Stephanie Dyke

About Stephanie Dyke

Stephanie is an artist and writer who stumbled into training and instructional design by way of a random 10-year stint in Human Resources. She has designed and developed training content for numerous industries including: direct selling, retail, mortgage and finance, health and fitness, software, hospitality and maritime. She has a postgraduate certificate in Distance Education from UMBC and is currently a freelance ID, creating synchronous and asynchronous training that she hopes is improving the superhuman abilities of learners everywhere.

The Case Against Video-Based Instruction

Before I start receiving hate mail from my colleagues, I want to go on the record to say I’m not an anti-video evangelist. In fact I frequently use screen recordings and other video content in my own training design and development.

These days, videos are cheaper and easier to make than ever before. But my stance is this: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

On a recent client project, I was presented with a plan for a beginner-level course that consisted of nothing but 40 talking head videos.

Of course, the issue was two-fold. Obviously the client was trying to cram way too much learning into this course. But that was a touchy subject so my practical mind went to numbers. 40 VIDEOS! Even if they went with snippet-length content like I had recommended, we were looking at 2 to 3 hours of videos.

Luckily, the project manager was a friend – and also mother to a 3-year old – so I appealed to her logic. I asked, “You want Sophie to learn her ABCs, right? Are you just plopping her in front of Sesame Street for a few hours a day? Or are you also including other things, like books, songs and activities?” Thank goodness, that comparison paid off.

I contend that effective adult learning isn’t all that different from effective childhood learning. We have the same short attention spans. We need varied and rich content to keep us engaged. We need activities to help process and emphasize what we’re learning.

Few of us want to learn by reading a 1,000-page textbook. But we also have the propensity for multitasking when we’re online. I know I’m guilty of saying, “I’ll just peek at my email while I watch this video on my other monitor.” 10 minutes later, I’ve pretty much missed what happened in the video.

What I’m saying is that most training should have multiple components to be really effective. We must pair engaging video (if your Powerpoint put me to sleep in person, it isn’t any better as a screen recording!), on-screen interactivity (clicking ‘Next’ doesn’t count), short reading assignments, and off-line activities to really get people learning.

The End is the Best Place to Begin

Needs assessments are one of the first things we learn about in Instructional Design education and certification programs. But I’ve come to realize that many of my training industry colleagues have not had the luxury of formal education. Often they are developers, HR professionals or subject matter experts who are thrown into the instructional design world through interest or necessity.

How does a professional in this position know what they don’t know? Savvy folks often figure out a needs-assessment-like process along the way. But for the absolute beginner? Where do they even start?

When asked for advice, I always tell new IDs that basic needs assessment looks like this: start with the end in mind. I feel like this is a great reminder, even for seasoned designers. After all, it’s easy to get sidetracked from the original intent of training when we’re presented with a client’s or employer’s epic training wish list!

Starting with the end in mind simply means: what should learners be able to do, that they couldn’t do before, when they have completed the training? If we don’t have a specific, focused answer to that question, we are not on track.

On the other hand, knowing very clearly the knowledge we expect learners to gain means we can easily reverse engineer the design process. In other words, if I want learners to know how to perform “skill XYZ,” then I must present them with “instruction A,” “activity B,” and “quiz C” in order to facilitate that result.

I realize this simplistic approach to instructional design may not fully stand the test of formal learning evaluation models (sorry Dr. Kirkpatrick!), but it’s a solid rule of thumb that sure beats the disorganized and overly complex courses I’ve seen throughout corporate America.

Bottom line, we serve learners when we design educational content. If they walk away from a course without new skills because they were confused, or were presented with material that was irrelevant, we simply haven’t done our job!

Image by ComputerGuy – Wikipedia User Nico Cavallotto / CC BY