Workforce Strategy

5 Critical ISD Challenges—and How You Can Address Them

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

To professionals not working in learning and development (whether that is a senior leader, learner, or frontline manager), creating and delivering training often looks as simple as putting together PowerPoint slides or pulling out an already-developed training manual standing before a class, and talking through the material. Instructional designers know that nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the ATD “What Is Instruction Design?” resource page explains: “Instructional design is the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills. The discipline follows a system of assessing needs, designing a process, developing materials, and evaluating its effectiveness.”

But L&D pros must not only possess this complex skill set, they need to overcome several complex challenges, in part because so few business colleagues fully understand just what instructional designers do. Let’s look at some of these issues, and how you can address them.

Tight Budgets

Instructional designers know too well that “training is the first to be cut” when there’s a financial downturn. To keep your budget off the chopping block, it’s important to explain how L&D helps your organization’s bottom line.

Case in point: Study after study confirms that individuals yearn to learn and develop. What’s more, L&D opportunities can help organizations retain talent. For instance, Bridge survey data found that development opportunities “would keep 86 percent of Millennials from leaving their current position.”

Consider the words of Udemy’s Shelley Osborne in an Inc. article: “Cultures built around feeding and nurturing the curiosity of employees not only enable modern businesses to keep up with ever-changing workplace needs and demands, but they also drive increased employee productivity and engagement.”

If you do see budget cuts on your horizon, avail yourself of the many free or freemium tools that can help you curate content for learners, while providing time and financial savings. In her TD article, “Curation Tool Hacks That Boost Individual and Team Productivity,” Renee Ford lists several of those tools and also notes, “Conducting a review of curated resources can serve as a form of a needs assessment to identify gaps in your digital resource portfolio.”

And Danielle Wallace, in her TD article “Steal Marketing Practices for Better Learning Programs,” recommends creating learning personas, keeping your learning strategy top of mind, and getting creative about potential learning solutions to deal with a limited budget.

Time Constraints

ISD professionals are pulled in different directions, asked to create programming for multiple business units, all at the same time. How do you accomplish everything, especially if you’re a department of one?

In her TD article, “How One-Person Training Departments Can Play Big,” Colleen Berish suggests that L&D practitioners gain leader support. Seek out that person who can help you decide what program is most important to the business unit, based on how it ties in with overall organization goals. Berish also recommends, “Don’t try to reinvent. Before you develop a new course or program, find out what’s been done in the past.” Make sure, of course, that the content is still current and appropriate for your audience.

Limited Staff

Knowing when to say no, as Berish advises, is critical when you have a small team (or no team at all). Reaching out to L&D-related associations or organizations, including your local ATD chapter, can lead you to information about shortcuts, best practices, and other tips or tools that can make your department accomplish much more.

Uncertainty About Technology

Many L&D pros know that there is rarely budget for development and delivery tools with all the bells and whistles. Sometimes you don’t even know what tool is best to address a specific ISD challenge. How do you get help?

The ATD Learning Technologies community provides an array of content on developing and implementing e-learning, gamification, chat bots, and augmented and virtual reality solutions. For instance, in her issue of TD at Work,Lay the Groundwork for LMS Success,” Konstance Allen provides job aids to help you choose a learning management system. You also can post a discussion question or review what others are talking about to learn what you didn’t know you didn’t know.

Lack of Knowledge Around Cutting-Edge Principles and Methods

You may already be familiar with the most common ISD model—ADDIE. Many other models have some version of ADDIE components: analysis, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. You can check out the instructional design resource page for practical information on applying various ISD models.

Meanwhile, Megan Torrance offers tips for getting started with an ISD project in her issue of TD at Work, “Agile and LLAMA for ISD Project Management.” That is, identify a business goal, start with the learner in mind, define the scope of the project with learner stories, chunk the work effort, and finally, plan the work and work the plan.

Finally, ISD practitioners may feel they lack experience with any one given model or tool. ATD Education’s Instructional Design Certificate presents tools and methodologies to successfully design an instructional program, start to finish. Further, it provides “best practices so you can experience outcome-based training from a learner’s perspective.” An array of other ATD Education programs are available to meet L&D pros where they are.

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About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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