Posted by: Gillian | October 1, 2009

Managing Learning Design

The open workshop I gave yesterday at the BILD stand at WOLCE in the National Exhibition Centre  raised a laugh when I mentioned that L&D teams usually get tucked away in a side office somewhere (if they are lucky enough to be granted a ‘department’) and yet learning design cannot work in a vacuum.  The glee and creative anticipation that affects most learning designers when somebody walks through the door and says, “We need a course on X,” has led to many a disaster as one or more people enthusiastically set to work and produce the course on  ‘X’ only to find that Lou has already bought in something similar or Jo has decreed X is obsolete or Jim is furious because it does not link tightly enough to what his team do, etc.

In the workshop we worked on the (already reduced) basic learning design framework in the simplified form:

Refine Proposal and Contract

Refine Proposal and Contract

The group looked at the importance of refining a course proposal so that a contract or, within an organisation, an internal email can be drawn up. This gives everyone a reference point that varies in role depending upon whether you are taking a strategic or fledgling instructional designer standpoint or something between the two.

From an operational point of view, the contract or email informs the creative process and the essential requirements list.  For those who use the ADDIE Model of instructional design, the A (analysis), starts in the refining phase  – although designers at the outset of their careers may be restricted to a post-contract version of ADDIE where the analysis consists of refining a brief where the analysis was begun by others.  If that makes the contract or email sound too remote to be of any significance to your own job, it’s worth thinking of it as an essential but often overlooked piece of armoury in office survial wars: project creep and latecomers to the project may complain and the project as originally envisaged may get abandoned, but at least the learning designer can point to a document that shows the accounts department, quality guardians, line managers, users and others agreed the work and asked for it to be undertaken.

From a strategic point of view the refining of the proposal is vital to get maximum return on investment – whether that investment be in money, people, knowledge, use of systems or anything else. In organisations where there are written quality procedures (ISO, SERVQUAL, IIP, etc) or compulsory project management methodologies (e.g. PRINCE), these need to be built in from the start and they may, depending upon how they are written, help identify the key stakeholders, zones of supportive activity and areas of common interest. The problems only arise when the procedural terminology starts to drive the project: most seasoned learning designers can recall projects with lists of roles that make the credits on a Disney film look short but actually no-one knew whether or not the eventual product had a market. At the very minimum, the refining of the proposal should identify the end-user and their existing skill-sets, agree the technologies, assign a budget, give a timeline and agree the required learning outcomes. That will require conversations with:

  • Accounts
  • IT/IS
  • Line managers and potential end-users
  • HR, Quality and Internal Communications departments (where they exist).

Discussions may lead to the inclusion of external suppliers, lawyers, the marketing department, customers and the customer’s quality control department.  That’s just some of the people that need to be included before that contract line can be crossed and the design and development begin.  Every project is different and the full learning design map that shows who gets involved at which stage can be both enormous and complicated – but keeping an eye on where everything fits saves much professional grief.


  1. Nice one Gillian – you obviously ‘did good’!

    • A much appreciated comment, Judith! Hope to see you when you surface from current project.

  2. Good work Gillian. Congratulations!

    • Thanks, Wayne! The initial card shuffle of the key pieces was fun and then we moved on…

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