How to encourage innovation?

I'm in need of some advice. I recently started working on my first big project for a new company and am coming up against some roadblocks when designing training. I'm being instructed to make an "awareness" course that is a huge info dump with no clear objectives, and I have to use a standard corporate-branded template with just text on screen and very minimal images/video/audio (and when I can use video, it has to be a talking head).

From what I can tell, these mandates are coming from my supervisor who is also an instructional designer. Do you have suggestions for how I can convince him to let me create something that is more engaging and relevant to the learners? When I made a mockup of a more engaging version of one of the modules, my boss was very unhappy and did not want me to make something that looked different from the existing courses.

Thank you!

10 Replies
Pamela Gutman

Thanks, Bruce, for the fast reply! To answer your questions: he only took a quick glance at the sample and didn't have time to talk more, so I haven't gotten to the bottom of why he's unhappy yet. He'll be back next week and I'm hoping that we can talk about it more then.

I did ask why all of the courses needed to be exactly the same and he said that our learners prefer the consistency and knowing what to expect. I haven't gotten to meet any of our learners yet, so it's hard to argue with that without talking to them. I know they aren't the most tech savvy group of people, but they are intelligent and I think as long as some of the navigation was the same, they would be fine with a different look for each course.

Your last question raises a good point...I hadn't thought of that. I do have more instructional design experience and education than my boss; I wonder if that could be the problem? Assuming it is, do you have any suggestions for how I can deal with that?

Ryan Moore

If I were the supervisor, I might also be a bit concerned that you're trying to move in a bold new direction in your first project! If timelines were particularly tight, the effort that went into creating something new could be seen as wasted and even disruptive. It may be easier to learn the ropes first and then introduce gradual change once you've proven your capability.

There are a lot of reasons that the status quo could be expected. Branding restrictions, technology constraints (it's a lot easier to migrate basic content to other platforms if required), prior user feedback, consistency with a broad learning catalogue, etc. It could also be that the training is just in place to meet a regulatory or business requirement, and anything beyond the basics (and being able to check a box that there is training) is seen as a waste of time and money. Maybe you can find out more about the context and rationale.

Good luck!

Bruce Graham

Ryan Moore said:

If I were the supervisor, I might also be a bit concerned that you're trying to move in a bold new direction in your first project! If timelines were particularly tight, the effort that went into creating something new could be seen as wasted and even disruptive. It may be easier to learn the ropes first and then introduce gradual change once you've proven your capability.

There are a lot of reasons that the status quo could be expected. Branding restrictions, technology constraints (it's a lot easier to migrate basic content to other platforms if required), prior user feedback, consistency with a broad learning catalogue, etc. It could also be that the training is just in place to meet a regulatory or business requirement, and anything beyond the basics (and being able to check a box that there is training) is seen as a waste of time and money. Maybe you can find out more about the context and rationale.

Good luck!


+1

Pamela Gutman

Ryan, I see your point, I certainly don't want to cause mass chaos. I have done quite a few smaller projects already and I stuck to the status quo and my supervisor was pleased, so this isn't the first thing I'm making for him. With this big project though, I feel we'll be doing our audience a disservice by just giving them another read and click next kind of course. This course focuses on safety training and the main goal is for people to be safe on the job, so I think it's important to give them engaging, real life scenarios and real world feedback so they understand why the policies are in place and how to actually be safe on the job, rather than just reading through page after page of policy documentation and answering multiple choice questions.

I actually did two versions of the mock up module - one in a more engaging, interactive format and one using our standard template and tracked my time. The more engaging course only took me about 15 more minutes to make, which I did share with him. Wouldn't the slightly increased production time be worth the better experience? I know it's just a "read and sign" kind of topic but, if there's little extra cost and the potential for a big benefit, I don't see why that should be a problem. We don't have a tight deadline, so that's not a concern.

David Anderson

Great question and probably one of the biggest things  no one talks about when posting ID job descriptions. We're hired for our insights and creativity and expected to maintain status quo. Sounds like Ryan has a great feel for balancing ID and business worlds.

Having worked for Fortune 100 financial and banking companies, I know first-hand how challenging "new" and "different" can be to an organization. In most cases, they won't change because their elearning is less about learning than it is compliance and covering legal bases.

But that really doesn't matter when it comes to  professional development and portfolios. I have an amazing portfolio of e-learning design work but most of my best work came from side work or just re-designing "status quo" projects in my own way on my own time. 

Elearning Toolkits

I was going to use this topic for an upcoming elearning challenge post. The idea is to take the current content slides, activities, scenarios, and quizzes and rebuild them in more engaging ways. Using your "status quo" slides as the baseline, create a medium-level and high-production level version of each interaction.  Group them into related categories and post on your company intranet. People are more likely to come around when they see things from your perspective. It's hard to communicate that with words so taking the time to build working examples always helps. 

In the end, your company may still decide to go with what works. That's okay. Write up a blog post, post your samples here in the forums, and you'll find 100k+ like-minded designers who appreciate what you're going through

David Anderson
Bruce Graham

The learned and insightful David Anderson said:

"But that really doesn't matter when it comes to  professional development and portfolios. I have an amazing portfolio of e-learning design work but most of my best work came from side work or just re-designing "status quo" projects in my own way on my own time."

Too true. Only once in a while are we allowed to really shine as IDs.

Phil Mayor

In an organisation "baby steps" with innovation will a win everytime. You should be able to make each project an evolution of the previous instead of a revolution.

You need some champions in your organisation and your supervisor should be one of them, work with him understand his reasons and see where there is space for innovation and where there isn't.