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Seriously, It Is Not Always Training—Good Designers Get This

In some circles, the term instructional design elicits this kind of statement: “Oh, well, instructional design assumes that training is always the right answer. And of course we know that’s not true.”

03-25 Falling Pickets

Not a Problem That Training Will Solve

I ran into a version of this statement just the other day.  So I started to wonder…

  • Do people say stuff like this to graphic designers? “Oh well, graphic design assumes that we always need layouts.”
  • Web designers? “Oh well, web design assumes that we always need a web page.”
  • Carpenters? “Carpentry assumes that we’re always using a hammer.”
  • Surgeons? “Surgery assumes that it’s always time to operate.”

Anthropomorphism aside, a good designer, like a good surgeon, does not start out assuming that training (or surgery) is the right answer.

Instead, they say, “Let’s take a look first.”

  • Let’s examine the symptoms.
  • Let’s look at the data.
  • Let’s figure out what’s going on, and then we’ll decide what to do.

Designers usually call this first look needs assessment. (It has other names, but this one is pretty standard.)

No self-respecting instructional designer responds to a request for training without looking to see if training makes sense.

  • If yes, then training.
  • If no, then they do or recommend something else.

Designing, developing, delivering unnecessary training is a colossal waste of time and money. Let’s not do that.

Managers sometimes think training will help when it won’t. If a designer has integrity (and a desire to make things better), then she will suggest alternatives when managers request unnecessary training.

To Recap

Instructional design doesn’t assume anything (processes cannot make assumptions).

Instructional designers can (sadly) assume that training is always the right answer, but they shouldn’t. If they are any good, they won’t. They’ll check first instead.

The right tool isn’t always a hammer. Good carpenters know this.

The right approach isn’t always training. Good designers know this.

That said, when you think about it, many of the most important jobs in the world include helping others to learn (parents, teachers, team leads, supervisors, managers, leaders). And what could be better than that?

Good instructional designers can help. And they start by determining when learning is required and when something else should happen instead.


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