Thursday, November 26, 2015

Instructional Design and the Technical World

For majority of my career, I had the privilege of working on some amazing content. After eight years of experimenting with the boundaries of ID in the domain of soft skills, products, and process training, I was skeptical when I got a job opportunity from an IT company. My thoughts were:
  • Would technical training be as boring as I imagine?
  • Do I really want to try my hand at this to see if I can tackle this domain also?
  • Will creativity be restricted?
I reached out to my peers and received mixed opinions that left me more confused.  I finally spoke to one of my mentors, Rashmi Varma, who suggested that I should give it a go. My husband kept encouraging me to try something new. I then decided that I would attend the interview. The interview itself was very interesting. I was interviewed by a person who was quite paranoid about technical training. In what way, you ask? Well, he kept asking me if I have done any technical training and I kept replying no, I hadn't. He then started trying to convince me about how difficult and boring technical training is. After a while, I lost my patience and exclaimed 'I have the confidence to work with any type of content. Now, it is up to you to decide if you think I am suitable for this role.'

What is it about technical training that people are so scared about? I decided to take the offer and find out for myself. I went in with an open mind. I have now been designing technical training for one and half years and here are my observations:

Technical training is also about people:
Regardless of the topic/concept, if you are trying to train people, then there is a story to tell. If it is a software application, it is important to tell the story about who will be using it. And, the demystification of a software product gives me immense satisfaction. Most times, we get bogged down by focusing on the complexities of the topic. We should be focusing on understanding the human angle. How do people use it? Most times, even the people who design these products don't know the 'whole story'. Can you find it and tell them so that they do their work better?

If you are a good ID, the domain does not matter:
If you are a good ID, you should be able to design courses regardless of the domain. At the end of the day, we are here to ensure that we use effective learning strategies to teach. We need to be smart enough to understand 'how things work.' We should be able to ask the relevant questions and get the answers that help us build the story.

Technical Training also provides oppurtunity to think creatively:
My second project was about an abstract product. This product was very new and the concept was very abstract at the beginning. There was no case study to help as the product hand been launched yet. With the help of the SME, I created a detailed scenario that helped the learners understand the product better. Therefore, you can choose to be creative in any domain.

You can design detailed scenarios to help the learner understand how the product will work in the real world. The bottom line is there is no point blaming the content or the tools... we can create opportunities to make it creative.

The beauty is in simplification:
With most things, especially technical training, the beauty is in simplification. Can you understand the product enough to simplify the explanations you provide? Can you de-jargonize it and say it in a 'simple' fashion? Do not get overwhelmed by its complexities. There are always SMEs to help you understand things better. Ask them the right questions and do extensive research. Keep abreast with the products you work on. It prepares you for when the training does come your way.

To summarize, I thoroughly loved the first 8 years of my ID life, and I continue to do so. I do not regret working with technical content. I can now say that I have a complete portfolio! This experience has taught be to overlook biases and see things in a different light.