Want a Better Course? Focus on One Thing at a Time

by Paula Moran


No matter how long you work in a field you can always benefit from reviewing the basics one more time. This past week I participated in the Instructional Design Workshop put on by the ASTD Golden Gate Chapter. During the workshop I was forced to follow instructional design best practices while working through the analysis and design steps for a course.

By the end of the two day workshop we had developed all the details to create a design document. The design document is the lynch pin that communicates between the subject matter experts (SME), instructional designers, and content developers. Even though in many projects individually do more than one of those roles, curriculum development should never be a one person job.

The design document has the following format:

Key Takeaway from an Instructional Design Workshop - image.png

For those familiar with the ADDIE model, you should exit the design phase with this document and use it to guide the development phase.

At most of my employers the primary focus was producing courses at breakneck speed. Supervisors wanted to see content being produced because that proved you were working. The consequence of this was that people on my team wrote content as we designed the course. Often the early content would be revised several times over as the design was finalized.

During the ASTD workshop I was forced to develop the key points of the content without simultaneously developing activities or presentation slides. I was able to craft clearer key points in a more logical order in record time. I used this isolated approach again when working on a presentation I’m giving next week. I allowed myself to write the instructional steps into a PowerPoint without simultaneously developing graphics and slide layouts. While my PowerPoint currently looks awful, the content is clearer and I know it won’t be hard to make it look good and creating the content handouts. Writing content separately from the visual design improved its overall quality.

Producing content is important and your end product will suffer if you spend too much time in the design phase crunching development and testing timelines. That said, the human brain cannot multitask to working separately on information gathering, course design, and materials development allows your brain to focus on each task separately and do a better job on each part.

If you don't have the time to prepare key points and instructional design before moving to development consider using an iterative project management style such as AGILE (what Allen Interactions calls SAM).

This is particularly important for larger and longer courses.