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Expand Your Skills

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As an Instructional Designer, it’s necessary to be able to wear many hats. Along with those many hats comes the need to learn new skills and techniques.

I’ve learned it’s necessary to look outside Learning & Development. This post is about some of the skills I’ve looked towards to inspire my work and help me develop a creative edge in my work.

No department works in a silo, which is why it’s important to explore different skills.

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There are an infinite number of skills to learn and apply to Learning & Development. These are a few skills I’ve picked up and continue to work on which I find related to Instructional Design.

User Experience of the Learning Experience

My interest in Instructional Design began in web design, which has close ties to User Experience (UX). 

Learning is an experience that you should take into consideration from start to finish, not just one part of the process. This holistic belief is like the beliefs of UX, and contain all those small parts such as UI. While UI is important, it’s just a small piece of the UX/LX.

User Experience is one of the most important skills to have. To be able to think about the entire experience and put yourself in the end users shoes is invaluable. I read anything I can get my hands on relating to current UX trends.

User Experience is so important to L&D that the term “Learning Experience” (LX) was coined around its thought processes. This is for good reason, you’re not designing instruction, not not even just training. You want to create an experience that accounts for the entire journey, and make it a wonderful experience. Our added goal is for the user to learn something during that experience.

Taking your job a step further to take responsibility for how the user begins to the final steps is necessary. Not only will you be more successful in your, job but you’ll create an experience for users where you’ve freed their energy for learning.

Wireframes and user stories are just two great parts of User Experience that Learning Experience designers can bring into their work.

This brings me to the next skill necessary for creating a great Learning Experience.

Make it Pretty With Graphic Design

While graphic design is a small parts of UX, I felt it important enough to put it on its own.

Visual design can affect so many things in learning. From how serious people take it to how clear the information is presented. Information design and graphic design go hand in hand.

Designing a Learning Experience is often visual. Beside writing expertise, an Instructional Designer must be able to present ideas in a visual form.

Visuals help cement the learning for a more memorable and clearer experience by the user.

Trying to simplify your performance support? Presenting things in a visual way can cut down on words and simplify the understanding you’re trying to provide. Performance support can almost always be more successful if presented visually.

Market Yourself

If you build it, they will come.

Unless you create compliance training, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even if you’re creating compliance training, it’s not a bad idea to give it positive twist through marketing techniques.

Marketing focuses on giving a product a positive image and make people want it. Marketing your courses, classes, etc is just as important as what goes into creating it.

No matter how well designed a learning experience is, if nobody ever sees it, that effort was wasted.

Where Do I Learn?

That’s an easy question to answer these days. You can learn about many of these topics free thanks to the myriad of free resources, from MOOCs to YouTube.

I was able to learn the basics of marketing by taking a free Coursera MOOC.

UX is a topic you’ll find in many places, even from everyday observations such as one at a restaurant (where does the restaurant experience even begin?). There are also many industry news web sites that have some great articles and insights from the pros.

The problem isn’t where to learn about these subjects, it’s how to decipher the good from the bad. This is something that can only come with experience.

What’s in it for me?

Diversity of knowledge. That’s the only reason needed. With diversity of knowledge comes creativity, more success in your work and thinking that reaches beyond the status quo.

Innovation also comes from diversity of knowledge. Things you wouldn’t put together become common, leading to even more creativity and innovation.

Sometimes it’s necessary to branch out into other industries and draw on the relations you see.

Learning & Development never works in a silo, even the science behind it never pertains only to learning. There are so many things that cross over, it’s our job to find those crossovers and make our field/work better and more valuable to the business.

Borrowing from other industries is a great way to keep innovating and creating the best environment for learning.

Go forth and learn

Think about how your job crosses over into various industries. I’d like to hear all the different crossovers you can think of. There are a few which I didn’t mention, and I’m sure there are many more which haven’t even crossed my mind.

Comment on this post with some of the skills you’ve found are important in the Learning & Development field.

If you haven’t already, go out and learn a new skill. Take a MOOC, learn a new piece of software that you don’t already use. It may surprise you how many ways you can find ways to use that knowledge.

2 Comments

  1. C on September 4, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Hi – I stumbled upon your blog through elearning heros (where I downloaded on of your templates). I’m an entry level instructional designer and want to expand my skills to create better user interfaces and user experiences, but I struggle with this because of time. The short deadlines I have to turn out the elearning courses deter me from taking the time to explore my creative side. I end up falling into a comfort zone in order to get the project done quickly. I come from an art background so I’m a creative at heart, and very passionate about it. I need to be able to expand my creativity and development skills in order to be productive and feel happy with my work. Do you have any thoughts on finding time to expand your skills AND be able to meet short project deadlines?

    Just curious,
    C

    • Nick Leffler on September 4, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      Hi C, That’s a pretty common dilemma when it comes to putting out quality work. Everybody falls prey to the short turnaround time at one time or another, including myself. I’d say one of the best things you can do is to practice your skill, and practice applying your art background to your Instructional Design work. Art is definitely one of those skills that crosses over into ID.

      Take part in an eLearning Heroes challenge to practice your skill, they can be quick and allow you to think outside of the box by giving you a blank canvas to paint on. Carve a few hours out of your schedule during the evening one day a week and see what you can come up with. This creative outlet will get your brain turning about how you could apply that to your day job. It will also give you some work to use as a starting point when you get one of those quick turnaround projects, some of the thought and creativity will already be done.

      Another thing you can do is to keep pushing for lengthier deadlines. I know that’s a challenge, but it will pay in the end. It’s possible to continue squeezing hours and shortening deadlines to improve so called ROI (Return on Investment), but the ROI actually suffers in that scenario. Quality and thoughtfulness is where real benefit to the organization happens. It takes time to increase those deadlines, but pushing business partners over time will pay off.

      Increase quality, increase time reasonably, everybody wins, especially the user.

      The old saying about having to pick two between “fast, good, or cheap” is rubbish, you can really only have one 🙂

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