Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Instructional Design: Where's Your Center? Who's Your Master?

As you create training solutions, to what master are you answering?

Are you being content centric or learner centric? Or are you forced to be sponsor centric?

Content Centric Solutions

These are those courses that have the entire book of knowledge in 'em. Every software interaction and menu is explained in detail. It's all there. You've covered the content to death. And probably killed a learner or two in the process, if they even bothered to stick with it.

Learner Centric Solutions

This is what we're all striving for, right? That course that meets the needs of the learner. The right content, in the right format.

Sponsor Centric Solutions

Unfortunately, it's often the project sponsor who's really calling the tune. They claim to have detailed understanding of the learner. As the course designer, you're not encouraged or even allowed access to actual learners to get an understanding yourself. Perhaps that kind of access isn't possible, given the limited budget.

Or maybe what really matters is what the Senior VP of Training thinks of all this. If they like the colors and the interactivity and the general format, then they consider the project a success. Evaluation complete.

eLearning vendors (those that design custom courseware) are often handed the course to be built. The sponsor says "we want this eLearning course." So the vendor scopes it out and does the design work, the storyboarding, the development work.

But the bottom line is, the vendor needs to butter their bread and produce what the client has asked for.

What strategies do you use to ensure a project stays learner centric vs. sponsor centric? How do you ensure your consulting expertise gets communicated in a development project?

Photo credit: Spirals On Blue by Tanakawho


Tracy Parish said...

I really like your post here Cammy. The more I get into this field the more I realize how big a problem (if you can call it that) it is to create the right learning for the student, but still appease the person that's ultimately paying you. I'm interested to see what responses you might get.

Cammy Bean said...

I'm interested to see what responses I'll get as well. So far, none! People, what have you got to say about this?

Anonymous said...

Cammy, in an organizational setting, I think you can sometimes find a bridge between learner-centric and sponsor-centric.

In theory an overlap exists between the needs of learners and the goals of the organization. If the organization hinders your access as a developer to the people who do the relevant work, the quality's bound to suffer.

Sometimes the organization's sponsor is open to new approaches like interviewing or observing exemplary performers early in the process, or trying out drafts (even of flowchart-style storyboards) on typical workers.

Sometimes you can help the client rethink the goal and thus how to assess progress toward it. I've been working with a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, revising operating procedures for three product lines.

Till now, the general approach had been to see each machine on the line as a separate entity ("how to operate the cartoner"). My coworkers and I suggested that the real product of the line was the finished pallet-load, and we helped the client reframe things in a systems approach: "If SuperOperator was the only person running the line, how would she handle the work?"

This led to: how do you get the entire line ready, do start-up stuff, test sensors, run in production mode, to change lots, etc.

I think this helps reconcile learner goals ("What am I supposed to do, and how am I supposed to do it?") with those of the organization.

Not foolproof, especially if the client already knows everything. But then, when you encounter a client who knows everything, you're already in troubled waters.