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Marc My Words: Ask 10 Questions Before Starting Instructional Design

by Marc Rosenberg

January 9, 2018

Column

by Marc Rosenberg

January 9, 2018

“No doubt there are more questions you can think of as you kick off your new project. But these 10 questions are good starters. On the very first day, during your very first conversations, don’t just be an order-taker. Get ahead of the process, and get the answers you need to make the right decisions—early—and move forward.”

It’s a new year, and you’re about to start a new training project. Doesn’t matter if it’s classroom or online; you’re ready to go. Or are you? Here are 10 questions you should answer before starting instructional design.

1. Who is the real client?

Sometimes, we think of the client (or customer) as the learners themselves, but we shouldn’t. The learners are the consumers of the training. The client, on the other hand, is the person who pays. It’s the person or organization with the money and the sponsorship to make it all happen. Beware of false clients—agents or representatives who say they speak for the client but may not actually have that authority. Before you begin any training project, make sure you know exactly who the real client is. That’s the only way you’re going to have the backing you’ll need to get the project done.

2. What is the budget and time frame?

Yes, I know that you need a design and development plan to determine a final budget and time frame (including how quickly the training is needed and how long it will take to train everyone who needs it); but, realistically, you need to have some reasonable idea of what you have to work with before you go down the wrong rabbit hole. This is why identifying the real client is so important.

3. What is the business need or problem?

There’s lots of training out there that addresses problems that either don’t exist or are not a high priority. Focusing on a client conversation about the business problem to be addressed by the training will help you determine whether the request is anchored in a real need and a top priority, or just someone’s whim about what’s needed. You don’t need to be spending time, money, and effort on a project that should not have begun in the first place.

4. How will you know the training is successful?

You will know if the training is successful if it solves the business need or problem, and measuring this is not as simple as an end-of-course test. But even before you develop a proper evaluation strategy, you need to hear from your client about what they believe will constitute success. What does the client want to accomplish? Once you know this, your evaluation strategy can take shape, and it will be a strategy that the client will want to own. Again, this is why identifying the real client, at the start, is so vital.

5. Who are the learners, where are they, and what do they do?

Of course, you are going to do a needs assessment, but you will be surprised how much the client organization already knows about the target population for the training and what the actual demand is. Understanding what the learners do—as workers—will give you important guidance as to what they need, not just in the classroom but on the job as well. Talking about this early in the game will help you get a good picture about the best way to move forward with the project.

6. What delivery strategy is most likely?

Again, I realize that delivery strategy follows a design plan, but, in reality, there are going to be some upfront discussions around delivery (classroom, online, etc.). You should be able to get a picture, right off the bat, of where you are headed, based on preliminary information about the learners and their locations, the budget and time frame, and the expectations and predispositions of your client.

7. Is the content stable?

If the content for the training is not stable—i.e., there will be lots of content churn, not just during development but perhaps through much of the life of the training—your decisions as to how to proceed may change. It’s one thing to develop training around known content, such as leadership and accounting, and quite another to develop training around cutting-edge technology and new products.

8. What is the expected shelf life of the training?

Whether the content is stable or not, the longevity of the training may impact the path you take in developing it. Some training may be useful for just a few months while other training may be viable for years. You don’t want to invest tons of money and resources into training that will no longer be useful in a short time. This is primarily a question of balance.

9. Is training needed in the first place?

If you are open-minded about the options you can offer to the client, you will want to frame the initial conversations around an ecosystem of learning and performance solutions. Yes, training may be part (sometimes a big part) of the solution; but, more times than not, it won’t be the total solution. Thinking this way will likely make the ultimate solution more practical and efficient.

10. What’s in it for me?

Don’t leave yourself out of the conversation. You want to make an impact, and to engage in a project that is exciting to work on and a growth opportunity for your own development. Answering these questions before starting instructional design can only help to give you more control over a project that has a higher likelihood of success and personal satisfaction.

No doubt there are more questions you can think of as you kick off your new project. But these 10 questions are good starters. On the very first day, during your very first conversations, don’t just be an order-taker. Get ahead of the process, and get the answers you need to make the right decisions—early—and move forward.

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