Tag: design

Planning a Branching Scenario

After I have completed my analysis for a branching scenario, I spend time planning before I start actually writing the content.

My planning includes three components:

  • A scenario concept and summary
  • An outline
  • A list of mistakes

Planning a branching scenario

Scenario Concept and Summary

I create a summary of the scenario and the narrative. This is included in the design document and signed off by the client and SME before I start writing. I want everyone on the same page for the basic concept of the scenario.

The summary includes the name and role of the main character, plus any other critical characters. I describe the problem the main character faces and how it will be addressed. This is just a few sentences to give the overall feel of the scenario without getting into much detail.

Here’s an example:

Sophie is an instructional design consultant. She’s tired of spending hours and hours writing proposals for clients who don’t end up hiring her or really aren’t a good fit in the first place. She has been contacted by Robert about a potential project. Sophie will attempt to follow a new process for screening clients to see if this is actually a good fit for her skills and to establish a professional relationship with Robert.

Create an Outline

I start with a rough outline or checklist of steps in the ideal process. Let’s say I’m creating a course on screening potential consulting clients, and I have a process with 4 steps. Each of these steps will be a decision point in the scenario.

  1. Send client initial screening questions.
  2. Review client responses for fit and feasibility.
  3. Learn more about client needs during preliminary phone call.
  4. Propose a short road mapping engagement.

It’s possible that when I write the scenario that I’ll realize I need to add another choice in this process, but this gives me the basic flow.

Identify Mistakes

Based on my analysis (including conversations with SMEs, learners, and/or other stakeholders), I also create a list of mistakes or errors people could make. This list tends to be fairly fluid for me; I try to brainstorm more mistakes and problems that I’ll actually use in the scenario. Some mistakes might be critical for the learning objectives, while others might be possible options.

Continuing the previous example, here is a list of potential mistakes I might use.

  • Agreeing to a client request for a project before screening for fit (critical–must include)
  • Sending client screening questions without a budget question
  • Ignoring red flags in client responses (not enough money, unrealistic timeline, etc.)
  • Rejecting a client because they don’t know what they want (that’s what road mapping is for)
  • Jumping right into asking about project logistics without understanding goal/problem
  • Writing a big proposal for free

I try to include both major, critical errors and some errors that are partially correct or in the gray area. Sometimes this list of mistakes also includes notes on consequences, although usually I have that in my notes from the SME.

I find it helpful to include both the outline and list of mistakes in the design document if possible. I haven’t always done it that way, but it seems to help set clear expectations with SMEs and clients.

Start Writing

Once I have all of those pieces together and approved, I start writing. In my next post, I’ll explain my process for creating the first draft.

Geometric background image: Storyblocks (7-day free trial, unlimited downloads $149/year)

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?