Thursday, September 30, 2010

7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Designers

By Shelley A. Gable

Stephen Covey is a well-known organizational consultant, perhaps especially well known for his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was thinking about the book the other day, and I also started thinking about how those habits might translate for instructional design specifically.

Here’s what I came up with…

Habit 1: Be proactive.

Covey characterizes being proactive as the ability to shape your situation through your choices. It's about being the source of solutions, rather than waiting for others to solve problems.

As instructional designers, we can be proactive by observing business trends and building relationships with our clients. Rather than waiting for clients to come to us with requests, we can keep up with their business well enough to anticipate their needs. To suggest opportunities they might not think of. To offer creative solutions for the problems that keep them up at night, even if they haven't specifically asked us to solve those problems.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.

In his book, Covey encourages readers to visualize what they want in life and develop a personal mission. The idea is that knowing what you want in life allows you to act in ways that help you realize your goals.

This is what we should do as instructional designers as well. Before we start typing objectives, we need to understand the business goals that training is supposed to accomplish. What are the specific results the client expects to see? And where is the organization now, relative to those results? Our objectives, and all development work that follows, should directly help to close that gap.

Habit 3: Put first things first.

This habit focuses on prioritizing what's important to you in life and making decisions that sync with those priorities.

This might be a loose interpretation of this habit...but when I think about it from an instructional design perspective, it makes me think about working with subject matter experts (SMEs).

On the one hand, SMEs often want everything they know to make it into training. To them, everything they can think of is important. So, we have to prioritize the information we receive from them, according to how that information aligns with training and business goals. We have to use that analysis to determine what goes into training, what stays out, and how much time to allocate to the specific pieces.

On the other hand, SMEs also tend to neglect to convey the most basic (and often most important!) information. Information that's so obvious and intuitive for them because of their expertise, that they forget that it might not be as obvious to others. So with our understanding of the client's needs and what it takes to accomplish the client's goals, we have to know what questions to ask to solicit the information that is most critical for training.

Habit 4: Think win/win.

Covey describes the importance of building mutually beneficial relationships. Relationships that are rewarding for everyone involved.

I sometimes experience a tug-of-war with clients over training resources. They want training fast and cheap, and I fret over the possibility that developing too fast and too cheap may result in training that isn't very good. Cutting corners in training development not only makes the work feel less inspiring from my perspective, but it also compromises the learner.

But ah ha! Now we're on to something.

If the learner's experience and ability to learn is compromised due to a lack of resources for training, then that's likely to negatively impact the client's goals. So when it comes to negotiating for training project resources, the link between the learner experience and business goals can be a key part of the conversation. If you can use that link to build a strong case that yields the resources you need, you get that all-around win - an engaging project for you, an effective learning experience for the learner, and the desired results for the client.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

In addressing this habit, Covey emphasizes active listening skills and empathy. After you understand someone, you can better relate to that person and help that individual understand you.

This habit reminds me of cause analysis. Rather than jumping to a recommended solution immediately after a client comes to us with a problem, we need to take the time to investigate the potential causes of the problem. Our cause analysis then helps inform our training design and other supporting interventions, and relating our recommendations directly to those causes can help us earn the buy-in to move forward.

Habit 6: Synergize.

Synergy is about building a diverse team, where the whole of the team is greater than the sum of its parts.

This habit seems to capture the spirit of teamwork that is critical to instructional design. Instructional design is more than taking a pile of content and figuring out how to teach it. Depending on the role of the designer in an organization, the process is largely consulting-oriented and requires input from people in a variety of roles and at a variety of levels in the organization - often from executive-level project sponsors to the frontline employees impacted by the training. For us, this habit is about being able to work with people across organization levels and functions, and possibly with varying agendas, to produce effective training.

Habit 7: Sharpening the saw.

Covey included this habit to encourage us to invest in ourselves and indefinitely continue our education.

As with any profession, we need to invest in ourselves and continue to develop our skills. The opportunities for this abound, from stretch assignments at work, to reading what’s written in the field, to attending classes, conferences, or seminars.

What do you think?

So that’s my interpretation of Covey’s seven habits, as they apply to instructional design. What are your interpretations?

1 comment:

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