When the Learner is the Teacher, Do We Need Instructional Designers?

April 13, 2012 jkatzman

It’s a new world out there for the Instructional Designer. It’s an entirely different canvas, with new colors on the pallet. It’s no longer about producing 3-ring binders, or monolithic eLearning. It’s about harnessing the new ways of learning that are enabled by a new breed of technology, and a cultural shift in how we use it.

When designing for mLearning, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the user who is walking around with a very powerful tablet and/or smart phone. That person today has very different expectations that are informed by social media and YouTube. They expect instantaneous access to what they want, where they are, on the device they have in their hand. And learning is not a one-way push anymore.

The camera, voice recorder, and collaboration features of the devices drive user-generated content that enable every user to be both teacher and student, and the device the collaboration space.

In light of this, a waterfall ADDIE process that cranks out a monolithic elearning courses doesn’t work anymore. The role of an instructional designer needs to evolve to  learning experience designer; someone that facilitates learning and collaboration rather than dictating it. How do you create learning experiences that meet the audience where they are?

One thing to consider is the granularity of the content and the point of access to it. Clearly logging into your LMS, then registering for an elearing course, then launching it, then navigating through it to find what you doesn’t cut it. Is the LMS the right delivery channel for mLearning? I think not.  First the content needs to be created in a granular, modular fashion so that it is consumable on a mobile device. Also, be aware that the world is changing very quickly and the moment you tie your content to a specific delivery platform, be assured that the platform will change. So, to future proof the content it should be created and managed in  XML where the presentation is separated from the content and use transformations to publish to the target platform. Skeptics need look no further than Flash!

When you have content in a granular format, that content should be stored in the cloud so it’s accessible by everyone. The point of access should be the cloud, and the apps as the delivery channel. Apps for tablets smart phones are not general purpose. They are tightly focused on the needs of a specific audience.

Another thing to consider is how to engender user-generated content. The days of all knowing instructional designer that drives a process of extracting and interpreting information from the SME seems way too mediated. The expertise is out in the field and now the SMEs have unprecedented power to turn the camera on themselves.  In some cases the learner is the teacher, and teacher a learner. The Instructional Designer (ID) needs to relinquish control of this and design environments where this happens organically.

The goal for ID’s becomes designing an entire learning experience, not just a piece of content.

This means knowing the demographics of the audience, and then creating something close to a story for the course that will appeal and engage. The bar is being set higher than ever before in that we should aim for designing complete programs that combine instructor-led, social collaboration and self-study. Instructional designers are now learning facilitators.

Needs analysis that was the purview of the ISD, can be replaced by social commenting, ratings and analytics.

Your users will tell you what they want, what’s working, and where the gaps are.  Analytics will tell you what’s being used, and how effective it is.

We are at the beginning of an evolution in learning development and delivery. It will no doubt be an interesting ride.

Authored by Jeffrey Katzman, CLO and Founder, of Xyleme, Inc.
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