Written by:

Holly Macdonald


February 10, 2016

Instructional designers create instructional or training products. Whether we like it or not, product design and product management is our industrial cousin. How so?

  • We produce a “thing” that others choose to use/buy or not.
  • We have to market this “thing” to ensure our target audience is aware of it and knows how to get it.
  • We have to balance what our target audience wants and tie it into overall corporate goals and/or messaging.
  • We have to support our users in using and troubleshooting it.
  • We have to plan for updates.
  • We care about what’s included and what problem it solves.

So, if you agree, here five lessons we could learn from our product cousins:

  1. Your instructional product should solve a problem. Does it? In the start-up world, many follow Steve Blank’s advice to do “customer discovery” and figure out what problem your product would solve and for who.
  2. Build a minimum viable instructional product. Don’t misunderstand the term. It’s not minimally acceptable product, it’s identifying the core aspect of your product that will solve your customer’s problem. The intent with the MVP is that you cut to the core and then polish your product once you are confident that it fixes a problem. Does your instructional product do that? Our industry gets caught up in making stuff look pretty, but if it does what it was supposed to do, then it is good enough.
  3. Design thinking. Customer journey. Empathy mapping. Scenario planning. These are trends that are intended to use product design to match the needs of the customer/user. This involves feature selection, visual look and feel, product use, and other aspects that define how your customer interacts with your product. Have you done this with your instructional products? Could you use design thinking to engage stakeholders? Could you map the learning journey to understand the types of instructional products/support you might tap into or need to develop? Could you use empathy mapping to outline behavioural outcomes? Could you use scenario planning to test your solution?
  4. Invest in marketing your instructional product. You want widespread adoption, so plan your implementation carefully. Work backwards and forwards from your “release” day, using the following timescale. We’ve included a rough example to give you an idea of how to make it work.
  5. Think about product support early in your cycle. Ensure that you have people who are on call to support users. Identify vulnerable groups and reach out. Build review cycle into your instructional product during initial development. In fact, if your product is akin to a “seasonal” product (limited shelf life), you could cut down on the nice to have features, such as custom graphics or illustrations. Can you build into the maintenance loop a “check-in” to ensure that it’s still current? Analyze what problems are trending. Address those in an “update”. Communicate out to your customers that there is an update and have “release notes”.


What do you think?