Instructional designers are superheroes. A typical day on the job can involve HTML code, wrangling content, negotiating with subject matter experts, and making user experience decisions. It’s a true embodiment of the phrase “wear many hats.”
So what’s the secret to mastering all these disciplines? I’ve worked alongside instructional designers that make the job seem easy. These designers deliver creative solutions regardless of the circumstances. What sets them apart are three key skills that make them top-notch in their field.
Instructional designer = consultant. Consulting is a dance between what the client wants and what they need. If a designer doesn’t push a client to see something in a new way, they are missing an opportunity. Instructional designers need to find the ground to make recommendations and be seen as an expert, rather than being treated as a production or administrative function of the project. The sooner I made this connection in my own career, I was able take on the toughest clients.
My own personal formula for consultations is a blend of the following:
- Listen deeply. Not just to what the subject matter expert or stakeholder is saying, but what they aren’t saying.
- Ask why…A LOT. Don’t stop. Yes it gets uncomfortable but you will uncover the real needs of the project.
Designers work on human problems that are messy. Projects go off the rails, clients disappear for weeks on end, and things break during launches. The reality is, there are no perfect projects that fit into a step by step process. Being adaptable is a designer’s best bet to keeping their sanity. And being adaptable means finding new ways to do the work, even if it doesn’t fall into a standard process.
Ideas for practicing adaptability:
- Go to the grocery store without a list, I dare you! Did you freak out because you can’t remember what you need? Find a way to adapt.
- What’s the worst possible scenario you can imagine for your project? No subject matter expert? No budget? Scope out a project based on these constraints. I guarantee you’ll come up with something better.
When designers leverage planning and timelines, they can execute on beautiful designs. The key here is having your own personal project management system. Have you mapped out each set of tasks for a project? How about a total estimate of hours? How long did it actually take to complete? Once an instructional designer has a roadmap of projects it’s easier to advocate for resources, and fight for a design that will make the most impact on learning.
- Check out this designer’s experience using Trello to manage a course development: Managing Instructional Design Projects with a Design-Thinking Approach and Trello
- LinkedIn Learning offers training on a variety of project management software.