A year or so back, I was part of a mentoring program at my alma mater. They were pairing current students with recent graduates to help them with life skills that aren’t usually taught in class. I loved the idea and started making lesson plans and brainstorming activities for my future mentee. I listed out the topics I expected us to cover, started collecting reference material, and even considered making a gamified, digital framework for tracking progress. I went crazy laying the design groundwork.
Then, due to a random accident, I lost the file I’d collected all my work in. Looking back, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened.
Instead, I showed up on meet and greet day with a sheet of paper and a pen. I’d listed the topics I still remembered and asked my new mentee to add anything they wanted. Then they numbered everything in priority order from most to least important. That simple list became our goal sheet and roadmap for the rest of the program.
We developed a routine as the meetings went on. It wasn’t something we actively discussed, it just happened. We’d chat, see which goal my mentee’s recent experiences were related to, brainstorm ways to address a challenge or improve upon something, then wrap up with action items. I never rewrote a single lesson plan.
It’s easy to get carried away by a good idea and overdo it. If I hadn’t lost that file we probably would have ended up following that pre-planned syllabus. Which isn’t to say that making it was bad, or a waste of time. We ended up covering many of the topics from it and my mentee appreciated the resources I sent periodically.
But if I’d been able to continue working I would have built that gamified framework. And frankly, I’m pretty sure it would have been unnecessary. Talking and sketching out ideas worked well for us. Sticking to a simple solution saved a lot of time and helped me focus on the most important thing, my mentee’s needs – not the delivery method of the content. I’d lost sight of that during the planning phase.
It’s also easy to end up with misaligned goals if you don’t ask for input. Sticking to my list of topics would have been a disaster. We would have spent a lot of time on things my mentee already knew. And we would have completely skipped their “most important” goal, which was something they added to the list that first day.
No one person can see something from all angles, it isn’t possible. Get feedback from multiple sources during the planning phase, if you can: the stakeholders, subject matter experts, management, and learners. What one group sees as critical may not be important to the others. It’s better to catch and discuss these situations in advance, before actual design begins.
Simple learning solutions can be easy to overlook, but they often save time and lead to wonderful results. Don’t lose sight of learners’ needs by focusing exclusively on the content or run the risk of misaligning project goals by not getting multiple perspectives.
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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