The field of training and instructional design is changing at an increasingly rapid pace, thanks to advances in technology. Trainers who were once accustomed to presenting in front of live classrooms now teach learners who may be spread across the globe via virtual webinars. These days, training doesn’t have to involve teaching at all; as instructional designers, we can place our content online via a computer-based course and let the learners explore at their own pace.
I fell into the training field in the mid to late 90s and have witnessed and experienced this evolution firsthand. This blog is a space for me to comment and reflect on current issues and developments affecting trainers and instructional designers like me. My posts will tend to reflect my interests in the areas of online learning, virtual training, and agile project management because those are the directions my career is currently taking me.
The Shift Online
When I first became a trainer, I regularly presented content to classrooms full of live bodies. The switch to virtual training for me was one of necessity, not choice. I found a job—a good job, which I thankfully enjoy—in a department that had begun to leverage more virtual and online methods of training instead of the classroom. While I initially missed the live interaction, I’ve since come to appreciate the advantages virtual and online training offer, besides the obvious reduction in travel costs.
These days, learners live their lives online. They shop online, interact with friends online, get their news online, and so forth; many even work remotely online. It only makes sense in our hectic, fast-paced modern world that learners would prefer to learn online as well.
Computer-based courses allow the learners to explore the content at their own pace, some faster than others, and pay most attention to the content that truly interest them. As learners have more and more demands placed on their time, they often can’t spend all day in a training course. Online learning offers us as designers the ability to break content into smaller chunks that learners can access when they have time. Online learning is a tool that helps us to meet the learners’ needs.
Changing the Industry: My Influences
The so-called digital revolution is challenging everything we thought we new about training and content development. We used to write learning objectives and supporting content that flowed in a very linear fashion, including exercises and quizzes that we could administer, and present all this material in a classroom session, usually at least a day long.
Today, we have industry experts like Michael Allen, who argues that our traditional waterfall ADDIE design process—once the cornerstone of instructional design—be replaced with more agile processes like his SAM model. SAM is designed mainly for creating computer-based courses, whereas ADDIE served us well for the classroom environment. Incorporating aspects of SAM will help us as instructional designers keep up with the rapid pace of technology in the world today. As we design our courses, we can present our customers with a set of increasingly complete prototypes to make sure we’re on the right track at each step of the design process, rather than waiting until the finished product is complete to get feedback.
Michael Allen Speaking on the Sam Model
Allen, C. (2012, November 8). Leaving ADDIE for SAM DC ASTD [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/tRteqzJIfq0
Other leading experts, like Bob Mosher and his colleague Conrad Gottfredson, are questioning the need for traditional training in the first place. Conrad and Bob encourage us to meet learners in their moment of need. Rather than take learners out of their job to attend a training session, we should offer them support when and where they need it. Learners have access to materials on-the-job via Google and other search engines. If we want our content to compete with information they can find elsewhere, we have to make it just as easily accessible.
For software trainers like me, this means embedding performance support materials directly inside the program learners are trying to use. Of course, developing content to support performance is a different process than developing something to teach it. To help us make the shift, Conrad Gottfredson has developed his own method of AGILE instructional design that helps us determine which content truly needs to be addressed by an instructor and which pieces can be broken out into performance support materials. Following this model saves us time both in development and in the classroom.
Conrad Gottfredson explaining performance support
Guild Staff. (2012, August 2). The impact and role of performance support: Conrad Gottfredson [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DucngYhBaUU
The names I mentioned above have been instrumental to developing my understanding of where the industry is and where it is heading in the future. I attended a pilot training session taught by Conrad Gottfreson for the eLearning Guild (of which I’m a member) on his AGILE instructional design model. My experience in that class led me to not only try to adopt his methods where I could in my work but also to research agile instructional design more thoroughly as part of my graduate studies. That research led me to explore Michael Allen’s SAM model. I also attended an ATD (Association for Talent Development) elearning design course taught by one of Michael Allen’s employees that enabled me to see how the process works with live examples. Lastly, I invited Bob Mosher to present at my department’s annual conference last year on his ideas of performance support so that we all could work on adopting his ideas in our collective work.
For me, the common thread behind all these new approaches to instructional design and training is agility. We have to be agile to keep up with the pace at which information is changing. We have to be agile to adapt to leaners’ changing preferences. For me, that involves not only changing how I design training materials but also how I manage my projects themselves in a more agile manner.