Written by:

Holly Macdonald


November 23, 2015

In the last post, we made the case for why instructional design matters.

We believe that designing good instruction for learning requires a unique set of skills and the reality is (as with any profession) there are good ones and not so good ones. When you are looking for an instructional designer, especially to build your online course, here are some things you should look for:

  1. Good (needs) analysis skills – they ask questions about the outcome and challenge you on the creation of the course. Why does it deserve to exist? Cathy Moore describes this so well.
  2. They focus on activity first – they don’t just ask you for the powerpoint file and then develop a course. They want to understand what the key tasks are involved so that the instruction supports the task. What do people need to be able to DO after this instruction? Or what is it intended to support them doing?
  3. They ask about mistakes that the audience might be making (as a result of lack of training) and consequences of those mistakes – understanding how to use training to avoid things that would harm the organization is critical. It’s not just about telling them things (i.e. sharing content), it’s about ensuring that the training is used to actually train someone, not just show them information that we hope they’ll use when the time comes. I think Dave Ferguson’s post is a good place to start.
  4. They ask questions about the environment – your instructional designer should be preparing your audience for the moment when they apply that task. Consider that you might need to have not just training, but also performance support.
  5. They differentiate between information that needs to be memorized vs information that should be referenced. In other words, they understand that some information remains constant and some changes and shouldn’t be memorized, but the process of looking it up should be.
  6. They help you solve your business problem within the constraints of your business. Sometimes a course isn’t pretty because there isn’t budget or time to enable that. But if it solved your business need, does it matter if it was “award winning”? Look for a partner that is looking to make YOU more successful, not themselves.
  7. They meet you where you are. A good partner won’t be forcing their “best practices” on you or belittling how you approach training (unless you ask them to help you shake things up).
  8. They don’t just build a course, but challenge you and ask about the actual business problem, the performance gap, and WANT to solve your problem. Even if that means telling you that a course/training won’t solve your problem.
  9. Their solution is not just a course. To really change behaviour (and that’s why you are working with an instructional designer), you need to address timing, feedback, spaced repetition, culture, process, etc. People aren’t just “trained” by the magic training wand. Will Thalheimer outlines his approach.
  10. They look at assessment as more than a multiple choice quiz at the end of the module. They help you design meaningful ways to ensure that they have learned something.

Bonus: they pay attention to information about how people learn.

Of course, you’ll also want an instructional designer that can translate all of that into an online environment, but first and foremost, you want someone who is interested in the learning needs before the technical requirements.

What have I missed? What would you say are the must-have skills?