Updated: Jul 6, 2022
What makes an instructional designer highly effective? In addition to being able to create powerful, engaging elearning courses, they have habits and personality traits that have helped them over time to continually improve their skills and become more successful in their careers. Let’s take a look at seven habits of highly effective instructional designers.
The first habit: Seek out and understand the context
A successful ID thrives on context. Whether you are crafting a module for use in a corporate course or working with teachers to develop training, you need to understand their day-to-day realities and constraints. Doing so will influence everything from your topic choice and style to your slide design and delivery options. Take time to know who your audience is and what they do before designing an elearning course or learning experience that's going to be truly effective at teaching them something new. As instructional designers, we have a responsibility (not just an opportunity) to understand our learners' jobs and lives so that we can make our instruction as relevant as possible—and keep them engaged as well!
The second habit: Strive for quality and clarity in your communications
The instructional designer’s job is to communicate. If you aren’t communicating clearly, then you aren’t doing your job. Our words must convey our ideas in ways that make sense to others. In order to do that, we need to make sure our own ideas are clear and not ambiguous or misleading in any way. Instead of thinking about quality as an optional extra, work on understanding your readers and have confidence in your ability to connect with them even if it means asking for feedback along the way. When we strive for clarity and quality in what we write, it makes a huge difference to those who read what we write.
People will be able to understand us better when they read our instructional design documents because they will be more confident in what they’re reading. They won’t feel confused by unclear language, nor will they feel like they have to go back over something again because it didn’t quite make sense at first glance. When people don't know exactly what you mean, their attention can drift away from your message very quickly. So think about how you can increase clarity and avoid ambiguity wherever possible—even when writing short emails or text messages!
The third habit: Observe users
Learning from observation is a cornerstone of any design thinking methodology. For instructional designers, understanding how users use (or don’t use) your content can help you streamline your process and improve future instructional designs. This means learning about everything from user behavior to their motivations to how they interact with technology. You might even want to consider shadowing some of your users or conducting usability tests. Observation is an essential part of design thinking, so it should be at the core of every instructional designer's habits as well.
The fourth habit: Test early, test often
In instructional design, our job is to teach a learner how to do something that they may have never done before. The key word in that sentence is learner. We have to assume that no matter how prepared they are or how much we tell them what they will be learning, it doesn’t always make it through one ear and out of their brain. So if you have elearning development project, then think about testing your lessons with users as early and often as possible, including early on in development by asking someone who knows nothing about content or technology whether they understand what’s going on. Use all these tips (and more) when designing your next lesson plan!
The fifth habit: Create a culture of feedback
This habit is my personal favorite, and one that I’ve begun to implement in my own projects with great success. The more feedback you receive from your instructional design projects, both positive and negative, the better you can assess your abilities as an instructional designer. Ask others for their feedback on your designs. Not only will it help you improve your work, but it will show that you care about what others think, even if it is hard to hear at times. When someone provides constructive criticism, thank them for their input and be sure to address any concerns they might have raised. If you disagree with something they said, explain why; if they misunderstood something, try to clarify it. Remember: most people are genuinely trying to help!
Your fifth habit should be focused on building a culture of feedback among colleagues and friends who are also instructional designers. Asking people how they feel about your work may seem like a strange thing to do (it certainly does feel weird when I ask), but remember: these are people who know you well enough that they know how much effort went into creating your design (or at least part of it). They want what's best for you too!
The sixth habit: Set priorities
Your first goal should be to create one great course. Focusing on creating quality eLearning over quantity is not only wise, but will make your portfolio grow faster. Most companies will only hire instructional designers who can prove they have experience creating eLearning that adds value to a company. Create high-quality courses early in your career and you’ll find it easier to land work later on. Also, since so many people are creating online training today, there are plenty of low-cost or free templates available. Don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel with every new project. Learn from what others have done before you—and don’t try to compete with their work. You may think your designs are better than theirs—but even if they aren't right now, give yourself time to learn and grow as an instructional designer before competing with experienced professionals!
The seventh habit: Keep learning
Being an instructional designer is a challenging job, which can make it difficult to stay current on trends and best practices. Taking time to learn new skills and become more familiar with what’s out there keeps you up-to-date in your field, enables you to meet client needs, and enhances your ability to deliver top-notch elearning that achieves desired results. While learning doesn’t necessarily have to take place at work—in fact, taking time outside of work can provide valuable perspective—it is critical that instructional designers continually strive for professional development. Keeping tabs on industry news through blogs, social media groups, conferences, seminars and workshops ensures that they’re always working towards new goals.
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