Organizing Content: PPT, Index Cards, Other Methods?

On one of my recent projects, I had a series of videos to intersperse throughout a course. I had an outline in the design document, but when I started actually developing it, I realized the structure wasn’t quite right. I was struggling a bit to figure out how to organize the pieces.

I ended up putting all the “chunks” of content into boxes on a PowerPoint slide and dragging and dropping until I was happy with it. The orange blocks are videos; the blue blocks are content pieces. The one white box was an optional piece I debated whether to cut. (Note that the specific content labels here are unlikely to make much sense, since I removed a number of identifying details for this post. Ignore the specific content and just think about the development process.)

PowerPoint Planning

This worked really well for me, and got me “un-stuck.” I could have done the same sort of organization with index cards, but PowerPoint was handy. It also has the advantage of being easily saved and edited at a later date. I suppose with index cards you could take a picture or just transcribe everything, but that seems like too much hassle to me. This was quick and dirty, but it got the job done. I have also found this technique useful when working remotely with SMEs. Bring up a PowerPoint slide in your web conferencing software and drag and drop live while you’re on the phone.

However, I know sometimes the tactile experience can be helpful. When I wrote the branching video at the end of the above plan, I ended up writing my first draft in a notebook instead of on the computer. I’m very comfortable composing at the keyboard, but sometimes for creative writing like that storyline, I still want that physical sensation of a pen in my hand. I know a local author who recently tried and then abandoned software for planning a novel. She has returned to organizing her work with sticky notes on a large storyboard. That tactile work is part of her process.

I’m curious what other instructional designers do to organize content. Do you just reorder the text in Word? Do you use something visual like PowerPoint or a mind map? Do you use something physical like index cards? Is there another method for this process that I haven’t thought of? Please take a few seconds and answer this one-question poll. (If you’re reading this in email or RSS, you may need to visit my site to answer the poll.) If you have another process, please share!

Is Instructional Designer the Right Title?

Via a post I found through Workplace Learning Today, Rob Wilkins asked whether “instructional designer” is really an accurate title for what we do. He suggests that “information and instruction architect” might be a better description, especially as we move to more learner control, personal learning environments, and Web 2.0 tools. I agree with at least some of what he’s saying; instructional designer does carry some connotations of formal, instructor-led learning.

Wilkins focuses on the “designer” part of the title in his post. He says that designer implies “that an outcome, as a result of receiving the instruction, will be achieved,” but that an architect builds without knowing exactly how a structure will be used. It’s an interesting analogy, but I’m not sure I quite agree.

To me, if there’s an issue with the title “instructional designer,” it’s with the instructional part rather than the designer half. “Instructional” is the word to me that implies formal learning: a teacher or trainer in front of a classroom or a self-paced tutorial where learners must follow the software leads.

Of course, most of what I’m doing for my job is very much formal training. Graduate courses still have quite a bit of formality, even online. However, when I’m designing courses with Web 2.0 tools that (hopefully) help people build their personal learning environments, it’s not quite the traditional course. I’ve had some great success with student-led blog discussions and wiki galleries of peer work and feedback. Our facilitators definitely do more coaching and mentoring than direct instruction. I do try to design courses where students can be empowered to direct their own learning, at least within some framework.

At least as far as my own work is concerned, I think it’s always focused on learning but not always direct instruction. Does that mean that “learning designer” or something similar would be a better description?

Like Wilkins, I’m not sure. What do you think? Is your job more about learning or instruction? Are you an architect, a designer, or something else?