Respect the [Content] Flow

hand holding a marker
Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

In addition to growing an instructional design firm, I am a full-time instructional designer. A couple weeks ago, I was tasked with updating all the presentation slides for a one-week school. I really enjoy those type tasks  as they give me the opportunity to be creative while bringing to bear my knowledge of human learning theory and instructional design practice.

I immersed myself in the existing presentation slides, reading them several times over to gain understanding of the content and to cluster and sequence the content in a logical way (i.e. simple to complex, temporally, spatially, etc.) to make learning easy, no extraneous cognitive load. I consulted with the subject-matter-expert on questions about the necessity of content, terminology, images, and transitions. Then, using Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction as a micro framework, I carefully crafted presentations that were sound from an instructional design perspective and well-scripted, easily picked up “off the shelf” for  any qualified instructor at the school to use and teach with.  I felt good about what I created and believed the updated slides added value to the school. Turns out, what  created was not what the school instructors wanted.

After submitting the project to the project manager, I learned that, as it was, the existing content flow in the presentations had been carefully crafted across several instructors and over many iterations of teaching with the slides. The existing content flow was, to the school instructors, like gold, the impurities or problems of which had been borne out by repeated teaching, and what was left was pure and what worked best for them. The instructors did not want any changes to the content flow.

What I learned:  Talk to instructors about plans to restructure content flow before restructuring content; be sure that updating presentations involves changes to content flow and not something else, like aesthetic changes to make all the slides have the same look and feel (a master slide background, for example); that is what these instructors wanted.

Respect the Content Flow.

Be Extraordinary!



I Heart Scripting Content

I suppose every ID (Instructional Designer) has his or her favorite part of the instructional design and development process. As for me, I enjoy scripting content; I feel like the sculptor, and the raw content from the subject-matter-expert (SME) is the clay. I carefully extract the content from the SME, meticulously clarify the content through research and consultation with the SME, then use my creativity, learning theory knowledge, and instructional design expertise to mold content into an efficient and effective instructional unit. The creative energy that ensues is exhilirating, intoxicating, addictive..I heart it.


No [content] dumping allowed!

When developing a course or unit of instruction, resist the urge to load a unit with interesting videos, images, PowerPoint presentations, and the like,  in the absence of (1) a  rationale for how the content will assist the learner meet the learning objective(s) and (2) a plan for when in the learning process the learner will interact with the content . Each instructional item should have brief introductory text that establishes its relevance to the learning objective. Moreover,  if direction is not obvious in the course or unit design, the learner should be given explicit guidance regarding when to interact with the instructional material.

Instructional materials that are interesting, relevant, and well-ordered promote learning by allowing the learner to use cognitive resources on the material and not on figuring out what to do, why do it, or when to do it.