ISD Investments – They Should Always Be The Results Of A Business Decision

To Protect and Improve – Those are the Reasons to Invest in Learning – in an Enterprise Context!

Too often T&D/ Learning/ Knowledge Management clients, managers and

practitioners are too gung ho to build and buy and deploy “content” without

an eye towards the business rationale for doing so.


Here are 7 “things to think about” IMO – when contemplating an Investment in

ISD (Instructional Systems Design) efforts to produce or purchase “content”

and how to avoid a negative ROI…to protect AND improve the enterprise…


1- Blanketing versus targeting ISD efforts and Performance Impact 

– Too often the focus is on providing T&D opportunities for everyone.

By not getting aligned with the enterprise

leadership and working on specific, critical strategic and operational needs

of the customers and leadership stakeholders, and facing together the

tough decisions regarding priorities and resource allocations, ISD efforts

and resources are often wasted on low-value projects, with little chance for

significant ROI for the shareholders.


Performance is too often understood in the most generic

terms, perhaps driven by a generic competency model, which is true

enough on the surface, but won’t get most people to superior performance

levels. Generic models cause ISD’ers to create generic products, with little

chance at real impact back on-the-job. Communications skills, presentation

skills, or problem solving skills apply very differently for shop floor workers,

their bosses, the sales force, the process engineers, the ISD’ers, and the

company lawyers and accountants. One-size-fits-all products don’t have a

prayer of impact compared to targeted content (with perhaps some shareable

components/objects). The costs of lost opportunity of really impacting

on-the-job performance, because the content and design did not focus ultimately

on someone’s real job performance requirements, can be significant.


2- Reuse of content – too often instructional content is not deliberately designed

to increase sharing where appropriate, and for nonsharing when

unique content is really needed. Even in multiple targeted communications

skills training products for varied audiences there are common content

pieces/chunks/objects. The costs for not improving reuse capability due to

how T&D gets designed; and to do so without “watering” the content down

to some vanilla extract that again, doesn’t duly impact performance, are also

significant and can result in significant additional costs to the enterprise.

Imagine if your car didn’t share any components with the cars built by your

manufacturer; you wouldn’t be able to afford it because their cost to produce it

would be significantly higher. Remember the “platform” design approach that

helped save Chrysler in the 1980s? If not, Google it.


3- Development – the costs for developing content are artificially too high due to a

lack of available, or reluctance to use, standard but flexible ISD rules, tools, and

templates, and to employ a rationale content reuse strategy and approach. The

end result can be an inventory of redundant content that will cause higher “first

costs” than necessary and will lead to higher “life-cycle costs,” some of which

are explained next.


4- Inventory – the costs for storing and retrieving content are too high due to lack of

a rational, logical “Dewey decimal system” for products and their subassemblies,

much like the bar coding SKU (stock keeping unit) schemes in place everywhere

in our daily, personal lives. If content exists within your current, total product

line, can anyone find it quickly for reuse or maintenance?


5- Administration – the costs are too high for communications/marketing, registration,

scheduling (for those T&D products needing to be scheduled), or ordering

(for those T&D products that need to be ordered) because the product line of

T&D for any target audience is overlapped, gapped, and a mess in general, and

it is hard to present as a unified system of instruction.


6- Deployment – the costs to deploy the T&D are often too high given the probable

returns; and recently when the cheaper, total “e” learning strategy has failed to

produce results (for the buyers) we now find ourselves back to a better, more

blended approach, that still too often focuses on low-hanging fruit content that

won’t move performance levels higher at an adequate ROI level.

PACT Sign Post

7- Maintenance – the de-centralized ISD systems and processes that typically exist,

including the lack of design rules and tools, and the lack of a rationale inventory

scheme, will drive up the costs for keeping content up-to-date.


These 7 issues greatly impact the “life-cycle costs” for ISD products: T&D/learning

products/knowledge products (which we most often refer to collectively as T&D).


And those life cycle costs greatly impact the I in your ROI calculations.


Note: see the lead article in this Summer of 2006 issue of Pursuing Performance (the quarterly newsletter)

which presents one method for determining the R in ROI.

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