Written by:

Holly Macdonald


November 22, 2014

I was going to call this post the “curse” of the mindset of the instructional designer, as many of us go through life seeing places where people could really use our help and sometimes we can’t stop. But, in reality it isn’t a curse. It’s a gift!

An instructional designer mindset means:

  • You seek to clarify what the intended audience supposed to DO and HOW are they supposed to do it.
  • You identify that there are conditions that may impede learning and/or remembering
  • Chunking is a legitimate activity (where you “chunk” the information)
  • You think about the sequence of information and how it might best be delivered or repeated
  • You see opportunities for job aids
  • You consider visual cues as a complement to learning

This doesn’t mean that we are looking to turn everything into a course, it just means that we are looking for ways to improve instruction.

Where would an instructional designer mindset be helpful?

Any program anywhere – schools, communities, non-profits, etc

Any time a group puts together a program, there’s an instructional component, whether they realize it or not. It might be in the application forms, in the orientation to the issues at hand (why does this program exist), in understanding their new role or just understanding the program itself. An instructional designer mindset could help program developers to approach the creation of their programs differently and think about how to ensure skills are transferred, and how they envision the program sustaining itself after it’s launched. There are times that enthusiasm and good intention are not enough. For example, one project we are working on helps community members learn what their role is as a volunteer and what the “rules of engagement” are, as they are dealing with youth and we want to be sure that good intentions are combined with helpful interactions. If you’ve ever volunteered and not been sure exactly what you are supposed to do, this might resonate with you.

Health interactions – especially for patients

Imagine you are in the doctor’s office and you get a bunch of verbal instructions and maybe a brochure to help you with a diagnosis, but you are emotional or distracted or just ill, so you forget the nuances of what you’ve been instructed to do. I think there is a huge need for an instructional designer’s mindset across health in general. For most patients, they are not familiar with the ins/outs of their condition or treatment, while health care professionals deal with this constantly. An instructional designer’s mindset might lead us to think about the different stages of competence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence and identify how a patient is obviously at a much lower level of competence as a health care professional, and approach instruction from a beginner’s perspective. Chunking and sequencing could be a case of life or death! I’d love to see more of an instructional designer’s mindset in many health situations. Help patients be more supported and in more ways than currently exist. An example, one project that we are working on involves providing instruction for patients with a chronic condition and we’ve identified ways of providing introductory instruction (e-learning) and a range of performance support: how to guides that walk you through the first time, how to calibrate your home machine, signs to watch out for infection, etc. The intent is to empower the patient to manage their own treatment and it takes more than one in-home visit to do so.

Here’s a recent post by another instructional designer in a similar vein, but focused on the health care professional side: https://bridgehillls.com/ebola-rethinking-americas-healthcare-system-from-a-training-perspective/

Social Causes – many and growing

We all have causes we believe in and support. There’s a plethora of channels to get your message out these days and I personally have seen a huge increase in the number of petitions I’m asked to sign, videos promoting the cause and the dreaded “clickbait” to articles about an issue. These are often done with a marketing mindset and I wonder if adding an instructional designer mindset might be helpful. An example: recently I attended a documentary called “Just Eat It” – a film about food waste and I was inspired by the film to make changes, but got a bit stuck about what I could actually do beyond just trying not to waste as much. The instructional designer in me is itching to make an online course, especially a weekly email delivered course that would allow you to take action and creating lasting behaviour change.

As a company, we’ve been lucky to be involved in some programs that are in this “non-traditional” realm, and we really enjoy them. It’s not typical instructional design, but is does give us opportunities to be engaged in social aspects that hopefully make our communities and maybe our world a better place through the gift of an instructional designer’s mindset.

Do you see other areas that an instructional designer’s mindset could make a difference?