Monday, May 14, 2012

Have We Lost the ISD? What Should Workforce Learning Graduates Hear from You?

Allison Rossett posted a fabulous fake commencement address 2 days ago.  I loved it.  She nails a point I'd like to emphasize here.  The work we do at one level is extremely focused on the micro solutions we call courses, but more than ever we need to be thinking about, and designing, systems.  And I'm not talking about Learning Management Systems.  Just reading her post made me realize that so much of our industry is focused on the ID, Instructional Design. And back when I first started in this business it was mostly referred to as ISD, Instructional SYSTEMS Design.

I'm not sure what happened to the focus on systems but it seems to have faded. According to Wikipedia the terms are synonymous.  From a purely academic perspective I might agree.  But from many years of observing our industry as a whole I'm not so sure. I see two very different practices emerging within our industry: 1) The Instructional Design of Courses, and 2) The Instructional Systems Design of Enterprise Solutions.

The Instructional Design of Courses
For the most part, this is the work of creating the final product. The instructional design required here helps developers work with SMEs, understand the content, create the media, and design the flow in which the content is presented, as well as creating some form of assessment.  Much of this work is seen as requiring one technology for the solution.  You might choose to design a classroom experience, or you may design a fully interactive immersive simulation.  But no matter what tool you choose, for a certain period of time your sole focus is on creating that solution and implementing it successfully. You may also need to make sure it conform with a larger system design that is part of your enterprise and that is where ISD comes in.

The Instructional Systems Design of Enterprise Solutions
Mostly defined as the strategy and management issues of training and development, there is a certain level of Instructional Design that seems to have been lost at this level.  My feeling is that those with the power and authority, and responsibility, to implement enterprise systems solutions do not take instructional systems design into consideration.  After all, "I have instructional designers that do that".  I believe it's a rare manager today that thinks about instructional systems design during the many times that decisions need to be made.  It's far easier for me to see a manager interested in buying an LMS because legal, IT, or HR asked them if training was being tracked or "managed" in some way. Legal needs the information to fend of legal action. IT needs to know because their enterprise vendor has one that could be thrown into the deal. HR needs to know because of compliance, new hire training, and employee development.

So, is there a difference between Instructional Design and Instructional Systems Design? Should they be two different roles within the training team? What does this mean in the corporate world vs. higher ed?

I don't know the answer, but I know what I see and hear from so many colleagues managing training departments, and creating eLearning course solutions.  I hear the terms of the industry being tossed around in various communities with different meanings attached.  I participate in frustrating conversations because many use the same words, but mean different things.  Maybe parsing ID and ISD will help.

I love it when the veterans of our industry talk about our field at a very high level as Allison did in her post. I wish more would do so.  Perhaps Allison's fake commencement address will kick off a trend.

If you had to give a commencement address to a class of graduating learning professionals, what would you say? If you post it, let me know.

UPDATE: I got a couple twitter responses to this post and I wanted to share some interesting content.  Donald Clark retweeted my post and when I checked out his stream found this gem on design models. Reuben Tozman also reached out and reminded me of his post on systems titled 7 Metaphors for Experience Design.


Donald Clark said...

Brent, perhaps the term "system" scares them off. Maybe we should think "Holistic"? Thus iHD rather than ISD - a small i is used rather than a capital as the emphasis is on Holistic and Design rather than instruction.

In an article by Fast Company, they tell the story of coronary-artery bypass patients who have surgery to relieve pain, rather than to cure them. In fact, the only real cure is to start taking better care of themselves, such as quitting smoking, eating less, and exercising. Yet, in study after study, very few do! When these patients are looked at two years after their surgery, 90% have not made any significant change to their lifestyle.

Here are people facing a life or death situation, yet they fail to make the right choice, thus they face more pain, more surgeries, and possibly even death. How can we expect leaders to change people when they will not even change themselves when faced with a major personal crises?

Dr. Ornish, showed that a holistic program, focused around a vegetarian diet, can actually reverse heart disease without surgery or drugs. This holistic program includes going after their feelings by having them attend a twice-weekly support group sessions led by a psychologist. It includes instruction in aerobic exercise, meditation, relaxation, and yoga and lasts for about a year. A study showed that after three years, 77% of the patients had stuck with their lifestyle changes and avoided the surgery. A far cry from the 10% who succeed when only given cognitive instructions.

This holistic method works better as the change is reframed - rather than trying to motivate patients with the fear of death; they are motivated with the joy of living. Facing death for most people is much too frightening to think about, thus patients often go into denial; where as making daily life more enjoyable is a powerful motivator.

Perhaps our holistic methods need to invite people to jump in for the shear joy of it, rather then trying to force them in.

Guy W. Wallace said...

I thought much the same in the late 1990s when I started a book that became "T&D Systems View" about all of the systems, processes involved in Enterprise T&D/ L&D, KMS - beyond ID - or even "Curriculum Architecture Design" - as I had been told, by someone who had seen me present on that one too many times. "T&D Systems View" is now available as a free PDF at: - but is also available as a Paperback.

bschlenker said...

Don and Guy,
Thanks for the feedback! You both have more experience in this space than I have and I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts.
It seems to me that much of this boils down to a major change is thinking from not only senior business leaders but from workers needing the training as well. Both leaders and learners today simply expect training to be the same event-based experience they've always received. Thinking of learning as a process that requires "training" spread out over a longer period of time, connected to other learning, and part of the work being done, is more complex than many care to think about(IMO). Holistic solutions go against every "quick fix" solution we've all learned to appreciate as being the pinnacle of innovation. Long term, holistic, solutions are also often harder to track and apply metrics too in order to gauge ROI.
And I'll even readily admit that in some business cases the best solution really is too simply put your employee ranks through a 1-hour classroom or self paced course and check the completed box. Thankfully many industries have, and are seeing, a need for more holistic, longer-term, solutions that provide deeper learning that truly improves employee performance and the bottom line. Those are the projects I enjoy being involved in.