Broad brush-strokes of Instructional Design

In eLearning Basics, eLearning Design, Instructional Design, MA Technical Communication and eLearning by Jake Mac ManusLeave a Comment

Recently, I began a project as an Instructional Designer (ID) on compliance training for a multi-national customer. Our client is experience with eLearning and has a dedicated in-house team that manage a lot of their learning projects.

The process looked like this:

Our customer gave me a design document, created by their Learning Manager (LM). The learning manager is the person that talks to the project stakeholders and creates the high-level design of what the course should cover. She also provided, what we call the source material. This is the relevant background reading material and assets that will be used to create the course. 

Based on this design document, my job as the Instructional Designer is to produce a cohesive instructional script or storyboard with relevant imagery, usually in the format of nested tables within a Word document. Some companies combine the role of Learning manager/designer and Instructional designer, which is fine, but it’s interesting to separate out each of the tasks.  

The Learning Manager chunked large portions of source material into top-level headings and sections. The LM would then follow-up with a ‘kick-off’ call over Skype or some similar online communication tool, usually lasting between 45 minutes to an hour, and bring me up-to-speed on the instructional design requirements, brief audience analysis, and the work done so far in putting some shape and structure on the topic to be learnt. My job was to build out those ‘chunked’ sections by reviewing and including the most relevant and informative material from what was received by the client.

The storyboard also needed to define the screen-types that would be used. Some had basic levels of interactivity (pop-up click events, accordions, timelines) as well as the presentation modes (image left, text right, video). A relatively small number of screen types are selected per course. This allowed Learners gain familiarity with course layout early on so they could focus in on the content rather than face navigation issues when each new screen presented to them (we’ll revisit this issue of the course structure in other posts).

An interesting part of this process was in marrying the content with a suitable screen-type. I use a two-tiered approach to effectively script eLearning content:

The first tier is to concentrate solely on creating a compelling narrative, based off available resource materials, that the target audience finds relevant, authentic, and easy-to-understand. This is the core skill of instructional design and it takes approximately 80% of our time in creating it. I recommend using a basic word processor, copy-and-paste the main instructional tasks for each topic from source, and then set about creating an engaging script using the most effective Adult Learning Theories (androgyny) that you can muster. There are plenty of resources to help you master these core concepts of Instructional Design).

The second tier is the fun part where you marry the scripted content to the available screen-types. Each screen must contain all the relevant information for that particular instructional point. So, if you have a lot of information to get through, first revise the content to ensure optimal and concise use of language before choosing a screen-type that best delivers the instruction, such as a pop-up screen, accordion, or text and image screen.

This is a brief and broad overview of the daily experiences of an Instructional Designer, based in Dublin, Ireland, scripting course material for international world-wide companies. If you’d like to take part in the discussion on any particular point, please post your comments below!

Jake Mac Manus
Instructional Designer Cobblestone Learning

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