Instructional design I’m not a “numbers person.” I never have been. Some people aren’t “words people.” And that’s okay. In college, I cringed on behalf of my science major friends when they told me about their multi-hour labs and the reports that went along with them. They told me they were fine with that. They’d take it over my research papers any day.

The same is true in the work world. There are many different industries and many different roles within each one. What comes naturally to some people is a struggle for others. Working in instructional design, I’ve had the privilege to learn a little bit about a lot of different fields. Often they’re fields I would probably never have known anything about otherwise.

I think my most important takeaway is that no job is as easy or straightforward as it appears to the casual, outside observer. Even entry level and so-called “menial” jobs have best practices, safety regulations, etc. that need to be remembered and put into practice. Tasks that are simple and repetitive have their challenges too. For example, how do you stay motivated?

Everyone in a kitchen with fryers has to be careful when they move around, or they might burn themselves or someone else with hot grease. Retail sales associates have to keep their eyes open for shoplifting at all times. Sometimes customers are guilty, other times it’s co-workers. Stock teams (as in people who re-stock products, not the ones who work at the stock exchange) don’t just need to find space for everything in the back room. They also have to figure out how to organize it so people can get to whatever they need with as little trouble as possible.

These things are easy to miss, or forget, if you’ve never done the jobs in question. This is why it’s important to get a feel for learners’ real environment. It can be easy to say “Let’s make some training about ____,” but how accessible is it if the learners work in a kitchen, on a sales floor, or in a stock room? Online training will take them away from their work and so will formal face-to-face classes. Mobile devices can help bridge this gap. That’s the kind of thinking that takes the reality of the situation into account.

Visiting learners where they work is a great opportunity. It’s not always possible though. When it’s not, see if you can schedule a phone call. This can usually be coordinated through a manager, who can also recommend whom to talk to and let that person know about the call. Don’t go in cold, have a list of questions ready. Even if you only get one learner’s input that’s one more than you would have heard from if you didn’t reach out. This is true of more complex job roles too, not just entry level.

No matter where someone works or what they do, they’re doing that job for a reason. The organization needs it done and they’re the person who’s been chosen to do it. There are rules that need to be followed and practical facts that can’t be avoided. This is true whether or not the customers, other departments’ employees, or Learning and Development are aware of it. Taking this into account when designing training can make the difference between “out of touch” and “helpful.”


If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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