A Performance Consulting Approach to Instructional Design

Janine Anderson
Posted: July 9, 2014

Why does it matter anyway?

A couple months weeks ago, I commented here that my career in instructional design was born “out of a desire to make things better.” While reminiscing on those early days, I realized that while I’m still here today for the exact reasons I was all those years ago, my means to an end has changed.

For me, it’s always been — at the very core — about the learner. But I came to understand some years ago that while that might be where my own personal motivations, passion, and interests lie, it isn’t necessarily why a client would hire me — nor is it reason enough to secure funding for what could be a really great training program. My clients may appreciate my passion, my skills as an experienced learning professional, or my innovative course design, but they still have real problems to solve and business goals to meet. If I’m not able to show them directly why they hired me, or rather why my instructional design solution matters, I’m not helping them.

Enter Performance Consulting

We already know that performance consulting is an essential component of any successful organization because it works to solve business and performance needs. So, why wouldn’t this approach directly compliment your work as an instructional designer and ensure both your learners’ and clients’ needs are being met? At the very core, what are some basic principles of performance consulting that could apply to instructional design? What would this look like in the day-to-day of designing and developing instruction?

[Tweet “Instructional content should align to clear business and performance needs”]

  • Take the time to get clear on the business needs behind the course or program for which you are designing and developing instruction. Post them on a sticky note next to your computer screen. During each phase of instructional design, use this information and apply the “so what, who cares?” factor against your content to ensure alignment.
  • Link instructional goals, objectives, and activities either directly or indirectly to business and performance needs. Link topics and subtopics too!
  • Use the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) to establish the business and performance needs.
  • If there isn’t alignment, speak up! When working with your clients, subject matter experts (SMEs), and business partners, educate them on what content should or should not be included and why.

[Tweet “Instructional content should close performance gaps”]

  • Again, if you aren’t clear, take the time to get clear on the performance gaps that the instruction should close. Ditto on the sticky note!
  • Learning objectives should link directly or indirectly to the list of performance gaps you are trying to close. Or, they should address what the desired performance is that you are seeking from the instruction.
  • Ask yourself, at every juncture, if the content you’ve developed will aid the learner in achieving the desired performance.
  • Evaluate learner performance by providing opportunities to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Ensure activities, knowledge checks, and any other ways you are evaluating the learner work to address the performance gaps you are trying to close.
  • Once more, if there isn’t alignment, speak up!

As a practice, performance consulting compliments instructional design. Incorporating even the most basic methodologies associated with a performance consulting approach to instructional design is key. Successful instructional designers take the time to understand client business and performance needs and use that information to drive the instructional decisions that are made on a regular basis.

Listed above are just a few considerations. What are some ways you include or plan to incorporate a performance consulting approach to your instructional design projects?


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