Freeing Up More Time To Spend On Better Instructional Design

Have you ever wished you could have more time in your day to develop better, creative, more engaging and effective training programs?

The laws of time dictate that there can only ever be 24 hours in any given day, but Megan Torrance has some ideas on how you can save time during the development of training programs. She’s literally written the book on integrating an Agile process for instructional design, and recently she spent some time explaining where she sees time being “sucked” away and how instructional designers can be more efficient in their craft.

Transcript of the Conversation with Megan Torrance

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like you Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning

And I’m wondering today if you’ve ever wished that you had more time in your day to get things done? Now today’s podcast isn’t going to magically give you more time in your day but we will be focused on how you might be able to save time doing instructional design. 

But before we get to all of that and our special guest, I just want to make sure that you all know that today’s podcast is brought to you by the award-winning, presentation design software tool, Soapbox. It was recently awarded one of Training Magazine Network Choice Award for Authoring Tools. If you have just about 10 minutes and you want to put together a presentation – put in a little bit of information, click “submit”, and you will generate a lesson plan – all in about 10 minutes. If you want to know more information about that, go to soapboxify.com

Now to the business at hand, I am joined once again by Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning. Hi, Megan, how are you?

Megan Torrance: Good. I’m honored you let me come back!

Brian Washburn: I’m so excited to have you. And I’m excited about this topic because lots of people are like, “Oh, I’m so busy these days. Work is really busy. I wish I had more time in my day.” And we can’t grant that wish but what you might be able to do, putting on your genie hat or your genie lamp – I don’t know what you put on to become a genie – is talk about ways that people can save time in what they’re doing.

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: So with this topic, we always like to have our guests and I will introduce myself also, with this topic about Agile for instructional design. I would introduce myself using exactly six words saying, “More time saved means more playtime”. How about you, Megan? How would you introduce yourself just with six words on this topic?

Iteration in Agile Process for Instructional Design

Megan Torrance: All right. Six words. I worked on this.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES)

Megan Torrance: “If it’s changing, it’s probably good.”

Brian Washburn: Ooh, I like that. So let’s get into this here. You know, we’re all busy people and so saving time and being more efficient at what we do is important. And we’ll get into this concept of Agile for instructional design in just a minute. But before we get there, can you tell me a little bit in terms of the work that you’ve observed, what have you found to be some of the biggest time-suckers when it comes to the way people design training programs?

The 3 Things That Take Up Too Much Time When Designing Training Programs

Megan Torrance: I see three big time-suckers. One is– and we don’t even have to go there cause I know he talked about it on other podcasts, right? Is building training with training is not the solution.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: It’s a time-suck on us, it’s a time-suck for the learners, it’s a distraction for our business sponsors. It just doesn’t serve anybody, any good. Yes it’s easy, but that’s what happens, right? It ends up being a big time-sucker.

Brian Washburn: That’s what they want, right? That’s what they ordered. So do it.

Megan Torrance: Exactly. Yep.

Brian Washburn: But yes, absolutely.

Megan Torrance: I want to make them happy. They’re big, they’re important – got it. So I get it, I get it. I’ll be straight up with you, I’m sure you can say the same thing: we’ve all built training for something for which we know training was not the solution. And we– I don’t want to say fight the good fight – but you know, you make your case, you bring all your professionalism to bear, and it’s just not going to happen. And you decide: is this the one? Or am I just going to make training? And you just make the training, then you go on. 

And then you get to the other two big time-sucks in our work. So the other two big time-suckers in our work: one is not being iterative – going too far down, right, without checking in with sponsors, without checking in with actual learners to make sure that we are on the right path. So there’s nothing worse than consuming six or seven weeks of an eight week timeline only to find out that you have solved the wrong problem.

Brian Washburn: Mhm. Yep.

Megan Torrance: And maybe we even all thought we were solving the right problem. And then we present it to learners and they’re like, “That’s actually not what we needed”.

Brian Washburn: Right. Yep.

Megan Torrance: So that’s a huge time-suck. We can build great stuff – that doesn’t solve the problem, right? So that’s another time-suck. And then I think the third one is– I get in trouble with this – in instructional design, many of us are people-pleasing, perfectionists.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: I am a people-pleasing perfectionist and it leads to some dysfunctional stuff. And that ends up taking time. And we end up honing and polishing and perfecting something before we get anybody’s eyes on it, and find out it’s the wrong thing in the first place. Well, all that honing time, you know, it’s wasted time.

Brian Washburn: Yep, absolutely. So let’s talk about maybe how to address at least some of these. So when we talk about Agile, you know, it’s a little bit – and it’s been a little bit of a buzzword in business for a few years. So to be sure that everyone’s thinking of the same thing as we talk about it here, can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean when it comes to the concept of Agile for instructional design?

What Does Agile Mean in Instructional Design?

Megan Torrance: Awesome. Yes. So Agile is a set of– it’s a mindset and a set of techniques that we have borrowed – that in instructional design we’ve borrowed it from software developers – who’ve been doing Agile for about 20 years. And it is an iterative and incremental way of guiding our design and build projects. It’s very flexible and interactive and transparent. And we really focus on fostering high team-engagement at the same time that we are maximizing learner value. It is not a time-management technique. It is not doing what anybody tells you and constantly changing, you know, like, “Oh, you want it this way today? Sure! You want it this way tomorrow? Sure!” But it’s more than just a mindset. There are specific techniques in which we seek out change. Hence my six-word bio.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I was going to say it is not cutting out steps in the process, right? It’s not skipping steps, but, is it? I don’t know. I don’t– and I know that you have a specific Agile process that you’ve called LLAMA. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Megan Torrance: Sure thing. Sure thing. So LLAMA stands for “Lot Like Agile Management Approach”. It was literally– it was a beautiful July afternoon in 2012 and– no, sorry, 2011. And we realized that our team had modified Agile methods from the software space enough and our question for the day was, “Have we modified it so much that we really can’t call it Agile anymore?” And I was like, “Well, no, it’s a lot like Agile”, right? But to answer your question there are specific techniques around how it’s– and it overlaps a lot with design-thinking, right? So our early parts of a project look a lot like design-thinking. But we have techniques for estimating, for managing, for iterating, for communicating. And all of that is what we talk about when we talk about Agile for instructional design. It is a project– and here’s the thing.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: It is a project management and project process – it is not an instructional design process, right? 

So just like ADDIE says, “First you analyze, then you design, then you develop then you–“, right? And when you get into the design and development, you can do whatever instructional strategy you want there, right?. So ADDIE is a process, not an instructional design itself. 

Same thing with SAM, right? Which stands for Successive Approximation Model, which is an iterative development model. You can do any kind of instructional strategy in that it’s that your process is iterative.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: You can do e-learning. You can do face-to-face. You can do it with chatbots. You can do whatever you want to do. So, that’s really the gist of Agile.

Brian Washburn: And so what makes this different than following something like ADDIE, for example?

How is Agile Different Than ADDIE?

Megan Torrance: So a few things, and some of them are like super meaty, like how we estimate and plan and stuff like that. But I think from an outward perspective, one of the biggest things is that iterative cycle, right? So most of us– actually, I did a webinar with an ATD Chapter this morning, right? And I say, “Great. So when you have a draft or a not-ready-to-release version of whatever it is that you’re building, who reviews it? Subject matter experts, business sponsor, my fellow instructional designers, my boss, the interns, legal”, right? All these people. Great. All these people are offering something of value to that process. Not a single one of them will have to use that course to do their job better. That’s the number one difference is wherever we can, we are getting an early iteration of a course – a prototype, a draft or whatever – out in front of people who represent the actual learner population. 

And I will tell you, no matter how clueless about a new process the instructional designer who sits next to you is, they’re not representative of the target audience because they’re an instructional designer. Instructional designers ruin everything, right? We think about the world differently. That’s in another podcast – we’ll talk about how instructional designers ruin everything.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES)

Megan Torrance: It’s like a joke around TorranceLearning. (CHUCKLES) But that instructional designer who, you know, may be a novice to that concept is still not going to do that thing on the job and need that to improve their performance. So that’s my big speech. (LAUGHING)

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I was able– I was fortunate enough to go to a session that you led at ATD ICE recently. And it was really neat when you did it visually because, like ADDIE, I know it’s kind of a circle but it’s linear, right? You analyze and then you design and you develop. 

And so what’s the difference between kind of a more Agile approach, and when you talk about iterative, where in that cycle do you pause to actually see if you need to revise? Because with ADDIE, you kind of go through it and then at the end you give it to the stakeholders, to give it to other people to review. And then it’s like, “Oh, okay. Well we need to change this to that”. Or, “Oh shoot, we have to change this or that”, right? But when you’re talking about a little bit more Agile approach or iterative approach, where do you pause?

Where in the Agile Approach Do You Pause To Revise?

Megan Torrance: So I generally– so let’s just say we’re building a straight up e-learning course, right? I have a number of pause points. So we’re going to build a skeleton of the course – sometimes it is like a rough chicken scratch. Sometimes it’s a bunch of PowerPoint slides like, “Here, this and this”. Sometimes you write it down on a whiteboard, a rough skeleton of a course. I like to say that a subject matter expert could teach from that rough skeleton.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: It says what’s in scope, what’s out of scope, kind of what we’re doing each time, how long the whole thing is, right? Would you want to? No. Probably not. Could you? Absolutely. 

I’ve actually taught a section of a course that the learners were like, “Oh, we want that now.” And the first thing that comes to my head was, “Oh, but it’s not ready!” People-pleasing perfectionist, right? “Oh, it’s not ready!” He’s like, “Well, wait a minute. I’m teaching Agile. I can absolutely teach from this skeleton”. And that helps me get feedback from actual learners. 

Second opportunity for review is at, you know, whether you call– we call it an alpha draft, some people call it a storyboard, a script and screen, whatever, right? At that point, that could also be taken out to people and learn– somebody walked in the door and said, “Hi! I have to learn that topic”. You could, even if you weren’t a subject matter expert, in theory, that script and screen storyboard includes every single picture and every single word that’s going to come out of that course. Now I will say that’s in my perfect world – Megan gets everything she wants, right? I absolutely want actual learners taking it at the beta stage. And that’s a great spot for, right, you talked about saving time. 

Your Business Sponsors Want to Save Time

Megan Torrance: You know who wants to save time? It’s your business sponsors. So how many times did they come to you and they’re like, “I want a thing!” And you say, “Great! That’s 12 weeks”. And they’re like, “Great. We’d like that in three weeks”. Well, your three week people, they get your first iteration. And then you tweak it, right? So that’s how you get fast and that’s how you get testers.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: And then we have that, you know, final kind of polishing round that we do.

Brian Washburn: Yep. Yep.

Megan Torrance: And at some point legal has to– depending on the course – legal or somebody has to come in and bless it “all set”.

Brian Washburn: Sure, sure. So do you actually release courses in a beta phase to learners? And then maybe even overhaul the course before you launch it officially?

Megan Torrance: Yep. Yep. So– and each project is going to be different – how we do it, right? Some we say, “Hey, it’s a beta test. We’d love anybody who– if you want this, come get it now”, right? We’ve given courses that the client was going to sell – I mean with the client’s permission, right? But we’ve said, “Hey, you know what? Instead of you paying us to take this course, we will pay you to take this course”, right?

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: And get your feedback, right? So that’s awesome. Sometimes it’s that fast moving business sponsor who wants it now – now, now, now, now. Great. You get the pilot version. 

Brian Washburn: Yep.

Megan Torrance: And each time we iterate, we are looking at what do we need to do to take it to the next stage? What needs to be fixed? Can it be released as is? Is it good enough? Actually last year when the pandemic hit, there was a lot of stuff that was like, “Okay, that’s good enough. Let’s go!”

Brian Washburn: Yep.

Megan Torrance: And because it didn’t need all of that polishing to be effective. Don’t get me wrong – I fully believe in polished and professional and well-done work. My father is a retired copy editor, right? So believe me, I am all about polish, but it’s not always necessary.

Brian Washburn: And so for people who are listening and thinking, “I love this approach. I love the idea of being able to make sure we’re cutting out, you know, wasted time”. What would be a few first steps that you’d counsel them to take?

First Steps for Saving Time Using an Agile Approach in Instructional Design

Megan Torrance: So picking a first project for Agile is important, right? I recommend that you start with a project that you’re kicking off. Adding Agile in the middle is a really hard thing to do. I’ve seen software teams really struggle when they like, “Whoa, we’re going to do Agile now!” And we’re like, “Whoa don’t do that!” So really, you know, start at the beginning. It’s also important – be working on a project that your business sponsor is open to this kind of thing.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Megan Torrance: That they’re not going to freak out if you give them something that isn’t a final product for them to review, right? And you’re talking– wait, so part one is pick a great project – pick the right project. And part two: is have a lot of communication. Your organizational sponsors should know that we are doing something new here. We’re going to try out a new method with you. We’re going to let you have eyes on the project much earlier than before. And we want your learners in on this. Start thinking now about who those people will be. It’s tons and tons of communication. We like to call it a full contact, project management method. Because there’s lots and lots of communication.

Get to Know Megan Torrance

Brian Washburn: Megan, this has been great. And, I’m so excited to have you as the guest to talk about this because you’ve literally written the book on Agile for Instructional Designers. And we’ll get back to that in shameless plugs in just a second. But we are at the end of the time that we have allocated for this. So we will have to get back together at some point in the future to talk about how instructional designers ruin everything.

Megan Torrance: (LAUGHING)

Brian Washburn: Because I think that is another good topic to come up with. But before we leave, I have a few speed round questions, if you’re ready for that.

Megan Torrance: Let’s do it.

Brian Washburn: Alright. Do you like to take e-learning or in-person classes?

Megan Torrance: Want to know a secret?

Brian Washburn: Yes!

Megan Torrance: In-person. Here’s why: because I’m a really, really, really rough customer of other people’s e-learning. And so it’s just easier to just skip to in-person. (CHUCKLES) Moving along!

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING) I get ya on that. Would you prefer to participate in a webinar or listen to a podcast?

Megan Torrance: Alright. I’m going to say another really unpopular answer on a podcast: a webinar.  (LAUGHING)

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I mean, especially if it’s live, right? So you get to, kind of, ask questions and things like that.

Megan Torrance: Oh yeah, yeah.

Brian Washburn: Would you prefer to read a book or watch a movie?

Megan Torrance: You know what? I have been donating platelets at the Red Cross lately, and it’s like a two hour process where you’re hooked up to a machine. So I’ve been actually really enjoying my movies and series.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) Nice. How about use PowerPoint or Flipchart?

Megan Torrance: PowerPoint – it’s like an extension of my fingers.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) How about voting dots or Poll Everywhere?

Megan Torrance: Voting dots – for the win!

Brian Washburn: If this was a personality test, you’d be all over the map right now. Because you’re talking in-person for some things, voting dots, but it’s– another thing PowerPoint. So how about ADDIE or SAM?

Megan Torrance: SAM. Well LLAMA, but yes. That’s a loaded question. (LAUGHS)

Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING) Would you prefer to collaborate or work independently?

Megan Torrance: It depends on the work.

Brian Washburn: Probably depends on the collaborators, too.

Megan Torrance: Oh yeah, it would.

Brian Washburn: What was your first job in the world of learning and development?

Megan Torrance: Oh, I love this question. I, as an undergraduate, had an amazing opportunity to work for the New York State Cooperative Extension Service in their human resources department. I started out as a graphic designer, then they realized I could write. And then the Americans with Disabilities Act was released and they needed to make training. And they’re like, “Hey. You can do design and you can write – you could build training!” And I actually like– that was my first project. It was pretty awesome.

Brian Washburn: And the rest is history, right?

Megan Torrance: Exactly. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: What should people in the training field be reading or listening to these days?

Megan Torrance: That’s a hard question. I’m not a big “should” person but I am right now– I’m almost done with the book Range by David Epstein. Really good. The subtitle is Why Generalists Succeed in a Specialized World. It will mess up – it doesn’t come from an L&D perspective. It takes a very critical look at the whole “10,000 hours practice” thing. Rocked my world – loving it, loving it, loving it.

Brian Washburn: Ooh. That’s one I think I’m going to have to check out. Before we leave here, any shameless plugs?

Megan Torrance: Yes. ATD members can get $5 off of Agile for Instructional Designers. Or if you’re not an ATD member, or you live outside the U.S. and shipping from ATD is prohibitively expensive – get it on Amazon. And we do workshops for Agile for Instructional Designers. So people who’re interested in doing that, we have workshops – both live public sessions, live custom sessions for large teams, and an asynchronous course – at torrancelearning.com/shop

And we are right now in the middle of the fall session of the XAPI Cohort. So it is a free 12 week learning experience about XAPI. It is collaborative and there are no voting dots. But if we had voting dots, they would totally be hooked up with XAPI and we’d be tracking them.

Brian Washburn: I love this. Megan, thank you so much for another great conversation. Thank you, everyone else, for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. As Megan said, if you’re looking for some help with Agile for Instructional Design, or even work on XAPI, please do visit torrancelearning.com

If we can help you out with anything, when it comes to putting together training projects, please visit us at endurancelearning.com or send me a note at brian@endurancelearning.com. Until next time, happy training everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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