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When the Going Gets Rough: Surviving the Top 3 Hassles of Being an Instructional Designer

It may be fun at times, but no one said this line of work would be easy. Developing courses for outside audiences can be difficult, especially for designers who are neither content experts nor teaching the course once it’s launched. In fact, instructional designers are called upon more and more often to be project managers in addition to their regular responsibilities.

Here are three tips for avoiding the most common pitfalls of being an instructional designer.

 

Manage your SMEs

Subject matter experts run the gamut from friendly and easygoing to distant or even difficult to bear. Some are eager to collaborate with designers who will transform their content into learner-ready courses; others have a difficult time surrendering their work to another person. Some answer emails promptly. Many are good editors. A few are likely to raise your stress level.

But what they all have in common is that they are the content experts—meaning the first step in cultivating a good relationship with your SME is to show respect for their knowledge. Establishing clear guidelines about your role and theirs, and the differences and overlap between the two, can also set the tone for a good working relationship. Keep in mind that many SMEs have never worked with an instructional designer before, and they may not know what to expect. By expressing clarity about roles and objectives at the beginning of a project, you can cut down on the risk of conflict down the road.

Develop strong working relationships during short-term projects

Many instructional designers are freelance contractors, consultants, or only hired for short-term projects. A career that functions on a project-to-project basis means that you’ll be working with wider groups of people than you would in a typical full-time job within a firm. Every six months or year you may have a new project manager, SME, co-designers, developer, and instructor.

It can be tempting to avoid developing strong connections with these transitory teams—after all, it’s only one project—but it’s a wiser choice to interact with everyone you work with as if they are going to be sharing a cubicle with you for the next forty years. In other words, take some time to get to know your team members. Take their ideas seriously, get to know their personalities, and manage conflict as soon as it comes up, rather than letting it go with the assumption that the problem will disappear when the contract ends. The benefits to developing strong working relationships are plenty: daily interactions go more smoothly, you feel more engaged with the project, the work is done more efficiently, and you’ll gather heaps of recommendations for future projects.

Justify your design decisions

Many instructional designers are freelance contractors, consultants, or only hired for short-term projects. A career that functions on a project-to-project basis means that you’ll be working with wider groups of people than you would in a typical full-time job within a firm. Every six months or year you may have a new project manager, SME, co-designers, developer, and instructor.

It can be tempting to avoid developing strong connections with these transitory teams—after all, it’s only one project—but it’s a wiser choice to interact with everyone you work with as if they are going to be sharing a cubicle with you for the next forty years. In other words, take some time to get to know your team members. Take their ideas seriously, get to know their personalities, and manage conflict as soon as it comes up, rather than letting it go with the assumption that the problem will disappear when the contract ends. The benefits to developing strong working relationships are plenty: daily interactions go more smoothly, you feel more engaged with the project, the work is done more efficiently, and you’ll gather heaps of recommendations for future projects.

For more instructional design tips, check out these blog posts:

4 Tips for Building Successful Courses with Articulate Storyline

6 Ways to Create Authentic eLearning

Cultivating Instructor Presence in an Online Environment