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Thriving as an Instructional Designer in a Multi-Device World

Summary:  The essential responsibility of every Instructional Designer is to improve the quality and effectiveness of instruction. That has not changed in our increasingly multi-device world. The basics, from audience analysis to writing to the objectives, are still there. For the “modern” Instructional Designer, however, they just look different.


It’s a Multi-Device World

How and when people learn new things has changed significantly in the last decade. With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the entire sum of human knowledge is now available in the palm of your hand. 

While the “how and when” of learning may have changed, the “what” to learn in the workplace is still highly dependent on the job, the task, the context, and the audience. Enter the Instructional Designer. Borrowing an acronym from the field of marketing, designers need to know their Target Audience. Designing instruction today must be learner-centered above anything else. Follow these steps to become a Learner-centered professional. 

Just as they did years ago, Instructional Designers sift through all the “nice to know” information, and deliver just the “need to know,” in a format that is both engaging and practical. They research and cull through all the data (curate it if you prefer), evaluate it for its relevance and importance to the task at hand, and then put it in a format that is easily accessible for a given set of learners.

All the traditional skills of understanding audience needs, linking training to business objectives and making learning engaging are still needed. With time and productivity very much at a premium in the workplace, these skills are as crucial as ever. 

Instructional Designers support learners by sifting through the vast quantities of information available on the Internet, evaluating the job or task at hand, and selecting only the most relevant and important material. They do this by using their skills, experience, knowledge of the audience, and familiarity with the organization’s business objectives. Finally, they take the sifted and selected kernels of knowledge and format it in a way that is easily accessible and appealing. The only thing that is truly different is the delivery platform.

PC-only to Multi-Device Delivery

With all the competition for attention in the digital world, any message needs to grab and keep the recipient’s attention if there is any hope of getting through. That includes training and development.

Today, the focus must be on the user’s experience, and not just on the content. This means Instructional Designers need to:

  • Make the navigation easy and/or intuitive
  • Keep the display interesting and engaging
  • Eliminate unnecessary details that don’t need to be covered
  • Make what’s important super obvious
  • Create a way to access “help” features without disrupting the flow
  • Use a more fluid, scrolling format that works any screen resolution and size
  • Design courses that seamlessly works across multiple devices

They Need to Become Learning Architects

Instructional Designers have always assessed the need for training before jumping in and designing a course. Today, this assessment includes not only what should be included in the training, but also how and when it can be accessed. It may also include multiple delivery options, as well as various levels of subject matter mastery.

Instructional Designers need to take into consideration and map out the different stages of the learner’s journey, including how and when they will access your content. Focusing especially on the “want to know” and “want to do” behaviors they have throughout each and every day.

Think: When your employees turn to their smartphones and tablets, what do they want to know? How do they best consume information — especially training materials for your company?

If you can understand the questions that employees are asking — specifically what they want to know and want to do — you’ll be able to cre ate impactful courses that are available in any device they have available, in any moment they need.

In short, Instructional Designers need to design a “master plan” that incorporates multiple delivery strategies for their learning solutions. Learners may wish to access training from their desktop, laptop, iPad, or smartphone. They may also need to break down the lesson into smaller “chunks” that can be retrieved throughout the day, rather than in one long sitting. Finally, not every learner will need to absorb and participate in every aspect of a topic. So, designers will need to incorporate branching or diverging pathways to access the content.

Read more: Start Thinking of Micro Learning Moments Now

Enter Design Thinking

In the past, Instructional Designers might conceptualize a project regarding building a final deliverable, and then move on. Those days are over. Modern Instructional Designers need an ongoing ability to experiment with new approaches, strategies, patterns, and language to see what works best to optimize user experience. To do this, designers need to view their work as a series of prototypes. Experimentation and innovation are key to design breakthrough courses, and these only happen with a working prototype that users can play around with.

Modern Instructional Designers must draw inspiration from the needs of their target audience.

Starting with the end user, they should work out what would make the learning experience easier. This starts with understanding of how people learn, what do they need to learn, what are their frustrations, and taking into consideration the context of the audience. Are they never at their desk? Don't create a desktop-based course! 

Don’t let this design process be theoretical. One key to this type of design thinking is to test prototypes out on a diverse group of target users. Watch them as they interact with the prototyped design, and observe what works and what doesn’t. Find out what they like, and what they find confusing. Boldly test out creative and innovative techniques in a non-threatening environment, before committing time and resources to full development.

Both formal and informal surveying lets us know what our learners (and managers) are looking for and what’s important to them. These needs are what we must build our courses around.  If it seems that there are two or more distinct groups within your audience, it can make sense to create several versions of your content. Each one can be focused on a slightly different need or concern to ensure you get relevant content for everyone. 

Read more: Important Lessons eLearning Professionals Can Learn From Design Thinking

The Future

The future of learning and development holds many unknowns. But one thing is for certain:  there is no going back to the way things were. To stay relevant, Modern Instructional Designers must advance their design solutions to keep pace with the dynamically evolving world of learning.



Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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