One truth I have learned about instructional design is that I will never create a “perfect” course; there’s always something that could be better if I had more time or more resources or more skills.
When I interviewed for my first ID job, I asked my soon-to-be-peers the hardest part of their job. One answer stuck with me all these years. He said the hardest thing was knowing when to let go of a course. There’s always something more you could do, but at some point, you have to stop fiddling and launch it.
When I go back to my old courses, I always find something I could improve—tightening up my language, tweaking the visual design to improve clarity, making an interaction more effective. Partly that’s because I always find something to revise in my writing after I’ve had time away from it. Partly that’s because I’m always learning, so I know how to do something now that I didn’t know when I created the course. I can make courses free of errors (typos, factual errors, etc.), but “perfect” is a goal that doesn’t really exist.
It’s hard for someone with perfectionist tendencies like me to admit that perfection isn’t attainable. This is, perhaps, an argument for rapid prototyping or agile development like SAM. If you release a minimum viable product to your audience, then you can keep iterating closer and closer to the ideal. You can let go of trying to be perfect at the start because you know you have lots of opportunities to fix it.
This is also an argument for planning to review and revise courses on a regular basis. I admit I haven’t been doing enough of this, especially since I’ve been consulting and not working as an internal ID. Too often, I hand off a course to a client and never even find out what happens after launching. I could do a better job selling clients on the idea of reviewing a course 60 or 90 days after launch and making improvements if needed.
Do you agree that there are no “perfect” courses? How do you handle it in your own work?
One of the most common mistakes I see in scenario-based learning is using feedback to tell learners what was right or wrong instead of showing them.
Take the following example of a branching scenario to practice counseling someone on dietary choices. One mistake learners can make in the scenario is setting a goal that is too difficult. If the learners recommend a goal of cutting out all added sugar and soda, you could simply tell them they’re wrong and why it’s a bad choice like this:
“Sorry, that’s incorrect. If a goal is too difficult, it can reduce motivation. A smaller interim goal may have a better chance of success.”
In scenarios, it’s better to avoid explicitly stating that a choice is right or wrong. That breaks the realism of the scenario and makes it an academic exercise rather than a practice simulation. Instead of just telling learners that it’s a bad choice, you can show them the consequences of their decision. In this example, I used both the dialog showing the response of the person being counseled and his facial expression.
I selected a character from the eLearning Brothers library and picked five poses with a range of expressions from upset to happy. This is one place where it’s critical to have photos showing more than the standard stock photo happy expressions. For each response in the branching scenario, I determined the motivation level on a five-point scale and matched the corresponding photo to the response.
For many scenarios, the dialog and expression of the person would be enough to show whether or not the choice was right, wrong, or somewhere in between. Sometimes you need additional feedback though. Because this scenario deals with an invisible factor (motivation), I created an additional consequence with a motivation meter. The level of motivation increases and decreases depending on the choices the learner makes. This is another way to show consequences within the context of the scenario without becoming so academic as to say “Sorry, that’s incorrect.”
If your learners are novices, you may still need to provide coaching or instructional feedback about their choices. I prefer to use a coach for that instructional feedback to maintain some realism, and I always pair that instructional feedback with consequences that are shown to the learners.
How do you handle feedback in branching scenarios? Do you have a great example of how you showed learners consequences rather than simply telling them they were right or wrong?
Did you miss any of my most popular posts published this year?
- 12+ Books for Instructional Designers
- Learning Experience Design: A Better Title Than Instructional Design?
- Captivate 8 Custom Motion Effect Example
- 20+ More Books for Instructional Designers
- No, I Won’t “Tweak” Your PowerPoint Slides
As has been the case for several years, my older posts on instructional design careers continue to gain views and comments. My top post continues to be viewed almost 100 times a day, showing how many people are still confused about what instructional designers do.
- What does an instructional designer do?
- Instructional Design Hourly Rates and Salary
- Instructional Design Skills
- Time Estimates for E-Learning Development
- Getting Into Instructional Design
I have been blogging now for 9 years, and this year I hit the milestone of 1 million total views. I published 46 posts this year, a significant increase from the 34 posts in 2014. This year I set a schedule for myself and made a concerted effort to write a new non-bookmark post at least every two weeks. Although I didn’t hold to that schedule strictly, I did meet my goal of writing more regularly.
Thank you for reading, subscribing, and commenting. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn with you in 2016. Happy New Year!