Instructional Design Dilemma: Knowing When To Let Go

Let Go

Last Thursday we published a transcript of a conversation our team had about game design. One theme from that post is the idea of letting go of something that you poured your heart and soul into.

I love my job, and that shows in how much I love what we produce. As a result of this passion, I often find myself emotionally connected with what we produce and I have a sense of pride when I feel we accomplished what we set off to achieve. I am not a perfectionist, but I do like putting out good work.

Working hard and producing great training is fantastic, but what happens when we pour ourselves into a project and are emotionally invested into our product and realize all or part of the training doesn’t work? Do we give up and go back to the drawing board? Do we try to make it fit? Do we quit and move to a new country where no one will ever know you once produced an imperfect training?

Early in my career as an instructional designer, my team built a training for a complex system. To meet some of the complicated objectives, we built scenarios we felt matched real-world activities. One third of the training was a rather complicated activity to work with a form. We spent weeks writing a training to make this form accessible. As we kicked off the training, participants lost interest early in the training. As the feedback came in, we realized it was the form activity. We hadn’t considered that this form was a form people only need to work with one time. It didn’t need a long instructor-led training, it needed performance support. After enough feedback, we pulled the activity and converted the instructions to a job aid. We put a lot of time and resources into an activity that met the objectives, but it was the wrong approach. It was disappointing, egos were hurt, and it was the right choice. The rest of the training was solid, and as we collected reactions to the training after this change, we saw a steady increase in positive feedback.

Years later, as I was developing a training I came up with an activity that piloted poorly. In hindsight, I believe it piloted poorly because it was the wrong part of the training to use this activity. Faced with deadlines, I pulled the only interaction that moved participants out of their seats during a 3-hour training and did not replace it. Repealing the activity without fixing or replacing it was the wrong decision.  The resulting training was boring, lacked interaction, and neither the participants nor the facilitators engaged with the content.

If I had asked myself some of these questions in my second example, I may have realized we still needed an activity, just not in that particular place of the program.

I am clearly guilty of being reactive in these situations, I try to learn from my mistakes and be more deliberate about my decision-making skills, even when it is a hard process. Our team has been carefully scrutinizing the course we wrote about last Thursday. We may let go of something on which we worked hard, but that isn’t the end of the story. We will still put out a great training. I look forward to updating you all on how it turns out. In the meantime, I would love to know, have you had to make a difficult decision with a project? Did you feel you made the right decisions? Join the conversation below!

2 thoughts on “Instructional Design Dilemma: Knowing When To Let Go

  1. Heather,

    I am new to the field of instructional design. I am an educator and decided to learn more about instructional design as I consider pathways that present expanded opportunities within my career field. With that said, I am taking a Learning Theories Instruction graduate course through Walden University. This week, we have focused on brain-based learning, learning theories, and how those inform how we teach. As I read your blog, I could not help but think about if you and your team are considering brain-based approaches to learning as you problem-solve through your current situation? Do you consider what is known about brain-based learning as a regular part of your work? What have been the advantages and disadvantages of not doing so? I look forward to gaining insights from someone who has tenure in the field.

    Thanks!
    ~Dominique

    • Welcome to the L&D world Dominique! Can you expand on which brain-based approaches you recommend in this situation? I’d love to have a conversation with you regarding this!

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