What happens when ID’er’s start asking too many questions..

This seems to be a hot topic right now – I’ve seen it in a number of places, and it’s one of my pet themes. It starts with the question:

  • Where does this learning project come from?

Does the Learning Director/Department manager simply hand the learning project to the Instructional Designer? And where do they get it from?

It’s our business to ask questions, and those questions will soon be asking how the Learning Project meets the needs of the business. Then, from there, it’s a short step to ask if this particular learning project is really the best way to address the perceived needs.

A lesson learnt from my time in programming is that there are two targets:

  • Build the right solution
  • Build the solution right

If you haven’t identified the problem that you need to solve, you could easily waste a lot of time and money building something – which may be great in itself – but isn’t actually what was needed. And nobody wants to do that.

So, here’s the dilemma. The manager hands you a brief for a learning project. You know that you can get the same learning ‘off the shelf’ from one of the content libraries. Or you can see that making a course from the source material you have been given won’t fulfil the objectives. Do you carry on?

As a freelancer, the answer is simple. Yes. You’d be a fool to let on that you’ve seen a similar course on Coursera for $50 and deny yourself the contract. And you’ll be paid whether or not the organizational goals are met – by the time this is known, the project will be a vague memory. 

Working in a company, this may seem easier – In a previous life, I’d go back to the Learning Director and suggest that getting these courses from such-and-such provider would mean the learners would benefit months sooner, the eLearning team would be free to work on projects we couldn’t buy, and we’d save the organization thousands by investing a small amount. So soon I found myself guiding the overall digital learning strategy.

But in doing this, I had shot myself in the foot. As the eLearning expert, I’m no longer creating courses – I’m too busy making contracts and agreements with external suppliers, sifting through libraries and evaluating other people’s courses. The output of our eLearning team has also dropped – the focus had shifted to sourcing eLearning, administration, gathering requirements from the various business areas – and finding eLearning providers who could provide courses to meet these requirements.

And hey presto, I’m no longer an Instructional Designer, but a project administrator. I’m now forced into a role which I didn’t want. Time to say goodbye. Kind words from the department head on leaving – “What I respect about Adam is that he won’t do something unless he believes what he’s doing is the right thing.”  I think it’s nice to be that principled, but sometimes in businesses, compromises need to be made, it’s only really worth entering into battles when you can see a positive outcome. 

And, finally, a warning. As an Instructional Designer, yes, it is an important goal to understand how your project fits with the needs of the organization. But you need to know how the goalposts are fixed by many different stakeholders – both inside and outside the organization. And mess with them at your peril – the consequences might lead you places you don’t want to go!