by Ann Iverson, instructional designer | @iverson_ann
“Question everything!”- Albert Einstein
As an instructional designer, I think the most important part of my job occurs in the design phase of a project. Not only am I building relationships and setting the stage, I’m working to create the blueprint for the entire learning experience. Essential design activities: include identifying the learner audience, what learners need to do to be successful, and what the main challenges are and how those challenges cause performance gaps. And the best way to get all that information, and more, is to facilitate a design meeting or, as we call it at Allen Interactions, a Savvy Start.
In the Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer guide, Angel Green defines the Savvy Start as a “solutions brainstorming event in which the design team, including key stakeholders, review collected background information and generate initial design solutions.” She goes on to say, “During the Savvy Start, we work to define, ideate, prototype, and test initial design solutions.”
One of the activities Angel suggests is to brainstorm a list of questions with the Savvy team, identifying those that dig deeper than, “What should the learner be able to do?” For example, the performance goal of a new retail employee is to provide exceptional service to every customer. Additional questions help stakeholders categorize that broad performance goal into specific activities, for example, how employees should greet customers, follow the return policy, or respond to customers when an item is out of stock.
Questions are the key to success in the design phase, and having a Question Thinking (QT) mindset is essential. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams defines QT as a system of tools for transforming thinking, action, and results through skillful question asking—questions we ask ourselves as well as those we ask others. She discusses the power of questions to direct our thinking, and therefore our actions. It’s about asking the right questions to move forward and drive results.
The right questions drive design sessions, and the entire project outcome. In fact, I believe that as an instructional designer, I’m only as strong as my weakest question. If I can be mindful of how I’m asking something, and reshape the question so it’s more focused, positive and/or open-ended, then I can shift the team’s perspectives and move us toward fresh ways of looking at things. Ms. Adams gives an example in her book of the impact of changing a question:
Questions have even changed the course of history. Think about this. Long ago, nomadic societies were driven by the implicit question, “How do we get ourselves to water?” Yet look what happened when their implicit question changed to, “How do we get water to come to us?” That new question initiated one of humanity’s most significant paradigm shifts.
Awareness and intention are key here. Ms. Adams describes two types of mindsets—the Learner and the Judger—and, with awareness, we can choose to be in either one. But, as you can guess, the Learner mindset is more productive and positive. The goal at the Savvy Start is to take on a Learner mindset and create a Learner team: high performers focused on collaborative inquiry. You can do both by asking yourself the right questions. Let’s take a look at four questions you can ask to shift into Learner mode for a successful design outcome.
Instead of this…
How can I prove this is the right way?
What other ways could we get learners to the same result?