ELM Learning Updates

A Collaborative Approach to eLearning Instructional Design and Product Design

Most of the time, and especially when instructional design is done in-house, the teams for instructional design and product design and development work together. Each one is neatly stored in its own box, and any collaboration takes place “over the wall.” Traditional elearning development is driven from a single list of requirements, with each contributing team performing their tasks independently. It’s not purely isolated development, but subject matter experts stick to their “sandbox” while collaboration typically happens on an as-needed basis. But things don’t have to be like that.

While this has long been the accepted mode, and works in some situations, it’s not effective for organizations that want to deliver long-term, sustainable efforts to train stakeholders. In other words, the siloed approach simply cannot produce what collaborative, integrated approaches can.

At ELM, we recognize that each of our core areas of expertise are strengthened when they benefit from continuous input and engagement with colleagues from other areas. Designers get a better sense of how to apply written content. Writers have an opportunity to influence user experience. When instructional design (ID) is fully integrated with product design (PD), for example, elearning leaders get the benefit of an entire team who is operating not off of checklists, but off of actual objectives that represent what the client is trying to achieve for her team.

With years of experience developing elearning programs for a variety of leading organizations, ELM realized that cohesion has to be at the foundation of everything we create. Today, our instructional design and product design teams are less distinguishable from one another than they ever have been: We’ve encouraged our instructional designers to become experts in development and our developers to become stellar instructional designers. 

The reasons for doing this boil down mostly to efficacy and what is ultimately going to work for clients who increasingly need ELM to deliver full-service elearning offerings. Let’s look more closely at how ELM is doing this, but we’ll start with the reasons why:

Reason #1: Produce Learner-Centered Offerings

When instructional design and development collaborate in one seamless process, the ultimate beneficiary is the learner. Each department brings expertise and perspective that is valuable by itself, but becomes critical to learner success when it’s combined in a way that creates solutions that are better suited to the way that each individual actually accesses information.

Case in point: An ELM client needed us to create scenarios to teach their sales associates how to respond and recommend products to customers on the sales floor. Previously, we might have had the instructional design team wireframe a solution and send it over to development for execution. Clearly, the insights from the instructional design team would drive the finished product, but it didn’t account for gaps in development or issues where ID might need to advise. 

ELM’s new model keeps all teams involved from beginning to end. It is structured so the ID team can conduct analysis to find out what learners already knew and what they still needed to know, as well as how they’d access information before the design department storyboarded a visual method for delivery. The result of the collaboration was a scenario-based module where learners could listen to real-life customer conversations and practice selecting the best product for the customer. Together, ID and development envisioned the learning environment to create the best possible solution.

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Reason #2: Faster Delivery Through Iterative Design

Instructional designers can analyze current initiatives and compare them with past outcomes utilizing big data – how did users engage, what elements were most popular, are there certain places in modules that experienced high levels of drop-off; these and other behavioral metrics are critical for iteration and future development. That information is then shared with designers so that when creating new modules, they’re not repeating past mistakes in storyboarding and development.

Additionally, this means that when ELM is working with a client, it provides a better vision for future plans and how they can best achieve them. Ultimately, this is a major factor in time- and cost-savings, and it helps the client and ELM continue to achieve a level of like-mindedness that will impact ability to deliver for desirable outcomes.

Combining ID and PD means we can better target the exact gaps left in learning.


Reason #3: Accentuate the Positive

When ID and development operated in silos, they weren’t taking advantage of the talent, strengths, and skills each had to offer. If the design and development team was made up of mostly visual artists, for example, why was instructional design in charge of wireframing and storyboarding? We flipped the model on its head so that each department was playing to its strengths.

With ID applying their analysis and architecture to creating a game plan, D&D was better able to use their talents to create a module around the look and feel that clients wanted to create. It only made sense to put ID in front of content mapping and outcome and then have our visual designers create the content and put all the pieces in place.

By changing the way our departments work together, we’re playing to everyone’s strengths for the best product every time. Instead of making development and instructional design a two-step, two-department process, allowing more collaboration and back-and-forth yields better results and happier learners.

You can see how this collaborative and integrated approach helped MillerCoors create an optimal employee onboarding experience. Through ID and PD collaboration, MillerCoors was able to deliver a modern, on-brand design supported with an engaging, funny, and relevant narrative. 

Let us know what you are working on here, and our team of learning experts, instructional designers, and talented artists will craft learning that engages and sticks with your learners to foster dynamic and measurable solutions.