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5 must have qualitiesAs the training and development field evolves and attracts a different pool of professionals with diverse skills and experiences, new questions arise: Have the competencies of instructional design (ID) changed? Should they change? How has ID evolved over the past few decades? Are trainers' competencies keeping up with the pace of change?

Through a collaborative partnership between the Association for Talent Development (ATD), the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), and Rothwell & Associates (R&A), the R&A research team implemented a research study to investigate the proposed questions.

The study uncovered two major findings:

  • Although technology is constantly changing, the challenges faced by instructional designers are less about technology and more about serving the multitude of varied learners, as well as maintaining momentum and a relationship with the subject matter expert (SME).
  • ID has evolved over the past couple of decades and there is an ongoing need to promote the value and understanding of the ID professional's role in training and development.

As instructional designers move forward in this evolving industry, data from the study points to several tips instructional designers can help to strengthen their skills.

Develop a 30-second elevator speech. Develop a good value-add 30-second "What is an instructional designer?" speech. This is not only great for networking functions, but as a conversation starter when you meet your design team, especially your SME, for the first time at a kickoff meeting.

Design mobile first. Incorporate the design principle of "mobile first" as you begin a new project or redesign existing projects. Users want their learning programs to be more accessible and on demand. The 21st-century workforce is filled with individuals who have grown up with mobile devices, and technological advances range from ease of travel to ease of communicating through various telecommunication networks.

Be a coach. When interviewing a potential instructional designer, be sure to include coaching competency questions such as "How do you work, or imagine you would work, in a context in which you need to get course content from your subject matter experts over whom you have no formal authority?" Consider using role-play in an interview or on the job to strengthen needed soft skills. Not only ask powerful questions, but also demonstrate active listening.

Keep presence. Use face-to-face (or video conferencing) for the kickoff meeting and periodic status meetings to keep project (and relationship) momentum. Be sure you share and follow an agenda to respect time.

Be an active and reflective agent. Most evaluations are summative, and are conducted and analysed well after courses and training have been delivered. Survey the participants at the beginning (expectations), middle (adjustments), and end of the learning delivery (revisions). Keep a list of design ideas for future possibilities and remember that the SME may become more open to these ideas over time. Asking participants the right questions at the beginning can also reveal learner characteristics, including cultural diversity, prior learning, and user interface design considerations.

Remember the artist. Recognize you can wear many hats: instructional designer, project manager, manufacturer, engineer, architect, artist, coach, and cheerleader. Find time to explore and experiment the artist in you through the emerging technologies of mobile learning, augmented reality, wearables, and MOOCs. Embrace failure and engage in continuous self-criticism as you innovate and change.

Think like a Millennial. Millennials are expected to take over the workforce as the highest number of workers, so incorporate the learning characteristics of Millennials through game-based learning and social learning. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can strengthen the learning experience if it is correctly incorporated into the design. It is imperative to identify realistic stories that will support effective learning for the target user group.

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myth factAncient peoples invented colorful stories about powerful gods expressing themselves through the physical world. They were trying to make sense of their world, using the only tools available at the time.

Similarly, educators have developed many theories about the learning process over the years. However, now that science has developed tools to test these theories, some of them are proving to be false. Learning styles is one of those former "truths" that many in the field now classify as "myth.

The Learning Styles Myth
Here is the myth in a nutshell: People can be classified based on their learning style. Once we have this information, training will be more effective if delivered in a manner consistent with each learner's preferred style. Taken to the extreme, this would require the designer to present the same material in multiple ways—video for visual learners, audio for auditory learners, and so on.

Once this idea took hold, a whole cottage industry evolved to provide teachers and trainers tools to help them identify and apply learning styles in their work. It's big money, but shoddy science. Let's take a closer look.

Science Examines Learning Styles
This is how science works. We develop a conclusion based on what we know and then we go out and test it. The results of the test either validate the hypothesis, disprove it, or suggest that further research is needed. When held up to this standard, learning styles falls apart.

A recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found "no statistically significant relationship between learning style preference ... and learning aptitude." Multiple studies have reached similar conclusions. As Daniel Willingham states, there is no credible evidence that learning preferences have any impact on the effectiveness of learning.

However, let's be clear about what these studies are saying. It may well be true that each of us has a preference for how we receive information. What has been discredited is the belief that training must be aligned with that preference to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Today, many educators are still applying the learning styles concept to customize learning to the individual. We have taught a whole generation that learning should be presented to them according to their preference.

Taking Action

If you are paying for a learning styles testing instrument there is good news. You can stop paying for a useless tool and put your money elsewhere. If you are building courses in multiple modalities to satisfy different learning styles, you can save your energy and develop the most effective training for the content. If you are conducting train-the-trainer or teacher education programs, you can delete the entire learning styles chapter and spend more time on the practical applications of neuroscience to learning. If you encounter a colleague who is not yet aware that learning styles has been largely disproven, you can help them update their understanding.

Reference: Journal of Educational Psychology 2015, Vol. 107, No. 1, 64 –78

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Andragogy 1The very essence of who we are as learners, as well as how and why we are learning, is fundamentally different. So different, in fact, that it should dramatically change how you design instruction. Yet, way too often it doesn't. Many instructional designers continue to design courses that resemble classes they attended in school.

But the Vocational Education and Training (VET) isn't school, and the goal of training isn't to graduate with honors or even to just slide by with a passing grade. The goal of training is to equip learners with new knowledge and skills that enable them to improve their performance at work, in our VET jargon: to be Competent.

Here are four ways that training is different than school, as well as what this means to you as an instructional designer.

Experience Counts
Children are seen as blank slates to be filled in school. In contrast, adults come to training with a wealth of relevant experience and related knowledge and skills.
Here's what this means to you. First, you need to "bake" in an explanation of how the new information fits in with what learners already know. For example, when I learned Spanish, my teacher explained that reflexive verbs in Spanish work just like they do in French. This explanation was a short cut in my learning.

Another example of "baking" is to create graphics that compare old processes with new processes or old roles with new roles. Finally, you can develop analogies to illustrate how something new is similar to something familiar.

Second, whenever possible, design activities that allow learners to learn from each other, not just the trainer. By teaching someone else, learners cement their own knowledge and skills. In addition, hearing multiple perspectives and explanations can help learners more quickly grasp difficult concepts or complicated processes.

Knowing Is Not Enough
The measure of success in school is the ability to pass the final exam. But in the workplace, we get paid and are held accountable for what we do, not just for what we know.

Here's what this means to you. First, you must be crystal clear about what learners are supposed to be able to do, in specific, observable, measurable terms, at the completion of the training.

Second, you must design a course that drives to this goal. Specifically, this means the course:

Is organized around the specific steps to do whatever the goal is rather than organized thematically around the content.
Includes only information that is essential or important to achieving the goal. Nice-to-know information, such as background or theory, has been stripped away.
Includes plenty of relevant skill building practice activities.

Immediate Application Rules
In school, the only application expected is for students to complete and turn in homework on time. In the workplace, the stakes are much higher. Learners are expected to demonstrate improved job performance as a result of attending training.

Here's what this means to you. First, you need to make sure the content is actionable. This means that you've broken it down explicitly enough and provided sufficient tools and templates that learners have the ability to apply what they've learned when they get back to work.
Second, you've worked with management to ensure the training is offered just in time so that learners have the opportunity to immediately apply what they've learned back on the job.

Relevancy Is Essential
In school, relevancy meant it would be on the test. In the workplace, it means the information is relevant to enabling learners to achieve the goal of the training.
Here's what this means to you. First, you absolutely must perform a gap analysis to determine what learners already know. If you design a course that starts off covering information learners already know, many learners will mentally check out. Unfortunately, they will not check back in when the course starts to cover new information. The result, of course, is that learners don't learn what they are supposed to learn.

Second, you need to scour the course content for "nice-to-know" information and then get rid of it. I think of each piece of content as a stepping-stone in a path towards the goal of the course. That path should be as straight and short as possible. And each stepping stone should be absolutely essential.

Source: ATD, by Diane Valenti

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