Wanted – Instructional Designer

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Talent. How many of you out there today are looking to hire an instructional designer? How many of you have been forced err assigned to create e-learning courses, and have no experience or limited experience in doing so?  How many of you who have been offered this amazing opportunity use a rapid course authoring tool?   How many of you, have experience in instructional design but only from the ILT or paper-based perspective?

How many of you, are familiar with terms such as ADDIE?  How many of you know why WBT was created or how it is different than CBT or why hummingbirds seem to swarm my feeder as though they are starved for juice? Ever heard of a flower? 

On a recent post on LinkedIn, I talked about SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and why they should not be the people creating your course/content.  I was surprised by the number of responses and views (all of which were great, BTW).  People really seemed to get it, and others, well, understandably had assumed that ID folks were at companies more so, I think, then what is reality of today.

I self taught myself Instructional Design back in 2000.  I did it explicitly for WBT (web-based training).  Back then, you needed to know how to create a browser sniffer because Sun was fighting Microsoft over Java, and thus Netscape who had Java, a course had to be designed differently than one for folks using Microsoft IE (which stunk IMO).  Anyway, joy was not there, because it required double the work.

Authoring tools were limited options and each one was not easy to just pick up and start building.  Anyone who used Authorware can attest to that. Dazzler Max wasn’t any easier, although once you figured it out, different story.  And there were a few others too, but none where a simple type where you could just wing it. 

Now

Another post I just saw on LinkedIn talked about ID folks who needed to have LMS admin skill sets, as though what the people doing the hiring really wanted was a jack of all trades person, thus saving them money from hiring two people.  It reminded me of other postings for other job roles, where a hiring manager had no idea on what is needed and so they just winged it. 

Winging is bad. Very bad.

Skill Sets

If you are seeking someone who has instructional design background or experience, there are certain skill sets you want.  Below is a list of ideal.  Do not focus first on what type of authoring tool experience they have, which many people tend to first target, and I’ll cover why this is a bad idea.

Skills

  • Experience with creating WBT, i.e. e-learning courses.  This should be the number one skill set you want.  When chatting with someone ask them how they would create a non-linear course?  Are they familiar with branching?  What about creating scenarios?  Have they ever used a storyboard?   – While many people no longer use storyboarding, it is still a nice skill set to have, and think of it as an added bonus.  If the person doesn’t have the skill, that’s okay, the other items above will suffice. 
  • You will want them to create a mini course for you, but not on your authoring tool.  Allow me to explain (and how to do it)
  1. Give them some paper-based content.  It should be at least 10 pages in length.  It can be a chapter from a book. Or your paper-based manual that is sitting over there growing mold on it.  Or the paper-based manual you are using, still…  Or it can be a stack of papers you give new employees, like your employee handbook, which no one reads.  

Why is this important?

Creating an e-learning course (WBT) is never one to one. This means it is not one page of text to one page of an e-learning course.  A lot folks make this mistake, which is why you see a lot of text-driven mumble jumble of junk.   Trying saying that 10 times. 

The format you are seeking, is for them (the prospect) is to extract three to five key takeaways or items that are “must know” from that paper based you are handing them. This is why in this test a minimum of 10 pages is relevant.  I recommend it coming from one chapter if you are using a paper-based manual or guide as well, your materials for them to use.

When you are creating an e-learning course, from existing content (usually it is paper-based), you want to extract the key takeaways in each chapter.  If your chapter is five pages in length, then you should have at least two takeaways – key points.  Three is ideal.  If you say to yourself, well, I see eight in there, I say, you need either glasses or better eyewear.

What you are looking for when they do this

Again, this isn’t about taking the items they extracted and having them use it in your authoring tool, rather it is seeing what items they have selected and whether or not, they picked the key takeaways, i.e. the most important points or factoids that someone should know if they were taking a course on that chapter if you will.   

This will require you of course, to read said paper-based chapter and pick out those key points, as a comparison.  You might find, that they pick other items, so see if they align to the chapter itself.  Once you do this (on your own) a few times, you can then see it right in front of you, i.e. you have learned the skill, so that when you look at any chapter of any text, you can see view the key takeaways in an instant.  Like Magic Art, but better! 

Have them point those key takeaways on a piece of paper.  Again, you are interested in understanding their thought process, and what they see as the musts.  Trust me, they will either get it or not.  There is never “Grey” in this. 

2. Have them identify three objectives that someone will learn if that person read that chapter.   This is different than the three takeaways that they would use to create the course (and yes, you can create a micro-learning course with three takeaways).   The common wording used in objectives are – Learn, Develop, Identify, Examine, Acquire.  Think this way – the subject is Kermit the Frog.   By taking the course Kermit the Frog, you will

  • Learn the difference between a frog that can talk and one that can’t
  • Identify two traits of green Muppets
  • Develop a strategy of how to cook Frog Legs, but not Kermit’s (you sicko)

3. Have them create a quick scenario.  Every chapter in any paper-based content, should allow someone to create a real-life scenario from said chapter.  You want them to write this down.  It may be a few sentences or it might be a paragraph.  You are wanting to see how they think, can they process the content and change it to action.  Action leads to interactivity and engagement.   If they say, they can’t do this, then thank you, and the door is asking you to depart.  I do not care what the subject matter is, you can create a scenario from the most mundane thing out there.

4. Have them interview you.  First you will give them a topic (make sure it is one you know).  Then have them ask you a few questions (maximum of four).  And have them write down your responses.    What you are looking for isn’t so much how they wrote it down, rather how they asked you the questions, how are they at extracting the important information on that topic – do they do any follow-up or just stay on a script? Do they seem interested or just blase? 

Why is #4 relevant – Because they if hired, are likely to interview at some point an SME – Subject Matter Expert. These people are important in terms of helping an ID person who is building a course.  If you are building a course on microwave safety, you will want to talk to an expert on microwave safety.  Sure, you can find it on the net, but what if your company makes microwaves?  Wouldn’t the better person or people to talk to, are folks who work at your company with that experience of safety? 

SMEs tend to use a lot of jargon, and unless the interviewer asks them what it means, it can become a nightmare.  Thus, with your faux interview, toss in an acronym and see if the candidate asks you what it is or just writes it down.  If I say WAR and I am referring to baseball, and the ID person just writes down WAR without exploring what it means, then the course on baseball, will be far different.  It is highly likely they would have to follow-up and as a SME my time is precious, so I ignore them.

(WAR – Wins Above Replacement)

The Authoring Tool

Too many people say to themselves we need to find someone who is an expert in Articulate Storyline because this is what we use.  And you will find plenty of people who use Storyline, but are not necessarily an expert.  To be an expert, would require someone to have used every function of the product, and frankly, if they came from a custom development shop which used Storyline and they themselves had e-learning development skill sets, then yeah, you are likely to be an expert.   And yes, someone can teach themselves to become an expert in a specific software, but too many people pitch themselves as an expert because they know how to do 50% of the product very well or specific items 100% of the time, and nothing else.

If you want to see if they are an expert, have them bring samples – they should have them online, for you to look at.  Not just a couple of screenshots.  You want to see an actual course they did.  At least one, prefer two or more.  If they have been around, four at least should exist.  Allow them to explain their process, what were the objectives, who were the target audience, and what role did they play in everything.   Never assume, that by showing you a completed course, that they did the work of building it per se.  They could have been the project manager. 

If you are a die-hard fan of one brand, and that brand is the only one that your organization/company/etc. is ever going to use, and that you as the person overseeing the department are never going to leave that company, than staying with that brand is fine.  But, if that brand is acquired tomorrow, or does not evolve or something new comes out and you are like WOW,  and decide to ditch the brand, then what happens with that person you hired who has extensive experience in that brand?  Do you toss them aside? 

The answer of course, is no.

I would rather be more interested in knowing what authoring tools have they used, and how they rate themselves on a 1-5 scale (and you state what each number means, not just range – i.e. 1 – Never used it  2- Poor  3- Average  4- Above Average 5-Excellent).  My sense is you will rarely get someone to say (2).   So, you may want to change the wordage.

I also want to know what other software have they used or have experience with. 

If you plan on having a lot of video – ask them what video editing tools do they use or are familiar with using?  If they give you something they use with a mobile app, uhh, that isn’t ideal.  There are plenty of SaaS video editing tools, heck desktop ones too. 

If you are a huge PowerPoint fan and see it as an authoring tool, you should stop reading this post right now, because what I am going to say, is not going to be heartwarming to your eyes.

PowerPoint is not an authoring tool.  Microsoft did not create PowerPoint as an authoring tool.  It is presentation software.  Can you use it as an authoring tool to create courses? Sure, but you can also use a textbook as a doorstop. 

PowerPoint being used as an authoring tool, is one of the biggest problems in the content development industry, especially with consumers.  Vendors such as Articulate, have told me that they see PowerPoint as an authoring tool, which would explain why they use the term “slides” in their products.  Many authoring tools in learning systems use the term “slides”. And there are plenty of authoring tools, desktop and SaaS, old and super new, who use the term “slides”.

Slides is not a course design term.  When a vendor uses slides as part of their course design approach they are doing you and the person building the course (if not one and the same) a major disservice and fueling the misunderstanding about effective course design.

The terminology that ID folks use and frankly if you are building a course or whomever you have doing so, should use:

  • Chapter, Page, Lesson or Scenario, some times folks use Assignment
  • I always used Chapter, Page, Scenario

You typically have a Chapter, then multiple pages and then your scenario. 

As you can see there is no mention of slides.  A thumbnail which vendors will use in their products as a form of a mini-preview is not a slide either.  Sure it is a box like thing, but you do not look at a box and say to yourself, “That’s a brown slide.”  Nor do you look at a frame and say, “My portrait will look awesome in that slide.”

Thus, when talking to your potential hires, ask them to describe the hierarchy of course design, – If they ask you to explain what that means, say, you know “Start with Chapter” – and then see what they say afterwards.  The next word should be “Page” (Pages is fine too).

Ask them whether or not a course should have a TOC (Table of Contents).  The answer is YES, always.  And BTW, you can have a TOC with a micro-learning course of under five minutes.

Dos and Don’ts

DO

  • Select someone who is willing to learn.  Everyone says they are, but many are stuck in the mud folks, who will be stubborn when you are like, let’s use this authoring tool called BLAH and they never heard of it
  • Ask them if they know what ADDIE stands for?  While ADDIE isn’t often cited as much these days, plenty of folks in ID or in e-learning design for that matter are aware of it, and it used to be the only way to build any content, ILT, WBT, CBT, hand drawings, etc.

A-Analyze  D-Develop  D-Design  I=Implement  E-Evaluate

I always used a hybrid of ADDIE myself, simply because it was established in the 1950’s, and thus uh, way before WBT, let alone CBT ever existed. 

I’ve seen folks ask about the Kirkpatrick Model , but most folks these days I find, rarely have heard of it, and even those who do often cannot name all the levels of it, let alone one.  Some people swear by it, others just swear at it. 

  • Get them to buy-in on your vision.  This should come thru during the interview process, and will be quite visible when they show you their responses to the items I listed earlier as part of your process for selection.   The stuff they will show you, is what they see (or should see) as their best works.  The work they will do for you on-site using paper, will give you the insight into their thinking, their approach and their style.   

DON’T

  • Focus on terms like Level when it comes to course design, there used to be in the 90’s and early 2000s this big push on “Levels” when you hired someone to build a course.  Level 1 means this, Level 2 means this, and thus the price you paid for the course was based on the levels (engagement).   Someone could say, okay, in Level 1, you get text and an image, Level 2- gets you two exercises, a pound of ham, text and photo.   Other folks would base their pricing on interactions, the more you have the higher the price point.  I mention this because folks that have been around a bit, may reference those terms if they worked at a custom development shop or build custom courses for a fee.
  • Eliminate people because they do not use the software you have.  People can learn.  And if you do not think they can learn, then why are you still talking to them? A-star talent is A-Star talent, and so someone like that, will dive into any software you provide them, and learn it.  If you want them to ramp up quickly, you can send them (virtual) to the company’s training (i.e. Articulate Storyline training), etc. 
  • Shove a bunch of other requirements into the job role, that are not related to building courses/content.    For example, an LMS administrator is not part of instructional design.
  • Be cheap.  This person will play a huge ROLE into building content that your learners (employees, customers, members, etc.) will take. The reason people tend to hate taking content, is that it is poorly done, it is boring, static and uh, boring.  That is due to the person creating the content, not the software, not the parking lot attendant, not the learner themselves, no.. the person creating it. 

People always ask me what should they pay to hire an instructional designer, and I always respond, by saying to do some research on job role sites that will give some ranges. 

Bottom Line

While RCATs have been developed so that anyone can build a course, it doesn’t mean that anyone should build a course, that someone else will take, regardless if they complete it or not.

There is a lot of awful course content out there and the reasons for it, are far and wide.

Yet, all of them are consistent with one important factor:

Bad course design.

And bad is bad

Even at three minutes in length.

E-Learning 24/7

BONUS – SaaS Authoring tools I like (my top three)

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Lots of great stuff here and much that needed to be said (loud)! Too often I’ve seen folks fall into doing the “don’ts you mention” and forgetting much of the “dos” when hiring. As someone whose managed an ID team and worked with countless other IDs, having one that fits what you describe is worth their weight in gold. The ones who are stuck in the mud due to only knowing one way of doing something, not applying instructional principles to content (just dump in what the SME says), only have ever learned one tool and think it can do no wrong…. or in short just doesn’t get it at all – ugh!. Those are the folks that make your entire training program and organization look bad, or force you to spend your waking hours wondering how you can help them to be better, or how I am going to document enough to fire them. You mentioned make sure you pay them well too. I would add, if you happen to luck out and get a great one for a sub salary, make sure nice raises continue to follow least you lose your winner, they will appreciate it and you will be the hero!

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  2. ’ve been struggling with hiring Instructional Designers lately, and have recently let 3 or 4 of them go, so I read this article with interest. In my world, there is still a difference between a Course Author/Developer who has technical and maybe graphic design skills and an Instructional Designer who structures and sequences content, writes Course/Curriculum Design documents, interviews SMEs, writes/edits content/storyboards. I expect Instructional Designers to have strong writing skills and the ability to present content in learnable chunks with job-related practice questions/exercises. If I give an ID a set of writing standards, they need to be able to follow them. So, if I say that the ID needs to write the storyboard in 2nd person(with you being the target audience/learner), active voice, present tense that ID better know what I mean and do it. I don’t think IDs need to be authoring tool experts, although it does help if they have some experience using an authoring tool, so that they can write a storyboard that the developer can author with few, if any, questions.

    My professional opinion is that we’re expecting IDs to have too many types of expertise; making them jack/jill of all trades and experts at none. And we get low quality eLearning as a result. The best eLearning is created by a team that has a professional/trained skill level at their assigned tasks. Everyone feels good about what they are doing and contributing. (And this approach also creates a reasonably calm life for the Project Manager too, so I speak out of my own selfish desire to not have to re-work my contractor’s deliverables myself to meet client standards ;-))

    Just speaking out of my pain… if you’re an independent ID who has strong content design and writing skills, and can write a storyboard according to a set of standards, I’d love to talk to you.

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