When learning new material, it is natural to focus on the elements that interest and excite us the most; this bolsters engagement while also improving the odds of material actually being retained. Having received my undergraduate degree in communication studies, I especially enjoy when what I am learning about incorporates aspects of communication. Fortunately for me, communication is present in practically all aspects of life! Whether we are looking at our professional, academic, or personal lives, great communication is very important, and it may go without saying that it is crucial in instructional design (ID) as well. ID practitioners are challenged to practice effective communication over a variety of mediums with many different audiences. The success of an ID module is significantly influenced by the instructional designer’s ability to not just convey information to learners, but reach consensus with stakeholders, subject matter experts (SME), clients, and others. This requires a high degree of flexibility and adaptability – something I actually discussed in my previous written reflection! Essentially, instructional designers are communication chameleons who must change their language and messaging based on the surrounding environment. This notion is supported by Cennamo and Kalk (2019) throughout their book as they discuss the ID process. Let us look, chapter-by-chapter, at how the instructional designer is truly a communication chameleon.
Chapter 4 discusses the creation of activities for learners. This stage requires input from the stakeholders as the goals of the learning module are determined, but not everyone may speak the same “language.” That is, what a client states may require some translation or interpretation to be put into practice. For example, consider a manager who wants a new training lesson that produces “better salespeople.” What are they actually trying to say? After some discussion and clarification, the instructional designer is able to figure out that what the manager wants to see is enhanced product knowledge. This translation task can only be accomplished by someone who is an effective communicator. In turn, activities can be designed so that they adequately teach product information. When the instructional designer does not have sufficient knowledge to create effective learning activities, they can consult an SME. Knowing how to ask questions is an underrated communication skill, but it is vital for getting the most out of the expertise of SMEs. Of course, there is also the challenge of translating their guidance into language that is digestible to a learning audience, which too calls for communication skills.
There is also the matter of choosing appropriate media formats, as discussed in Chapters 5 and 7. What is the most effective way to share information on a product? Is it through videos, diagrams, or something else? This question is answered through thoughtful consideration of how information is communicated across different media. I cannot help but think of the famous phrase from communication expert Marshall McLuhan, who stated that “the medium is the message.” This means that the method by which we deliver a message has a significant impact on the way its determined. Accordingly, instructional designers who understand the pros and cons of various media formats will be better informed to make design decisions when creating learning modules.
Continuing with the topic of making decisions on formats, Chapter 6 reviews how instructional designers can collect evaluations and feedback on their learning modules. Possible choices include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, surveys, and other similar instruments. Like media formats, there are considerations to make for participants and their ideal review method; for example, some individuals may feel more confident without others around, while others may be more susceptible to groupthink. This could be said to incorporate some teachings of psychology as well, as instructional designers are tasked with figuring out the most effective way to elicit feedback according to the learning and audiences at hand. Generally, though, the knowledge and skillset most useful for these types of decisions can be categorized as being matters of communication.
Finally, Chapter 7 is the most communication-centric thus far, containing information about collaboration, working within teams, communication during crises, and intercultural communication. Actually, the content of this chapter reminded me of a leadership development program that my company recently led, in which participants sat in roundtable discussions on a variety of topics regarding communication. Several of the aforementioned chapter sections were discussed in the roundtables. This demonstrates the importance of developing good communication skills no matter what position one is in (the program hosted by my company was intended for deans of dental colleges). Of course, their inclusion in Real World Instructional Design emphasizes the importance of great communication skills for instructional designers, too.
Perhaps my thoughts upon reflecting on the readings were not groundbreaking and may have actually erred on the side of being obvious – the importance of great communication is emphasized in many roles, especially in times such as now where people are being challenged to digitally communicate in ways they were not asked of before. At the same time, sometimes the tasks that we work on are not thought of being communication tasks, despite them being intrinsically so.
Either way, I am happy to see how I will be able to
continue to apply my communication skills, which I have practiced both through
work and my schooling! It could be one of the aspects that helps to take me
from being a good instructional designer to a great instructional designer.
Cennamo, K., & Kalk, D. (2019). Real world instructional design: An iterative approach to
designing learning experiences.