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2016 Instructional Design Trends Compass: Experiences, Ecosystems, Evaluations. Oh My!

Instructional designers and learning & development (L&D) professionals of all levels—this article is for you. SweetRush Senior Instructional Designer Shauna Vaughan is back with a look at three of this year’s biggest trends, and once again, specific advice and resources for you to explore each of them further. Read on for Shauna’s thoughts on how L&D will take a strategic leap forward by focusing on experiences, ecosystems, and evaluation.
2016 Instructional Design Trends Compass: Experiences, Ecosystems, Evaluations. Oh My!

2016 Instructional Design Trends Compass

In the 2015 Compass, I shared instructional design trends along with calls to action for L&D professionals. I included calls to action because so often our industry predicts trends, yet provides little information about what to do about them.

This year, I’ve decided to do things a bit differently. I picked three big topics that I think warrant more consideration and focus in 2016 (and beyond): experiences, ecosystems, and evaluation. Let’s call them the three Es of 2016.

Experiences: Create Them!

User experience (UX) has always been a necessity for web design and software design, and it has growing significance in learning solutions design. The reason? Our learners, who are avid web and software users, now have expectations related to experience. They have been influenced by the ways in which devices, software, and websites are designed, and they expect similar experiences. They want intuitive, personalized, engaging interfaces with clean visual designs. They also expect to find what they need quickly, when they need it, and use it... quickly. Years ago, I attended a keynote address by Sir Ken Robinson, a leading speaker and writer on creativity and innovation in education and business, and he coined a phrase that resonated with me and has influenced my designs. The evolution of information-gathering, he said, has created a culture that says, “I don’t have all minute!”

What Can We Do in 2016?

  • Get familiar with UX or, if you already have some background, brush up on or further your UX knowledge.
  • Design learning experiences that are tailored to the variety of devices learners use today. Designing for mobile phones is NOT akin to designing for a tablet, laptop, or desktop. People interact with each device differently and for different purposes, durations, etc.
  • To learn more about UX, I recommend this course from The Association for Talent Development (ATD): Essentials of User Experience (UX) Design for Learning.

Ecosystems: Build Them!

Technology has enabled more robust learning solutions and learning systems. Merriam-Webster’s simple definition of ecosystem is “everything that exists in a particular environment.” So a learning ecosystem is the entire learning and training environment, which might include e-learning, instructor-led training (ILT), virtual instructor-led training (VILT), mobile learning, social learning, performance support, online and offline resources, and more.

Dare I say that learning ecosystems are blended learning strategies on steroids? That is not to oversimplify this concept, but to put it into perspective for those who are unfamiliar with the concept of ecosystems.

What Can We Do in 2016?

  • Instead of building a single solution as “the” solution, roll out a suite of solutions and create a learning ecosystem. If an e-learning course is your primary solution, think about what could complement it. What are your learners inclined to use? What do they need? Performance support? Job aids? Social learning? Ask them!
  • To learn more about ecosystems, check out eLearning Guild’s Learning & Performance Ecosystem 2016 conference.

Evaluation: More than Just Beginning with the End in Mind

Evaluation can refer to a number of different tasks or strategies in our industry. Typically, when we talk about evaluation we are referring to how we evaluate learners’ comprehension via assessments and how we evaluate the solutions themselves via iterations and prototypes, usually against the scope, as defined in the statement of work (SOW). But do you align your learning solutions to strategies that are tied to business performance and outcomes? Do you ever evaluate them to this degree? Do you discuss key performance indicators (KPI) related to your solutions?

Brandon Hall Group’s The State of Learning & Development 2015 study states that “only 30% of companies say their learning strategies are highly aligned to business goals.” The study also notes that “the predominant driver of developing a strategy is to prioritize business needs and align them with HR and learning strategies.”

Just as we align assessments to learning objectives, so too should we align learning solutions with business outcomes. This type of alignment and strategic planning is gaining attention, and it deserves more of our focus. Those of us who have been in this industry a while know that L&D often operates in a vacuum (often not by choice), is not considered a strategic business partner, and is sometimes considered disposable. The continual evolution of our industry will hopefully shift this thinking soon.

In a recent ATD article, the authors note that “As a talent development leader, the days of being measured on the number of training hours produced are quickly waning. In the very near future, you will be measured on organizationally aligned results.” Business leaders may soon be asking L&D what value they add, and how their solutions align to business outcomes. Are you prepared for that?

What Can We Do in 2016?

  • I encourage you to read the executive summary of the Brandon Hall Group report mentioned above, and share it with your leaders. It’s an easy read with four findings and seven calls to action.
  • In addition to return on investment (ROI), consider return on expectations. If you thoroughly document expectations from stakeholders, clients, sponsors, and even your target audience, you will have a clearer definition of success to align with and evaluate against. ATD’s Evaluating Learning Impact Certificate touches on this and covers measurement and evaluation of the business impact of solutions.
  • Consider implementing (and maintaining) performance support when appropriate. According to Conrad Gottfredson, performance support is designed to improve business outcomes. Include it as part of your learning ecosystem, as noted above!
  • To learn more about evaluation, I recommend this course from ATD: Measuring Learning Results. (It’s online and it’s self-paced!)

After several years of instructional design trends focused on training deliverables—mobile learning, gamification, social learning—it seems our industry is starting to take a step back (and, at the same time, a strategic leap forward). These trends point to a focus on the bigger picture of the overall learning experience, how we align with and support business objectives, and how we ensure our interventions are effective.

If this sounds daunting, remember, bigger challenges mean more opportunities for creativity and innovation! I’m excited to work strategically with my L&D partners to tailor our instructional design approach—from learning ecosystems to each individual microlearning—to help learners progress in their careers and help businesses grow and thrive.
Wishing you an exciting, innovative year of instructional design!

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