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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 and leaders understand how instructional design benefits the business when done right.

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

As instructional designers, we create training resources that help employees, which ultimately benefits the organization and helps it thrive. So, it’s primarily about the organization and secondarily about employees, but you can’t cater to one without the other because they’re so tightly integrated.

Following these commandments will make your next training project a success.

For training to have maximum impact, instructional designers must follow the instructional design commandments. Of course, there are challenges to following these commandments, but fighting for a thriving organization is worth it.

We all know that instructional design requires hard work, dedication, and communication with various groups in the organization. However, sometimes, the most important thing is to simplify the process.

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 will help you become a better instructional designer and improve employee performance, which will ultimately help your organization thrive. In their most basic form, they’re simple rules that all instructional designers should follow to produce useful, relevant, and valuable content.

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 concerning something as complex as the science of learning and psychology.

But if you’re an instructional designer, these commandments will help you stay on track and bring your craft back to what matters. Remembering these commandments will help you serve your organization better by keeping employee performance in mind.

Let’s start with the most important commandments to help you thrive as an instructional designer and add value to your organization. You can add “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: You can’t do anything meaningful without knowing your audience and their needs. That’s why analysis is the first step of the ADDIE process: You need to understand who you’re dealing with, what they know, and what organizational problem you’re solving for them.

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. Specific attributes of your audience are valid 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 employees with mild or severe disabilities in 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 don’t know they have one. Sometimes, disabilities can be subtle and vary widely in degree of seriousness.

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

Understanding who is being trained, what they need, and more is important. You must discover their existing skills and knowledge and develop a strategy to help them acquire the new skills and knowledge they need.

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

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

2) Establish Clear Goals and Objectives

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

A good instructional designer will set achievable, measurable goals contributing to business, department, or project goals. Establishing goals and objectives will help you focus on the right content for your audience.

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

The critical part is always ensuring goals align with the organization’s objectives. There’s always some debate on this one, but if your performance objectives are well formulated to be actionable and helpful to employees, we find it helpful to communicate them clearly and in actionable language.

When employees understand the goals, they’ll know what to focus on, and the instructional designer will learn how to best focus on each part of the content. Thus, goals can and should be written helpfully for both employees and instructional designers as long as the ultimate focus is 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 reflect 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 the content.

When selecting essential content, ensure it always aligns with the performance 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 a page-turner or block of text. When the content is dry, dull, or irrelevant, nobody learns from it.

So, it would be best if you always created an engaging learning environment. This means 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 relevant materials that give employees actual 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; 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 can, tie content into an enterprise social network (hello Viva Engage). That’s better than water cooler conversations!

Since we work with corporate IT training, some of our favorite types of interactions are realistic scenario-based software simulations. 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 making them comfortable with failure and learning. 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, you can also make changes and adjustments to ensure that it meets its goals. There is no progress without measuring progress.

For some things, such as new employee onboarding, evaluating for behavior change is impossible. You have to have a starting benchmark. The good thing is that it’s an excellent opportunity to gain some benchmarks to evaluate new employees more accurately later.

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 nice when employees are aware of the expectations and motivated to meet them.

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

7) Use Appropriate Technologies

Technology is an essential tool for instructional designers, and it’s vital to ensure you select the right tools and technologies for the task.

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 organization’s benefit or want to play with a new shiny toy. Never fall for the latest tech to play with trap; it’s a slippery slope to poor quality training and wasted money.

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 devise creative and innovative solutions to complex problems as long as you’re ultimately looking to serve 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 be open to discarding it and trying again. Better yet, come up with the solution, set it aside, and try to come up with an even better solution. You could do this two, three, 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 provide the best learning experience possible without distractions that don’t contribute to the project’s success.

9) Communicate

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

You’re more at risk of under-communicating than over-communicating. 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 reach them where they are.

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

10) Maintain Your Professionalism

Don’t get mad. Just step away and return when ready to approach the problem. Instructional design can be stressful, and we must deal with many moving parts. Despite the stress and difficulties, there’s no excuse for not being professional.

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

Wrap Up

By following these commandments, you’ll improve your craft and become better at your job as an instructional designer. Remember that it all comes down to providing value and helping your organization thrive.

The 10 Commandments Of An Instructional Designer
We found this ancient stone tablet with the 10 instructional design commandments from biblical times. 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, you will create 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 commandments will help you become a better instructional designer and ensure the success of your organization. Working with an instructional design consultant who adheres to these commandments will ensure the success of your next project.

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

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