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!



Instructional Analysis- Working with SMEs


Analysis is one of my favorite parts of the instructional design process. Today, my team and I worked with a group of subject matter experts (SMEs) to conduct task detailing- a step in task analysis. The aims of task analysis include (1) enumerating the steps involved with completing a task and (2) stating the prerequisite knowledge for each step. The prerequisite knowledge is where things got a bit fuzzy for the SMEs today. Prerequisite knowledge in task detailing refers to what the learner must already know in order to learn a particular step. Prerequisite knowledge  is not general knowledge about a concept, process, or procedure; it is specific knowledge the learner needs to possess in order to learn a step required to complete a task.

When conducting task analysis be sure to ask the SME what the learner needs to know in order to learn a step required to complete a task; ask it specifically: What does the learner need to know in order to learn this step?

Subject Matter Expert vs. Accomplished Performer What’s the diff?

Today, as a colleague studied some Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) she paused and asked, “What’s the difference between a subject matter expert and an accomplished performer?” I explained the difference this way– a subject matter expert is like a coach and an accomplished performer is like the MVP (most valuable player). The subject matter expert knows the material; the accomplished performer, on the other hand, is performing the behaviors. Another example would be a math teacher and the best math student in a class, a subject matter expert and an accomplished performer respectively. The subject matter expert is highly knowledgeable in a domain and the accomplished performer is applying the knowledge in an authentic context that is of interest to instructional designers and curriculum developers. Context matters when designing instruction.

There is a caveat. Sometimes the subject matter expert and the accomplished performer are the same person; my colleague is accustomed to that dynamic.

Note- accomplished performers are sometimes referred to as exemplars