10 Tips For Creating Even Better Design Documents
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Design Documents: 10 Ways To Enhance Your Creation

Writing a detailed design or outline is both art and science. It is science because there are steps and a process to follow. It is art because each project does not easily fit into a cookie-cutter mold. An effective detailed design begins with a basic outline; then, the expertise of the designer, the parameters of the project team and the needs of the client are incorporated to shape the final product.

Effective storyboards are created using a few key principles, once a detailed design is completed. The detailed design is your roadmap for developing the storyboards; the storyboards then fill the features into that roadmap.

After years of experience, we have identified a handful of key principles that lead to faster client approval and fewer edits during the design and development process, and this article outlines 10 key principles. As you apply these tips to your Instructional Design projects, you should be able to better maximize your development efficiencies.

1. Learner Characteristics

When identifying learner characteristics, you should:

  • Identify common learner characteristics of the target training audience.
  • Design instruction that incorporates different types of learning strategies to meet the needs of the entire audience.
  • Include motivational elements to stimulate and engage the learner in the training.
  • Write instruction at the appropriate level.

2. Content And Content Resources

When identifying content and content resources, you should:

  • Identify content as related to the stated goals or purpose of the training.
  • Gather and analyze the materials.
  • Identify content that is out-of-date or likely to change soon.

3. Subject Matter Experts

When identifying Subject Matter Experts, you should:

  • Remember that the success of the program depends upon the accuracy of the information provided in the design process.
  • Use questioning techniques to determine the level of content required.
  • Use effective interpersonal skills to confirm understanding of content.

4. Instructional Strategies

When identifying instructional strategies (learners need to make a connection between the new knowledge and existing knowledge), you should:

  • Develop your strategy based on the content and learning requirements.
  • Select media based on the strategies.
  • Consider all alternative delivery methods.
  • Include elements that get the learner's attention, make the training relevant, and build the learner's confidence.

5. Sequencing Content

When sequencing content (flow and chunking), you should:

  • Include prerequisite information if appropriate.
  • Organize the sequence from simple to complex.
  • Develop content in smaller chunks using lessons or units.
  • Determine appropriate pacing (i.e. when to include examples and practice).
  • Incorporate an organizer so the learner knows what to expect in each lesson (i.e. overview, objectives, content, practice). Sequence each lesson to follow the same organization.

6. Objectives

When writing objectives, you should:

  • Analyze the goals for the types of objectives needed, (i.e. knowledge, skill, and attitude).
  • Knowledge objectives
    New knowledge is best retained if learners recognize the importance of the new information to their jobs. It is of primary importance to present new knowledge in a manner that is both extrinsically motivating and clearly connected to actual job tasks.
  • Skill objectives
    Closely analyze the skills included in skill-learning objectives to determine the subtasks that one must perform to master the objective. Then target each of the subtasks and provide instruction that allows the learner to perfect smaller skills first, finding success and growing in confidence along the way. Next, guide learners to use their knowledge and confidence to carry out the entire new task.
  • Attitude objectives
    Analyze attitude objectives to determine the types of behaviors learners must manifest to achieve the objective.
  • Determine the terminal objectives and enabling objectives that support the learning.
  • State the learning objectives in observable and measurable terms.
  • Organize content in an appropriate sequence.

7. Assessments

When developing assessments, you should:

  • Develop pretest and post-test items to match the objectives.
  • Ensure assessment items test the terminal objective. You may also elect to design some that test a few of the more relevant (enabling) objectives.
  • Create sample test items during the design phase.

8. Practice Methodology

When determining practice methodology (presentation method, case study, role-play, games, simulations, etc.), you should:

  • Consult with the client on the appropriateness of the presentation methods chosen—even if they have already been determined.
  • Include enough opportunities for both practice and feedback for each objective.

9. A Detailed Design Or Outline

When developing a detailed design or outline, you should:

  • Consider all learning components when developing the design document, (i.e. pre-instructional activities, content presentation, learner participation, assessment, follow-up activities).
  • Provide as much information as possible to ensure understanding of the final deliverables.
  • Determine how you will estimate training time (e.g. 200 words per minute for screen text, 160 words per minute for audio).

10. An Internal Or Client Review

When conducting an internal or client review, you should:

  • Include an internal review during each step of the Instructional Design process.
  • Provide clear directions to the client on how to review the materials, (i.e. include areas of concern).
  • Ask clarifying questions and incorporate feedback.
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