Marketers are driving improvement and growth for Instructional Design

I had the pleasure of doing an instructional design project for a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) a couple of years ago.  The project differed from most instructional design projects in that as a CMO, there was at least as much emphasis on good design as applying ADDIE development processes, or making certain the story boarding followed a sound pedagogy.

On Day 1 we had Corporate Communications Standards defining logo, type, and style guidelines, and a complete custom icon set already aligned with the prescribed color palettes. The difference between the CMO’s project and a traditional learning project was that it had attached measurable business goals. She was trying to increase utilization and sell more seats for their SaaS-based software offering. It was learning content, but it was also part of a marketing campaign.

I have been involved with Instructional Design and adult learning for 14 years. Long enough to see many changes. The good news is that most of these changes have absolutely added value and improved learning outcomes. The SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) standard allowed courses to be shared, and enabled tracking of pre and post-tests, certification tests, and latency (time in course metrics). The latest SCORM iteration, called Tin Can, does all that SCORM did, and delivers robust analytics to measure engagement and knowledge sharing via informal learning channels, plus the ability to connect job performance data to knowledge transfer effectiveness.

The 91 billion dollar leanring economy.Learning Management Systems have also become more robust and easier to administrate. Content development tools and platforms continue to improve. But one trend in particular is poised to drive disruptive change and growth within the $91 billion global learning economy.

The New Learning Change Agent

Arguably one of the biggest change drivers in learning is your marketing department’s new found love for educational content. Yes, the lines between marketing content and learning content are getting blurrier as marketers and learning professionals work more closely together. We are all beneficiaries of instructional design’s new emphasis on “design”.

It has been changing for the last 10 years or so, as more and more learning content was introduced. If you want to have audiences flocking to your course ware, whether using a paid or free model, it had better be good. Engagement is no longer a function of just having rich media content. Engagement is dependent on having high-quality, well-produced rich media content. If you plan to use a “South Park like” avatar with a computer generated voice-over, you may be setting the bar too low for consumers on the marketing side of the house. Your momma’s ‘click to advance slide’ eLearning material isn’t cutting it anymore.

Companies like Minneapolis-based The Big Know (TBK) are positioning to take advantage of the demand that marketing departments are driving for what they refer to as “Branded Educational Content”.  TBK is already producing TV like experiences that educate, entertain, and engage for companies like United Healthcare, AARP, food guru Andrew Zimmern, and others. The content features best-in-class studio quality video and sound, professional scripts, and clean, intuitive UIs (User Interfaces). Check out Zimmern’s Wok Cooking: Chengdu-style Chicken to see what quality branded educational content looks like. Probably a good idea to bookmark the link for when you head home too; it’s flat out delicious and  easy to make.

The Big Know's Andrew Zimmern image.

Also to be considered as a change driver, is the difference between traditional consumers of learning content, and the branded educational content consumer. Way back in the days when corporate learning lived only within HR, it was predominately delivered to employees. Sometimes external audiences included partners, distributors, and re-sellers. When the audience for content is widened to include leads, prospects, decision makers and influencers, customers, and more — the size of that audience can increase exponentially. These larger audiences further justify the investment in better design.

Better Design Drives More Effective Knowledge Transfer

Obviously the trend toward raising the bar on the design and aesthetics for learning content makes the stuff more enjoyable to absorb. Thus, better design on its own delivers better learning outcomes. It also delivers a significant benefit that marketers get all giddy over: Brand recognition. People remember where and from whom they learn things.

The visual design of content online contributes to the overall experience of learning and influences whether or not a learned experience can be recalled when needed.

Torria Davis, Blackboard Community

I recently remodeled a kitchen. I learned how to install cabinets, and do some damned fancy finish trim techniques via the how-to videos produced by the cabinet manufacturer, CliqStudios. If a year from now if you asked my where we got those cabinets, my response would likely be, “God, I don’t remember.” But ask me where I learned to do crown molding: “CliqStudios.”

The best learning content is experiential. The biggest benefit of marketers sticking their noses into the business of instructional designers is that the emphasis will forevermore be balanced between the words “Instructional” and “Design”. Instructional designers will no longer be tasked with just developing learning course content, they will be inspired to develop engaging learning experiences.