Instructional Designers Have a Special Skill Set

Instructional Designers (I.D.) have unique and specific skills that make them a valuable asset for creating and communicating innovative solutions to complex problems. I.D.’s are known for creating learning experiences. The skills required to create an effective learning experience cross over many other business areas. Liam Neeson, playing the character Bryan Mills in the movie, Taken, summed up I.D.’s in a single quote “But what I do have is a very specific set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career.” The context may differ, but having a unique set of skills is accurate. These skills have given instructional designers a “seat at the table” within organizations and make them an integral part of the team and organization’s success.

The specific skills used in the coming example are:

  • Needs Analysis: This is the first step in any performance-based solution.
  • Gap Analysis: This comes as part of the Human Performance and Technology experience. Once the needs are clear, we find the performance gap and solve it creatively and effectively. 
  • Communication: We create and deliver effective presentations that stick.

These skills allow I.D.’s to be an integral part of small cutting-edge (some may even say bleeding edge) teams in one of the most innovative companies in the nation. I.D.’s use their skills to develop practical solutions to complex problems.

Below is a specific example of how I.D.’s fit and work on innovative teams to help design solutions within the aerospace industry.

C-130 in a banking turn coming directly towards you.

The company had an opportunity to create a proposal and bid on a government contract for a data transmission system on a special operations aircraft. However, the system had to meet a specific set of parameters, and nothing like it existed. So, as a trainer and instructional designer, I was selected to participate in the cross-functional team to design the solution for our Air Force customer. At first, I wasn’t sure why I was there but being on this team solidified my thoughts on how my special skills fit in more places than just designing and building courses.

The team consisted of 4 other people with incredible intelligence and experience in their specific fields. Think Ph.D. in light. In the proposal, the government called out the term T.A.L.C. in the requirements. This term stands for Technically Acceptable Lowest Cost. In other words, the solution for the problem we were trying to solve not only had to work, but it had to work for a lesser cost than what our competitors would bid for it. So here is the short version of how my I.D. skills played a role in the overall mission of designing the best solution within the parameters of the proposal bid. It is essential to realize that everyone has a part, and how well you play your role affects the others on the team and the final solution.

The first step was to perform a needs analysis. As an I.D. I had experience with conducting a needs analysis. The needs analysis helped us clearly define the war fighter’s needs and further hone the technical aspects. The needs analysis also allowed us to discuss the best solution and ensure what we came up with matched the requirements of the T.A.L.C. requirement. T.A.L.C. set some pretty clear parameters. Right from the start, my HPT skills were helping the project and guiding the direction of the solution.

I.D.’s have experience in Human Performance and Technology. We find solutions to performance issues. There were several points where the technology and warfighters would have to interface with that technology. This led to the second way my I.D. skills helped the project through the use of a gap analysis. The gap analysis was vital to ensuring what we designed would work. One of the traits we bring to the table as I.D.’s is thinking in terms of questions. As we ask questions and think through a process, new possibilities present themselves.

While reviewing our first prototype (think stick figure drawing), I was able to use questions to walk through how the warfighter would use the system. The questions sparked conversations with the engineers and identified gaps in our solution. The initial walk-through was a practical gap analysis.

My I.D. skills helped in terms of how we would present our solution as well. We had to present the solution to our company and Air Force representatives. This was an opportunity to conduct train the trainer sessions on how to present for maximum impact before we presented to the decision-makers. The person presenting the solution had to understand the technical aspects of the solution thoroughly, as well as be able to present it in a way that was meaningful to the audience. The presentation was our way of educating the customer on our solution. As an I.D., that is what we do.

The bottom line is that innovation requires a team of people who think in terms of questions and bring in specific skill sets. I.D.’s can bring innovation to a company in several ways. In the example above, the I.D. skills helped with a cutting-edge design and eventual build of a technologically complex solution.

Written by George Hanshaw, Psy.D., Human Performance Professional

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