Building Bridges

Go From Zero to 60! Accelerate the Productivity of Your Novice Instructional Designer

Have you been in a situation where you’ve engaged a Subject Matter Expert (SME) from your organization to develop a training program? It can make a lot of sense to do that – she will have the content knowledge and experience to pass along to others, and she will be thrilled to share it—it’s her work, and she finds it meaningful.

There’s a downside, though. Courses designed by experts with little ID experience often won’t make the grade. They can be too long, include too much irrelevant or “nice to know” content (because, after all, doesn’t the SME want to share all the information she loves so much?), or don’t engage the learner. The result? You’ll have courses that aren’t as effective as you might need them to be.

Other times, you may hire a novice learning professional into an ID position. You assign him to develop a course from scratch, hoping his lack of knowledge of learning science and current best practices won’t be an issue.

I have encountered both of these situations many times, and I’ve seen L&D managers struggle with educating their novice IDers, usually due to a time crunch.

So, how can you get your novice IDer up and running? One approach our clients have used is targeted mentoring. With mentoring, you can engage an experienced instructional designer mentor – your very own coach – who will work one-on-one with the individual to address specific learning gaps and help her develop self-reliance.

How Can ID Mentoring Work?

Let’s use an example to illustrate how you might use mentoring to develop a team member.

My client, a new IDer whom we’ll call Alex, had worked as an admin in his company’s learning and organizational development group. Alex was promoted to instructional designer and started out updating existing courses. Then he needed to create a course from the ground up. However, his manager, stretched thin, didn’t have the time needed to support his development and had no other ID professionals to help. So, she engaged me to help Alex get up to speed. Our goal was to help him design the course and to work more independently in the future.

At our initial meeting, Alex and I identified the primary goal of our mentoring engagement: to develop and launch a Good Documentation Practices course. Next, we discussed the business need for this course, the problems it should solve, before considering the foundational skills Alex would need. Since this course was being developed from the ground up, the list included:

  • conducting needs assessments
  • building successful partnerships with subject matter experts
  • writing learning objectives
  • determining the evaluation strategy
  • identifying learning modalities
  • incorporating techniques to engage learners and create effective learning.

We planned a series of meetings, about twice a month for six or more months.

In the follow-up meetings, we focused on one skill at a time. I would share some (but not too much!) of the theory associated with a skill, a method or approach for applying it, and the importance of using the method or approach. For example, when we covered writing learning objectives, we studied Robert Mager’s approach and Bloom’s taxonomy. We discussed the ways those methods could help Alex and where they might be challenging to use. Then, we created a couple of learning objectives for his course and analyzed how each one aligned with the two systems.

Then, the rubber met the road. I assigned Alex to write the rest of the learning objectives for his course.

Before our next meeting, I asked Alex to send me the learning objectives he created, along with any questions he had. I responded to the questions with guidance and encouraged him to continue working (most important!)

The next time we met, we reviewed Alex’s final learning objectives, made tweaks, and revisited Mager and Bloom. Then, we moved onto the next skill and wash, rinse, repeat. After every one or two meetings, I updated Alex’s manager with highlights of the sessions and a list of Alex’s next steps. When appropriate, I also suggested ways the manager could provide support.

Why Choose Targeted Mentoring over ID Classes?

  1. You can develop a timeline to fit the mentee’s schedule. If a mentee needs to be away from work, she won’t miss a class and you don’t need to worry about what she didn’t get to learn. Instead, you have the flexibility to create a schedule around the learner’s calendar or make last minute changes when necessary.
  2. Your involvement promotes accountability. As the learner’s manager, you should attend the initial meeting between her and her mentor, and then consider joining periodically, which sends a message that you take the program seriously. Also, if you request regular updates about the learner’s progress, you can monitor and support it. This also enables you share your input and shape the mentorship to fit your team’s goals.
  3. The individualized action learning approach focuses on the mentee’s specific needs. The process of studying a topic, immediately applying it to a real project, and then receiving targeted feedback and assistance allows a new IDer to fill specific competency gaps.

So, returning to our example, what is Alex up to, a few months after completing his mentorship? He has successfully launched the course he was working on, and it has received a positive reception from the business unit it supports. Meanwhile, he and his manager feel that his skillset and professional potential have grown. So, Alex’s manager has assigned him more courses to develop, which are launching according to plan. It’s a win-win!