Call it training, development, education, or continuous learning, organizations develop some sort of educational offering for many reasons. It might be part of an onboarding process or a way to introduce new policies and procedures. You may want to share the knowledge of in-house subject matter experts (SMEs) or help your employees improve their skills.

Whatever the goal, there’s a science to designing instructional materials that achieve their goals. With years of experience in designing and managing educational programs for many types of organizations, instructional designers at The Lindenberger Group share some tips and best practices in instructional design.

Any instructional design project begins by considering six factors:

  • Goals. What does the class/training hope to achieve, and how will you measure its success? If this is a class that will result in a certification, license, or other professional designation, are there specific standards the class has to meet?
  • Corporate Culture. Is the organization education-focused? Does it embrace education, new skills, knowledge transfer?
  • Past Experience. Related to the corporate culture, does the organization have a history of offering educational courses to employees? Is this a training course that’s routine for certain employees, or a new initiative for the organization?
  • Needs. Why is this project being done, and why does the organization need it now? A training class in response to a government-mandated consent decree, for example, is very different from a training program to teach new employees how to use specific equipment.
  • In-house SMEs. Will educational information come from in-house SMEs, outside experts, or a combination of the two? Will this be a class taught by someone in-house or an outside instructor?
  • Challenges/Obstacles. Every project has its challenges, from tight budgets or deadlines to scheduling difficulties because of a widespread workforce. No two projects are alike.

Best Practices in Instructional Design: ADDIE

The industry standard for designing effective instruction has a simple acronym, ADDIE, which means:

  • Assessment. What is the need for training? Is there a current skill gap? Who is the audience? What needs to be accomplished? What is the desired outcome?
  • Design. This phase answers the question, “What will this instruction look like?” Learning objectives are identified, as well as the instructional methodologies that will achieve those objectives. All aspects of the training are articulated, including the type of materials, activities (g., roleplay, videos, lectures, etc.), and length of training. The design phase is a critical step that gives the client an opportunity to review the plan and to provide feedback and modifications to ensure the training meets their expectations.
  • Development. The actual creation of the course material. This phase typically includes creating separate guides for the instructor(s) and the learners, as well as any testing/measurement.
  • Implementation. Making the course happen, from set-up to scheduling to evaluation, and everything in-between. If using in-house instructors, a Train-the-Trainer session takes place during this stage to ensure they are well-versed in the material and prepared to deliver. Also, it is customary to conduct a pilot session to gather feedback, which can then be used to finalize materials before a full-scale launch.
  • Evaluation. The metrics used to judge the success/effectiveness of the course. Several methods are used to evaluate the success of the course, such as collecting learner reactions, assessing knowledge/skill acquisition, determining transfer of learning to the workplace, and finally, quantifying the return on investment. The determination of evaluation methodology is agreed upon during the design phase, and the appropriate tool is developed accordingly.

How the Lindenberger Group Uses ADDIE

When working with a client to design instructional materials, instructional designers follow this process, which can be adapted to the client’s specific needs. Occasionally, organizations conduct internal needs assessments before engaging the Lindenberger Group. We remain flexible to clients’ needs and customize our process accordingly.

First, we analyze whether the client’s goals can be met using in-house SMEs and resources, outside experts and information, or both. We also determine who will be involved in the project and what each person’s responsibilities will be.

Whatever resources are used, the process is generally iterative, as the client, the Lindenberger Group, and any outside SMEs work together to design and tweak an instructional program that will meet the organization’s goals.

Then, we collaborate with the client to make decisions about the appropriate delivery methodology. These decisions are based upon several factors, such as the training content, the complexity and ambiguity of the topic, the organizational structure and location of the learners, and available resources. Typical delivery methodologies can include:

  • Written materials
  • Audio or video
  • Role-playing and other interactive activities, such as roundtables or drawing on participants’ experiences
  • Group activities
  • Case studies
  • Simulations
  • Self-assessments
  • Team interventions
  • Self-study or self-reflection
  • Webinars, synchronous or asynchronous
  • Post-education resource materials

There is no “best” instructional strategy. Some training is most effective when taught by experts who have deep experience in the subject and can share personal stories. Some is best accomplished via software simulations. Security guards learning about the proper use of personal protection equipment would probably be best served by a live or recorded demonstration. Trainees who are learning to operate the controls of a nuclear plant should begin with a software simulator. In some cases, a more extensive course may include a variety of educational strategies.

Along the way, challenges invariably arise, whether as simple as scheduling learning sessions or as complex as needing to make significant changes to the training methodology. We work together to identify both the causes and potential solutions for any issues.

Staying Abreast of New Developments

Because instructional design is constantly evolving as we learn more about how people learn and retain information, the Lindenberger Group keeps up with the state-of-the-art by using several resources, including:

  • The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a non-profit association serving those who develop talent in the workplace.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management, where human resource experts share information on new strategies for instructional design. E-learning, simulations, and virtual worlds are hot topics right now.

Another innovation that’s proving effective is called bite-sized learning. This breaks complex subjects down into separate, pre-recorded, 10-15 minute modules. A course on communications, for example, might have separate modules on active listening, summarizing, communication styles, and other topics. Participants can easily fit a session into even the busiest of schedules, or they can review particular lessons whenever they have a few spare moments. A lot of training is also starting to borrow techniques from video games, where players often inhabit virtual worlds and must learn complex skills to succeed.

Using Resources Wisely

An important decision is whether to use in-house or external instructors.

The benefit to using an in-house instructor is that such individuals bring a deep knowledge of the organization’s culture and an understanding of the jobs that people are doing. They often are SMEs. They can expand on the materials by providing personal experiences, and they can respond to questions that may not have been included in the materials. Their experience in the organization can contribute to their credibility in the classroom.

The challenge when using internal instructors or designers is that they may not be able to see some of the cultural barriers that exist inside the organization because they’re part of it.

Separation from the internal culture is an important benefit when working with an external expert. For example, in training sessions where confidentiality is important, external instructors may be able to create psychological safety more readily than internal instructors. They can also provide an objective perspective to contentious and consequential discussions. Second, external experts in a particular topic may be sought out to introduce best practices from other industries. An internal instructor may have limited exposure to new approaches, while an outside expert will be able to draw upon fresh insights from innovative companies.

Work with Experts

The Lindenberger Group has a long history of helping many types of organizations—including higher education, non-profits, and corporate clients—build the capabilities of their employees, leaders, and teams.

For more information, or to discuss your upcoming educational projects, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.