Two Ways You Can Boost Your Instructional Design Cred

Let’s face it: business realities place a lot of pressure on training designers. Yes, you need to win over learners with engaging content and interactions—all the while balancing the needs of the business and the sometimes strongly held opinions of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). But wait, there’s more?! You also need to do all of these things with imperfect information and few, if any, resources. That’s hard work!

Sometimes it feels like you’re shouting desperately into the wind. You need learners to focus on your message and believe that what you’re saying is relevant to them, and you need SMEs to take your ideas seriously if you’re going to create learning that’s engaging and effective. How do you grab everyone’s attention without losing your cool? Here are two smart (and sneaky!) ways you can assert yourself AND boost your credibility with learners and leaders alike.

Not Getting Learners' Attention? Try More Show and Less Tell.

When you’re under a tight deadline, cranking through mountains of dry material, or just stuck in a creative rut, you may find yourself resorting to the bad habit of simply telling learners what they should be doing. But one problem with that approach is it has a tendency to veer into lengthy and/or passively worded lists that don’t really resonate with anyone.

Rattling off policies and procedures makes for a tedious, forgettable exercise rather than an insightful learning experience. Instead of dire warnings and legalese, try showing learners why they should care about each and every policy and procedure.

For example:

Avoid telling ...

Try showing ...

Because ...

“It’s our company policy that employees report all safety hazards to a line manager.”

The serious consequences for employees and the company when someone fails to report a safety hazard.

Letting learners reach their own conclusions through the power of experience is how people learn. Information that’s been spoon-fed? Not so much.

“By the end of this module, the learner will be able to do such and such.”

How the objectives are relevant to their role, solve their problems, and can make them better at their jobs.

People feel more compelled to engage with and act upon ideas that are personally relevant and tangible, and actionable.

Can't Get an SME's Attention? Try Being More Assertive.

One of the biggest challenges I hear from course designers is that they have trouble selling their ideas to the SMEs or their boss. How can you get them on the same page as you?

For starters, pay close attention to your words. Simple changes in phrasing can make a huge difference in how you and your ideas are perceived. By posing questions, tackling problems, and providing your recommendations in a direct, congenial, and constructive manner, you’ll demonstrate your business savvy while also communicating that you’re a credible professional.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

Avoid saying ...

Try saying ...

Because ...

“I don’t really have any of your expertise on this topic.”

“Please tell me more about your [area of expertise].”

Expressing your humility might seem like a nice way to win over an SME, but it’s a passive stance that undermines your credibility and erodes confidence.

“I could do X or I could do Y. I don’t know. It’s really up to you. What would you like me to do?”

“Based on the information we have, I recommend we do X. The benefits of doing X are ____ and the risks of going with this approach are ____.”

People like working with people who deliver solutions—even if there are options to consider and risks to weigh.

More Resources

Business acumen. Communication skills. Demonstrating your expertise. All of these are vital skills for excelling in your role as an instructional designer. E-Learning Heroes has plenty of great tips and free resources to help you develop all of those skills—and more. Be sure to check out these related articles:

10 Tips for Becoming a Better Designer

How to Prove the Value of Training to Your Organization

The Essential Guide to Working with Subject Matter Experts

What’s your experience with the creative process and designing training that works for learners, SMEs, and the business? Please share your thoughts and process tips in the comments below. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.