It's a stream, not a course...

Many traditional e-learning instructional designers cut their teeth designing self-paced e-learning programs. We create events.

However, the talk of the town these days is that learning is not an event. People don’t plop in front of an e-learning program or sit in a classroom and BAM! – they’ve got it all, rock solid. Instead, we’re talking about streams of activities that may happen over extended periods of time as individuals explore and master topics or content areas. Instead of events, we hear about 'learning experiences' and 'activity streams'.

So how do traditional instructional designers stay relevant? And is that even possible? Let’s dip our paddles in the stream and explore together…

It’s a stream

A new manager needs to learn how to lead a team.  He or she may:

  • Take a class
  • Ask a question on Yammer
  • Share ideas on Twitter
  • Read a book
  • Write/ read a blog post
  • Participate in an interactive online webinar
  • Talk to a mentor
  • Complete an interactive role playing simulation from home
  • Sit down for lunch with four peers to discuss leadership topics
  • Search on Google for articles about leadership
  • Listen to a podcast about leadership
  • Complete a self-observation form and discuss with it their manager
  • Attend a conference on leadership skills
  • Present at a conference on leadership skills

When does the learning end? Is the manager ever done with this topic? Is there ever a point where he or she can say 'Yup, I’ve learned it all?' Probably not.

What does this mean for that traditional ID? For many, it’s a scary prospect – the stuff nightmares are made of, at least scary Halloween nights. 'Now you expect me to design and create webinars, classroom programs, mobile support tools and online activities while encouraging and supporting community and providing opportunities for serendipitous learning to happen when and where it needs to?! Are you kidding me?!'

We agree. It’s a tall order!

Take a step back on

First, let’s all take a few calming deep breaths and take a step back. Yes, the landscape is changing, and some might say that the requirements and competencies required of the traditional instructional designer are changing too.

But don’t feel like you’ve got to do it all by your lonesome.

Get a grip on what you’re good at right now. See where your gaps are, and either seek out knowledge and experience to help you fill those gaps OR start finding the right people to begin partnering with.

Haven’t done any design for a mobile device yet? Read a book or two (we like Clark Quinn’s Designing mLearning) and check out some mobile learning apps (why not try Kineo’s E-learning Top Tip App for starters?). Go to a conference and soak it in (the eLearning Guild’s mLearnCon happens in June every year).

Check around your own organisation and see who else is thinking about these things and what experiments they might be trying out– chances are, there’s a lot of learning application going on that isn’t even happening in the training department.

Sounds a bit like a learning stream, doesn’t it? You may find yourself taking a formal class or two along the way but, for the self-motivated learner, the material can almost begin to reveal itself organically.

Bringing it to the people

So how does one design a learning stream? Can one? And what’s the ID’s role in all of this?

Some might argue that you can’t design a learning or activity stream for an individual ('It’s mine and I made it for myself'). But what you can design are some of the activities that might slip into that stream. You can also create communities and manage them to encourage conversation, curating content and bubbling up any meaningful articles and books that may be helpful.

Perhaps, then, the modern instructional designer is more like a librarian. You might have to shush people in that corner if they get too chatty, or kindly someone to the stacks for this article. You might create a gathering space where people can talk about a topic of their choice or even set up formal meetings. You might show people how to use the card catalogue so they can find things on their own.

Or maybe you’ll just lean back in your rowboat and watch the riverbanks pass idly by. It’s your choice. It’s up to you to stay relevant.

But as we said above, you don’t have to go it alone. Just be sure to choose your crewmates wisely.