Balancing Instructional Design and Business Needs


What guides or influences the decisions you make in your role as a corporate training professional?

Is it one particular instructional design model? Is it the demands of corporate leadership? Is it the customer?

Maybe it’s all of these. Or maybe it’s your own past personal experiences, and the tools you’ve come to learn and apply over your career. You’ve probably discovered that building training courses is not always as simple as following a step by step process. There are always circumstances beyond your control that will frame the constraints of your project. How will you handle that?

What Guides You?

The question of what guides you is very different than the questions we ask after shifting into our instructional design thinking. In ISD school we are taught to analyze and measure everything and everyone. And we are taught that it’s even possible to select the perfect technology, the perfect delivery method, and the most perfect instruction. The academic world, where instructional design theories and models are born, has the luxury to think purely of instructional design. But most recent college graduates of ISD programs working in corporate training will speak of no such luxury. Academically trained instructional designers are more often tossed into worlds with little respect for rigidly applied instructional design processes.

A Common Story

That was me 20 years ago. Recently graduated and already having done contracting work during school. My first full-time job introduced me to the realities beyond instructional design that were beyond my control.  I never would have guessed at the time how much that one project would influence me.

I sat at my manager’s desk as he explained the situation. It was a long conversation but in the end I had 5 days to create a training course.  In my academic training and limited career experience no self-paced computer-based training course ever took less than 12 weeks to create.  It was a Monday morning. It had to be done by Friday.

The Plan

The current version of the course was classroom based and came with a short handbook.  The plan was to convert the handbook into a computer based course with no bells and whistles. It was just a direct copy of the handbook into an authoring tool with a quiz added at the end.  And the plan succeeded. The course remained in use for many years even after I left the company. But for many years I thought of that project as a failure.  I was embarrassed to claim any credit for it because we hadn’t gone through the proper instructional design process.

Hard Lesson Learned

It wasn’t until after many more projects that I began to understand the corporate forces at work. The forces that are not within the control of the training department.  The forces that require us to be more than just instructional designers. They need us to be part of the business, the team, and not just an ivory tower of instructional perfection. Our skills as instructional designers can be used to solve problems that aren’t training problems. Sure you can say “that’s not a training problem” and move on to something you think more worthy of your time. Or you could apply your skills and add real value to the business.

You may or may not be a training professional by choice. Either way you are not alone. Regardless of how you got where you are, you need to be aware of the balance between pure instructional design and the needs of the business. Instructional designers will rarely follow instructional design models perfectly as they are designed. And trainers with zero knowledge of ID will find themselves unknowingly following design patterns. There is no right or wrong solution.  There is only done, or not done.