7 Easy Rules of Instructional Design

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Instructional Design. What’s that? To answer that question simply, the role of an Instructional (NOT Interior) Designer, is to design and build effective training. Training that not only looks and sounds good, but actually teaches well by taking into account how a person best learns.

Without the years of experience under your belt and a textbook qualification to hand, the world of Instructional Design can feel a bit of a minefield. Confronted with the technical language behind learning design, and array of learning theories, different approaches to user design and so on. It can all seem a bit… much.

But, the truth of the matter is, you don’t need years of experience, you don’t need to be really techy, and you don’t need a University qualification to create training that gets results!

All you need are these 7 easy rules of Instructional Design.

1: Understand your content and with it, the Key Learning Points (KLP’s)

If you don’t understand it, how can you teach it? No, you don’t need to be an expert, but, you do need to be clear on what it is your teaching, and, what exactly you want your learners to take away from the training. Ask yourself questions like this:

  • Will this make sense to someone who doesn’t know what I do?
  • Does this help explain a Key Learning Point?
  • Is this content needed?
  • Does this help to explain?

2: Know your audience

You need to understand who the training is being aimed at. Can you answer:

  • Who the training is being created for?
  • What age are the learners?
  • What do they already know?
  • What format or style of training is suitable?
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3: Be aware of your limitations

It’s no good having all these crazy ideas in your mind if, when you put pen to paper you can’t actually action them. Know where your strengths lie and delegate or ask for help in other areas. For example, if you struggle with the creative elements, it may be worth working with a freelance graphic designer. Also, be aware of any limitations that are set in stone. By this I mean timeframes, budgets, software restrictions etc. Ask things like:

  • Can we achieve this?
  • Is it worth the extra cost/time?
  • Is this within the budget?
  • Will this still meet our targets?
  • Don’t overcomplicate things

4: Don’t overcomplicate things

More does not necessarily mean better. You’d be surprised at how many people feel that quantity trumps quality – it doesn’t. If you overcomplicate your training people will switch off. Too much delivered in a short amount of time will result in less actually being taken away. Keep things simple. This applies not just to your content, but your design too. Think along the lines of:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it easy on the eyes?
  • Is it simple and easy to use/follow?
  • Is that extra content needed?
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5: Never underestimate the power of visuals

Back up your key points with visuals that will stick. Find media that will help explain your key points and in doing so, also appeal to a wider audience. Visuals can include an array of elements such as video, images, animations, and relevant infographics to name a few. Ask questions such as:

  • Will something more visual help express this?
  • Can this content be taught/shown in a different way?
  • Will this help simplify the KLP?
  • Does this help bring the content to life on screen?

6: Don’t just talk at your audience, engage with them

Teaching something isn’t just standing up in front of a room and reading from a script. For content to really stick, people need to make a connection. This can be achieved by making your content relatable, using examples, and getting the learners to really engage. Remember to involve your audience and this applies across all types of training, not just face-to-face. Ask things like:

  • Can we get the learners to do something here?
  • Is there a relatable story here?
  • How can we get them really thinking?
  • Could this be developed into an interactive activity?

To summarise

Finally, remember that over time memories fade unless reinforced. So, test your learners, make sure they understand what they need to, and then reinforce that knowledge. Schedule activities or refresher training later down the line, ask them to complete tasks in their own time or at work. Ensure what they have learnt is used and remembered, otherwise, what’s the point?

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