I read the blogs of quite a few instructional design gurus. Actually I tend to binge-read them, then go off the whole idea for a while until my interest revives. But that’s another story. One of my favourites is Clark Quinn, for the sharpness of his analytic mind but openness to new ideas.
In 2016 he wrote a series of posts in Learning Solutions Magazine in which he describes an actual project and the decisions made from initial analysis to production. It’s not a ‘real’ project for a client but very close to being one. He began it as a tribute to the learning innovator Jay Cross, who died in 2015. His friends Jane Hart, Harold Jarche and Charles Jennings served as subject matter experts.
Working out loud
One of my traits as a learner is that I tend to swallow principles whole. Then if I can’t put them into practice exactly as an expert describes, I think of myself as failing. In this series of posts we see Clark Quinn and his colleagues make the kinds of compromises designers make every day, while still trying to stick closely to his principles – in order to test them out. Things like agile design and scenario-based learning. It’s a great read.
His aim was to demonstrate his own learning design principles by working through an actual project ‘out loud’.
The meta-narrative accompanies this experience, describing the tradeoffs and frankly owning up to the elements that don’t accede to a total vision. This is called drinking your own champagne, or practising what you preach!
Clark Quinn’s articles
The first post talks about their initial plans, and how they settled on a topic.
The second post talks about their initial design decisions, scoping the overall course.
The third post talks about their detailed design decisions.
And the fourth post talks about their development process.
You can see the full product here.
Everyday debates for designers
It’s fascinating for anyone who’s designed and built elearning to see Quinn and his team dealing with the same trade-offs and balanced priorities, such as whether to use audio for the dialogue:
Learnnovators: We eventually dropped the idea, since narrated dialogue for the scenario would have meant a repetition of text displayed on screen, which in general is bad practice. And, based on the presumption that learners are intelligent enough to read and deduce nuances in the dialogues (this wasn’t a soft-skills course, where tone and inflection would have been hugely important), we decided to do away with audio altogether.
We had initially made the screens animated—that is, each line of dialogue fading in one-by-one in the sequence in which the characters would speak them. Then we realized that the animation was not required, as people are quite used to reading comics; so the animation, and the accompanying scrub bar we had included, got hacked.
In Clark’s words
I described how a team of instructional designers and developers went about settling on the objectives for what we decided to call our “Future of Work” course, working out loud and in honor of Jay Cross. My purpose in these “Deeper Design” articles is to demonstrate the process that the team went through, applying design elements that go beyond traditional instructional design (ID).
These posts recognise the pressures designers are under, and the impact tools and environments have on principled design decisions. I hope you enjoy them.
Should we use scenarios?
Much of the second post deals with scenarios – deciding whether to use scenarios for presenting content as well as for practice, and how many scenarios were needed.
They had a model for openness in IT, a situation – an executive team meeting where the learner is pushing for collaboration and communities with some resistance from IT and the CEO. These decisions were standard for anyone writing a scenario:
- The role played by the learner, and who they’d be talking to in the scenario
- The decisions they’d have to make
- The misconceptions they are likely to have
- Designing Predicaments step 2: the characters
- Designing Predicaments step 5: the right choice
- Designing Predicaments: the distractors
While the finished piece is well worth a look, as an example of a string-of-pearls series of thematically linked mini-scenarios using the comic strip metaphor (and a social media platform metaphor in one section), the real gold is in the four articles telling the story of how it was put together.
(This is an updated version of an earlier post on the same subject.)