checking in with subject matter experts (SMEs), business partners, and all other stakeholders.

You’re more at risk of under-communicating than overcommunicating. Be sure to remember that when you think you might be emailing someone too much. It’s always nice to understand beforehand what method of communication everyone prefers so you can go where they are.

And don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting if necessary. Yes, we should stay away from pointless meetings but if the need requires a meeting, schedule one.

10) Maintain Your Professionalism

Don’t get mad, just step away and come back when you’re ready to approach the problem. Instructional design is stressful and we have to deal with a lot of moving parts. Through all of the stress and difficulties, there’s no excuse for not being professional.

You may even be working with someone who doesn’t see things the way you do even though you’re the learning expert. Do your best to work with them and provide guidance but realize that you’re not going to win every fight even if you’re the expert in training.

Wrap Up

By following these commandments for being an instructional designer you’ll better your craft and be better at your job. Always remember it comes down to providing value and helping your organization thrive.

The 10 Commandments Of An Instructional Designer
We found this ancient stone tablet from biblical times with the 10 instructional design commandments. Enjoy!

Almost every part of these commandments comes down to focusing what you’re doing on business goals and how you can help employees achieve those goals. If you do that then you will be creating meaningful and effective training.

Just remember to always…

  • Know your audience
  • Establish clear goals and objectives
  • Ensure content is aligned with goals and objectives
  • Create an engaging learning environment
  • Focus on accurate and appropriate measurement
  • Maximize retention. and accountability
  • Use appropriate technologies
  • Develop innovative solutions
  • Communicate more
  • Maintain your professionalism

These will not only help you become a better instructional designer but also help your organization thrive. Working with an instructional design consultant who follows these 10 commandments and more will ensure your next project is a success.

For your next project, schedule a free consultation and we’ll work with you to ensure each one of these commandments is followed and your organization gets the right solution for your requirements. Our goal is to always serve your organization with a successful project that contributes to the success of your organization.

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