lean-ISD? What is ISD – Instructional Systems Design?

What is ISD – Instructional Systems Design?

We think about ISD as an instructional system, with individual instructional products, that incrementally and in total provide a learner with awareness, knowledge and skills via performance-based, criterion-referenced, information and instruction.

In an Educational Context
If the ISD is applied in an educational setting we won’t necessarily know their “terminal applications” leading to “terminal learning objectives”…what job tasks will Susie have after junior high, high school, and perhaps college?

All we might know at this learner’s stage of the learning progression is that we’ve got to prepare Susie, for the next in a long series of math classes, so that she can pass the various battery of math knowledge and skill tests she will face as she progresses through the public school systems.

She will eventually take the SAT and/or ACT tests to get into a college/university program (only to remain undeclared until the parent’s threaten to cut off the financial lifeline…hey, I’ve been there). Or maybe Susie doesn’t pursue higher education and instead goes to work at a lumber center where she’ll have to calculate how many gallons of paint will be needed, or sheets of paneling are required to cover a wall. And the lost art of counting-back-change…just because her assistant manager at this store is a stickler for it.

In a Training Context…
If however, the ISD is applied in a training setting, we should darn well (a technical phrase) better understand exactly what the learner’s terminal applications are. We should know that Susie will need to be able to evaluate the client’s current technology infrastructure, specify the right equipment, materials and labor, price the proposal bid, make the sales pitch and close the deal, and then detail the job plan for hand-off to the installation group without ticking them off because her work is crap (another technical term)!

And…do so in a manner that beats the competition’s price and makes the enterprise a profit on her sale! No kidding!

The Business Purpose for ISD
ISD is an expensive proposition. And from a shareholder perspective of: “never spend a buck that doesn’t return tens of bucks someday (and the sooner the better!!!),” it is all too often a poor investment that ends up returning less than it costs. Business 101 teaches this as a bad/dumb business decision…having less R than I when all is said and done.

If ISD is an instructional system, with individual instructional products that provide a learner with awareness, knowledge and skills in an enterprise’s training setting, then the individual instructional products should work together “as a system of instruction & information” to impact job performance at a cost and return that would make a business case reviewer/ investor/ stockholder jump with joy and exclaim, “But of course!” and “Let’s do it!” and “time is a-wasting!”

Remember, they are looking at ROI, return on investment. But are they looking at total ROI, or partial ROI? Do you know how to look at Total ROI?

What Are the Total Life Cycle Costs of ISD?
ISD is expensive. There are many costs. If you build it and they will come (via car, bus, train, plane or Intranet/Internet) there are many costs to the shareholder that wouldn’t hit and detract from the bottom line if the instructional product hadn’t been built/acquired in the first place.

Remember…a cost avoided remains on the bottom line as profit (earnings before interest and taxes – EBIT).

We in ISD often think only of our development costs, the costs for using our ADDIE-type ISD models and methods. Sometimes we get more sophisticated and think about future maintenance costs, or learner participation costs, or lost opportunity costs. It is quite complex. There are actually more costs than these, and if we’re thinking like a business person who is thinking like a shareholder who “never wants to spend a buck that doesn’t return tens of bucks back someday soon” then we need to expand our horizon.

In our view the Total Costs to be determined to figure out/project a Total ROI would include:

► ISD Program Planning
► ISD Product Development
► ISD Product Inventory
► ISD Program & Product Administration
► ISD Product Deployment
► ISD Product Maintenance

In this series starter we’re going to focus on: ISD Program Planning.

ISD Program Planning
If ISD is a systems approach to instruction and typically involves more than one instructional product, then we see it as a brand manager, or program manager might: a series of products/systems that together make a “whole.”

The ISD/T&D/learning function needs to see their product line as a total system to take a learner from a specific market segment (the airline pilot, or the mechanical engineer, or the counter sales person, or the insurance adjuster) from their typical or varied points of entry (from an existing awareness/knowledge/skill level) and “spin them up” to available to be available/capable to start doing real work, and then on to the next levels of performance required.

Of course, we want some performers to know it all/be able to do it all on day 1 versus spinning them up to total competence over time…the airline pilots need to know how to take off and fly and land and crash land in case the wheels are stuck and won’t come down…versus the counter sales people who can learn more about all of the products sold over time.

What are the most common mistakes going on in the T&D world (or learning or knowledge management) today related to Program Planning? They include:

► Blanketing versus targeting ISD investments
► Approaching ISD projects and products as a series of one-offs
► Not focused on real world performance requirements
► No view of ROI potential (or lack thereof)

Non-Real Blanketing One-Offs with Little Promise of R for I
Blankety Blanks Blanketing – Too often the ISD focus (or lack of focus) is on providing T&D opportunities for everyone. Regardless of the ROI potential. T&D is blanketed and not targeted. How can you tell/assess your own situation?

Do you have too many generic titles and generic content modules being deployed in either group-paced or self-paced media that have little chance of positively impacting the shareholder’s bottom line? Is there too much focus on butts in seats and now butts on sites and not enough regarding when they’re off their butts and back on the job what will they be able to do differently and for what process performance impact?

By not getting aligned with the enterprise leadership and working on specific, critical strategic and operational needs, and sharing with the customer and leadership stakeholders, and forcing the tough decisions regarding priorities and resource allocations, ISD efforts and resources are wasted on low-value projects, with little chance for significant ROI for the shareholders.

The PACT Processes for T&D are for serious T&D needs, not for one-off communications/awareness builders. And they are not for generic content driven by a generic competency model. When appropriate, we apply the right levels of PACT, our engineering process for ISD, which include :

1- CAD- Curriculum Architecture Design – the rough equivalent of…Systems/Architectural Design
2- MCD- Modular Curriculum Development – the rough equivalent of…Product Design
3- IAD- Instructional Activity Development – the rough equivalent of…Component Design

Not all three levels are used in every ISD endeavor; as always, it depends. But the key thing is that we engage customers and their management in our project methodologies to make the business decisions. We bring voice of the customer to the forefront of a non-traditional-ADDIE-type ISD model. They make the decisions about the focus, the market segment and the “driving business issues” to be addressed/attacked/resolved via an instructional solution.

Later in Phase 2 Analysis when we bring back our Performance Models with both the “ideal performance” and the “gap analysis” data that spells out pretty clearly the non-knowledge/skill issues underlying “why things ain’t so ideal” in their real world, they are more open to it. Why, because they handpicked the Analysis Team members whose voice we captured in the Performance Models.

Is every project started and product produced seen as an island unto itself, or is it seen as an integral part of the whole? Is there an anticipation of both re-use of existing content (built or bought earlier with shareholder equity) and custom content? Are there standard tools and templates to assist and speed the efforts? Is there a common ADDIE-type model, or does each ISD’er have their own?

Are each of your ISD efforts more of an individual artistic endeavor or a common engineering approach?

Not Getting Real
What are the bases for your “instructional objectives?” Did ISD’ers or SME dream them up? Or are they driven by real-world performance objectives? Are they driven by lists of tasks (randomly ordered or worse, alphabetical)?

Or is it driven by a set of data regarding human performance requirements within business processes and identifies the outputs/outcomes/results to be produced by humans performing behavioral and cognitive tasks?

I’s Greater than R’s
Bottom line, are you starting projects as part of programs where the Cost-of-Nonconformance (CONC) is clear; so that your Cost of Conformance (COC) can be used in a Return on Investment (ROI) calculation as part of a business case helping all to see why doing something would actually be better than doing nothing, and living with the issue that an instructional effort could, but shouldn’t address?

In Summary
ISD is an expensive proposition. From a shareholder perspective of…never spend a buck that doesn’t return “tens of bucks” someday (and the sooner the better!!!)…don’t blanket your efforts, see them as part of a whole system of instruction, get real, and don’t do anything instructional-development-wise just because you can – do it because it makes sense to the shareholder!

Just because an Instructional Analyst/Designer can “uncover” a training “need” does not in-and-of-itself warrant meeting that need.

Only the significance of the estimated ROI should guide that decision…where the RETURN can be risk avoidance or reward attainment.

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