3 Tips for Managing the Learning Design Process

Learning design projects take many shapes and forms and organisations have a variety of different ways of managing them. Some use conventional approaches like ADDIE, some may use more agile methods. Some rely heavily on data, whereas some go all out on the service design playbook. Whatever your methodology, there are some common best practices that we have found to be of benefit in any situation. So, let’s take a look at 3 ways you can manage the learning design process better!

Spend time on the discovery phase

One of the challenges corporate L&D teams face is time. Teams may often be running backlogs with the business expecting to have its learning ready yesterday. In this kind of an environment, it’s easy to forget to invest enough time in one of the most crucial steps. That step is discovery. Discovery is all about validating and investigating the problem, and it starts right as someone makes a request for a new piece of learning. Instead of simply taking the request as it is, it’s the L&D professionals responsibility to really assess whether the issue is even a learning issue.

Furthermore, even if you have validated the issue, discovery doesn’t stop there. Further along the learning design process, you’ll want to invest time into investigating the problem space, and making sure that whatever you design is actually a functional and fitting solution. Often, problems are not learning or training problems and we mistakenly take them as such. If you’re trying to train your way out of a non-training problem, you won’t get much results. Therefore, it’s important to spend time discovering what the problems really are.

Seek feedback early

It’s nice to put out a beautiful product after you have tuned it to perfection. However, often we focus too much on building the perfect product that we actually fail to listen to the users. Once you’ve spent an enormous amount of time building something, you’ve become emotionally invested, and it’s more likely that you’ll just shrug off critical user feedback as “uneducated opinions”. While the users may not always be right in the absolute sense, they often are when it comes to their own context. For instance, a product might be good, but it might just not work for a particular user group.

To avoid getting over-invested, and to make sure you’re building a working solution, you should ask feedback often and early. Early feedback can help you rediscover the problem space and understand the potential user better. In most cases, you can ask for feedback with very raw prototypes. Early feedback collection also involves your user base as co-creators, and helps to set the stage towards what’s coming later. This may help to reduce change anxiety and help to adapt new ways of doing faster.

Avoid the sunk cost fallacy

Even with rigorous design approaches, we are bound to make mistakes. On the other hand, every learning project you put out has a shelf life too. Nothing is supposed to last forever. As L&D teams generally operate with limited resources, it’s important to use them effectively. In some cases, this can mean cutting the legacy program off life support or stopping a program even during the learning design process.

As learning is a highly contextual event, we can’t expect to be able to run same programs year after year. Eventually, subject matter and delivery methods become so out of date that it’s not simply worth it to invest into “fixing and fine tuning” anymore. At this point, it’s important for learning designers to know when to cut ties with the old. If you want to create new and design new things, you can’t have excess baggage slowing you down in the beginning. Furthermore, it’s also important to act when a project is not going in the desired direction. Content might be out of date even before launch, wrong delivery methods may have been chosen or a variety of other factors might negatively affect the outcomes. At some point, it’s just much better to start all over or forget it altogether than forcefully pushing through the existing course of planning.

Final words

While organisations manage their learning design process and operations very differently, it’s hard to dispute the benefits of a more learner-centric approaches. Investing adequate time into discovery, seeking feedback often and early, and avoiding throwing good money after bad are things that don’t cost much but can save you a lot of time and effort. Therefore, learning organisations should take note.