Home > General eLearning Design, Instructional Design - General > Instructional Designers – Our Role MUST be to challenge.

Instructional Designers – Our Role MUST be to challenge.

I was recently with a client, who has 3 young and enthusiastic Articulate Storyline Instructional Designers working for them – we held a morning “freeform” discussion on eLearning scripting.

We got onto the topic of “…several dull Health and Safety modules” – and the fact that the scripts had been pretty much provided on a “do not change a word…” basis. The course was on working safely at height (on ladders and cranes etc.)

I expressed how I would have scripted the Objectives:

This course has two objectives, the first – to reduce the chances of or stop you injuring or killing yourself, and the second is to reduce our legal bills”, (or something very similar…).

This seemed to cause some amusement – I am not sure whether because my delivery was somewhat theatrical, or unexpected, however, I firmly believe it was the correct thing to say, and a fundamental lesson for neophyte Instructional Designers to understand.

We had just finished an exercise based around the “Burying the Lead” newspaper example from Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”. I got all 3 of them to critically analyse and comment on 7 pages from an “expert-level” book that has sold widely – and each one of them came up with ways to distil and clarify the content that, to me, were excellent; all different none right, none wrong – just distillations and added clarity. They held their own with an Subject Matter Expert.

When it came to a REAL example, (the course on H&S), perhaps it was too close to home? Perhaps application of theory is seen as hard, because there’s all kinds of other factors to take into consideration, such as the fact that you do not want to “rock the boat”, or annoy/upset the client?

I believe that course-creation magic comes from Instructional Designers having access to the correct people. If I were talking to a company Board, often people of vision, then I do not think there would be an issue – talking about reducing injury, death and legal bills is talking their language. Try to build that access into your process; do not assume the person commissioning the course understands WHY it is important to the business. They may do, but do not assume it.

In my experience, when one gets down below Board level, other factors may start to creep in, power games for example, and the message can get lost  – “You CAN’T say that sort of thing around here!!”.

In “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey makes the point “No involvement, no commitment”. In so many cases, the people requesting and signing off the eLearning have (or feel) no real involvement in the REAL business issues, they are “…just the foot soldiers…”, so they propagate mediocre learning objectives. They are certainly “doing their job”, but not doing the company any favours. They need to tie EVERYTHING back to the BUSINESS NEEDS AND OBJECTIVES, and we, as Instructional designers need to help them understand that responsibility.

One of the main things I can bring to those new to our industry (corporate eLearning), and perhaps remind those like me who have been doing this a while, is that the learning objectives and messages change depending on where they come from, yet in order to be valuable, they must always affect, or directly reflect the business mission or targets in some measurable way. Raise profits, reduce loss, reduce risk – that’s what courses are ultimately for. Make sure that whoever is signing off your courses understand these principles.

Until next time – keep on challenging thoughts, processes and “experts” – that’s our job.


  1. November 19, 2015 at 4:14 am

    Hi Bruce, totally agree.
    Learning has to support the business needs, and the design has to be able to share the right message to the right audience so that they will understand and stimulate them to:
    Think about the message (logic makes people think)
    Feel about the message (emotions make people act)
    Act on the message (right behaviors drive the right results and performance).
    Cheers, Andrew


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