The most important part of an instructional designer’s role is not developing training content. The most important part is to analyze content, figure out the right strategy, and consult with business partners and subject matter experts (SMEs) to design the right type of training with the right content.
That means the training professional behind building quality content built to help adults perform requires consulting with others, not just accepting what’s being asked for and doing the work. Instructional designers are supposed to be professionals who are well-trained in how adults learn and the pitfalls that keep people from succeeding in workplace training.
Effective training and successful employees only come from having ample opportunities to learn how to do their job better. That means employees come away with something beneficial from training or collaborating with others. That can’t happen when we try to take the content we’re given and what we’re told employees need and develop training content.
Nothing good comes from that strategy except overwhelming training that’s unsuccessful and leaves employees feeling overwhelmed. No matter how creative and innovative we are with development, no amount of interactivity and engagement can fix bad training analysis and design.
This post will help you understand what the job of an instructional designer is and how that relates to the training profession. It’s also a great way to understand the relationship between training professionals and business partners or SMEs.
Let’s get started first with what instructional designers should avoid because it is exactly what they’re not.
What An Instructional Designer Is Not
It’s important to distinguish between design and development since there’s a lot of crossover. With that crossover, a lot of the design is lost in favor of development. Many instructional designers jump into development rather than working through the essential design process.
So, what’s the difference between designing and developing training?
In the most simple terms, design is how something works and the plan behind it. You can think of it more as making a blueprint. When it comes to development, that’s building training based on the design. In terms of construction, it’s like the builders who take the plans and build the building.
Instructional designers are not eLearning developers and they’re also not instructional developers. While many instructional design positions do span both design and development, an instructional designer should never focus solely on development or jump right into it.
No strategy for training works well by skipping entire steps of the process to jump right into development. If you do that then you’re likely to fall into some of the worse pitfalls of designing training. That is, accepting everything from the business partner or SME, taking that as the final source of truth and completeness, and then turning that into training.
Instructional design works best when a project is approached with a thorough process that includes each step of ADDIE. That doesn’t mean developing something and then iterating from there. Iterations are great but not if you skip analysis and design.
Speed and a short timeline is no excuse.
That’s why if a project requires a course, we start every course with nothing. As an instructional designer, it’s important to add value to the project in order to maximize success and value. Instructional designers are not order-takers. It’s about consulting on a project and bringing value to the analysis and design by putting the process to work for projects.
Bring Value To Your Project As A Partner
When an instructional designer acts as a consultant and directs the project, the results will be noticeably better than simply accepting orders. In fact, simply taking content and it prettier without doing proper analysis and design can be more harmful to learning and performance than not.
If information is taken from business partners and SMEs then simply designing it to look better and seem more interactive, the training content will still not be effective. A lot of content received is simply a repository of everything to know but not how to connect it to performance or what’s essential.
The instructional design process helps instructional designers create content that answers the need for performance-based training that focuses on performance objectives. We even go so far as to propose that learning objectives should be replaced by performance objectives.
There are many benefits and more value to consulting rather than taking orders. Let’s take a look at the benefits and then the value you bring by going deeper into projects than simply jumping straight to development.
The Benefits Of Being a Partner
When you work with business partners and subject matter experts more deeply, you get to offer your expertise and add value. That helps guide training to provide maximum benefit to those who take the training. By accepting the content you receive as the final content, you’re doing a disservice to both your business partners as well as those who take training.
These benefits will be immediately present when you work on a project at a deeper level with business partners and SMEs:
- Expertise: Training isn’t about sharing content, it’s about creating a meaningful experience that is driven by a need to perform better at work. You get to add your expertise and focus the project on what the needs are rather than trying to focus on everything that can be taught.
- Innovate: When you act as a consultant then you’re able to better innovate because the content you get to work with will be more focused and organized. That means you can also create a more meaningful and innovative learning experience.
- Client Understanding: Business partners and SMEs are not typically focused on those who take training content. While they’re typically your direct client, they’re not the real client. People taking your course are the real clients because they’re the ones who need to benefit from the training. That means you will be better able to connect business goals and the objectives of the course in a way that will help employees.
- Better Relationship: When you add value and provide guidance for a project, you’ll have a more valued relationship with your client. Acting as an instructional design consultant and offering guidance means you’ll be seen as more of an expert on the topic rather than simply doing what you’re asked even if the ask isn’t completely clear. The more value you create in training, the more likely you are to have a good relationship that leads to repeat business and positive recommendations.
- Control: If you take what you’re given and get to work, you have very little control of the overall training. Having more control over the outcome of training means that people benefit more from your training and you will overall have a better reputation. If you simply do what you’re told and provide no analysis or direction then you risk being of low value to the project. That will provide very little benefit to those taking your training especially if it doesn’t work out well, and you will look bad.
- Grow: The more you analyze and look at the project, the more you’re able to grow your skills and knowledge. Rather than simply making content look pretty, you’ll look at it deeper so you can ask better questions and in turn, learn more yourself. Business partners and SMEs see that as valuable and it gives them a new perspective on their content allowing them to grow too.
As you can see there are a lot of great benefits to acting as a partner or consultant rather than taking orders. But, being a partner or consultant doesn’t mean disregarding your business partner and SME. It often means working with them and negotiating your way through a project to find the right balance of value for employees.
Just as your feedback and contribution are valuable, so are your business partner and SME. You’ll provide a lot more value to a project, so let’s take a look at how going deep adds more value.
The Value You Bring By Going Deep
Anyone taking training that was designed by an instructional designer who worked with a business partner and SME rather than accepting what they said as final will know the value they brought to the project. The value of working with partners rather than taking orders from them will manifest in many different ways.
In the end, those taking part in well-planned and worked-through training will see a difference. The results will be obvious. They may not know they benefited from the value the instructional designer brought but they will benefit just the same.
These are some of the ways going deep and working through difficult questions will manifest in the training.
- Relevance: Training that has been designed will be more relevant. It will address the needs that employees have for the training as well as focus on those needs rather than presenting everything in overwhelming quantities as often happens without proper analysis and design.
- Effectiveness: By working through content to create a plan and remove unnecessary content, training will be more effective if the plan is done well. Instructional designers have a lot of tools available to them to make effective training. Working through content rather than accepting content as is helps a lot.
- Efficiency: When an instructional designer asks difficult questions it makes it easy to identify and eliminate unnecessary content. If everything is important then nothing is important. Identifying only essential content means more efficient and cost-effective training.
- Customization: Business partners and SMEs don’t always pay attention to the audience. Working with them can uncover how training can be made to fit the audience better and keep the audience in mind. That means more custom training that fits the audience better.
- Innovation: Innovation happens by asking questions, gaining new perspectives, and working through different ideas. Going deep and working together creates more ideas than simply accepting what you’re given and moving on.
- Alignment: By bringing more value to the project with deeper involvement and working together, better alignment for the business and project happens.
- Engagement: True engagement in training comes from relevance. That’s why relevance is king in training. Relevance can only be achieved with focused content that has a goal that’s important to employees. Partnering on a project has a much higher chance of having better outcomes for everyone.
Meeting the needs of those taking training is the most essential part of training. If that doesn’t happen nobody will be happy. Because business partners and SMEs don’t always approach a project in this way, it’s up to the instructional designer to use their skills and knowledge to guide the discussion.
By becoming a partner rather than an order-taker, more value is brought to the project and it will have a better chance of being successful at meeting the goals of the project, business, and employees.
Develop Strong Client Relationships
While working with business partners and SMEs on a deeper level as a partner rather than an order-taker is important, your relationship with them is just as important. That means you can’t always simply take the lead and direct the project on the path you want to take it on.
It’s necessary to develop a strong relationship with your clients based on mutual respect. That means you listen to them as much as they listen to you. While you’re the expert in training, they’re ultimately the expert in content and business goals.
So, the relationship has to be built on mutual respect and understanding of the ultimate goal. It’s essential to look at why strong client relationships are important and communicate better with your client.
The Importance Of a Strong Client Relationship
The quality of work you can accomplish is directly affected by those you work with. If you don’t have mutual respect with all stakeholders, you’ll have trouble throughout the whole project. That’s why it’s important from the start to build strong client relationships.
That will help you add value and be a part of the project as a contributor rather than simply taking instructions. Instructional designers are there as training professionals who work with a subject matter expert to create the most effective training possible. That task is almost entirely reliant on building strong client relationships.
You’ll find that the following benefits will come out of building strong relationships with business partners and subject matter experts.
- Understanding needs (if you don’t build a strong relationship then you won’t get the full picture during needs analysis).
- Flexibility (trust leads to more flexibility in how you complete the project).
- Value (clients whom you build rapport with will value your input and strategy more).
- Communication collaboration will improve and your clients will make you a priority with a strong relationship.
- Sometimes as an instructional designer, you can’t make the final decision. A strong relationship will help you come to decisions that benefit the training as well as employees.
- If someone likes you then they’re more likely to buy into what you’re proposing (unless what you’re proposing is free donuts for all). When you can get more buy-in from clients, you’ll achieve your goal easier which translates to better training solutions for all.
As an instructional designer, your ultimate goal is to create the best damn training possible for the project you’re working on. That means meeting the goals of everyone including your business partner and SME. Having a strong relationship with everyone helps you achieve those goals.
A few tips on how you can best communicate with your clients are always helpful. So, I’ll give you a few ideas next and you can use what you think would be helpful to successfully partner with stakeholders and create amazing training.
Tips On How To Communicate With Your Client
Nobody is perfect with their communications. Sometimes a few tips can help us keep in mind that how we communicate is just as important as our message. Sometimes that could mean you need to sit on a response for a bit to prevent a hasty reply.
Read through these tips to help you communicate better with your client.
- Be clear and concise with your message which means avoiding jargon and sticking to simple language rather than getting too technical. Simple is always more valuable than complex as long as you communicate important messages fully.
- Don’t overcommunicate with an email that has 300 words when 50 words will suffice. A long drawn-out email will likely get skimmed and important information missed.
- Read through your client’s emails fully so you don’t miss important information. There’s nothing worse than asking a question about something that was just answered. That’s not a good way to build a good relationship.
- Respond promptly. That means for an email, within 24 hours is ideal (even if it’s to let someone know you’re working on it) and for phone calls, same day if possible is best. You won’t always get an ideal response time from others but don’t let that affect your promptness.
- Accept feedback and show your appreciation for it. That doesn’t mean you have to implement it 100% but it does mean you must consider it and communicate how you intend to deal with it.
- Be respectful of your clients and that they may have different requirements than you. There are things they have to account for in a project that you may not have to. Be understanding and sympathetic to that.
- Set expectations for communications. It may not be that you have an answer immediately and it could take a week to get it. Be sure you let them know that rather than just waiting until you have the answer.
- Always follow up on tasks you’re assigned, and questions you’re asked, and be there for meetings requested.
Keep in mind there’s no way to be the absolute best communicator and get everything perfect 100% of the time. These are a few tips that will help you communicate better but use your best judgment also. Good communication is always a two-way street but you need to keep your cool even if that doesn’t seem to be happening on the other side.
Balance Directing The Project With Flexibility
Providing direction for the project without dominating it is always a balancing act. Everyone needs to have their input, feel like they’re contributing, and be happy with the outcome.
It’s kind of like walking a tightrope. You can derail the entire project if you run into a barrier with communication. Also, business partners and SMEs hold ultimate veto power so can overrule any part of any project, including training.
So, it’s important to direct the project’s training by providing a plan that makes sense and meets the project goal. You can always work to direct the project no matter how difficult.
It all starts with flexibility.
Flexibility Is Essential
Being flexible with the client is essential to the success of any project. That could mean you openly accept input from the client as well as implement feedback from them.
You have to give a little to get to where you need to make training a success. That means you might give in a little bit on how you wanted the project to go.
Ultimately it’s worth being flexible because while you might have to give up on something you wanted, what you get could be bigger and more important to the training’s success.
Providing Direction Without Being Too Rigid
Sometimes you have to make a recommendation and why you’re making it. When you do that without pushing too hard, oftentimes you can provide good direction without being too rigid. That means there’s a better chance of directing the project the way it needs to go to be successful.
Sometimes you just have to give a little nudge, other times you have to sell the idea a bit. When you’re doing it for the benefit of the project and people taking training, it’s worth it. Even if you don’t always get it your way, you’ve done the best you can in providing the best direction for training success.
Becoming a partner rather than an order-taker is essential for the success of every project. There’s a lot of education and training that goes into becoming a serious instructional designer. That’s why it requires endless learning and a lot of practice too.
Because instructional design is scientifically backed by a process that requires a lot of practice, instructional designers should never be an order-taker. An instructional designer is also not strictly a developer. The process must involve analysis and design too.
The more value you can bring to a project, the more your skill will be valued. That means you’ll get people coming back for more because they know you’re going to add more to a project than you’ll take. By building a strong relationship, you can become more successful at providing value and directing a project to reach the correct goal.
The best thing you can do is to embrace the role of a partner rather than an order-taker. It will help the training be more valuable for everyone and in the end, more successful. Every training project we work on we approach as a valuable instructional design consultant.
That means we’re not order-takers but holders of a valuable process and knowledge that adds value to the project. If we can’t add more value to a project than we charge then it’s not worth it to our clients or us. We want our clients to succeed with projects that help their organization make more money and will lead to great success.
If you’re looking for a strong value and performance-driven partner on your next corporate IT training project that will help employees succeed, schedule a free consultation because we’d love to learn more about your project.