By Hannah Hunter, Instructional Writer
The Perfect e-Learning Course™ is a legendary creature that changes its shape with each new technological and aesthetic trend. It is all things to all people – classic, yet also fresh, modern, and applicable to all levels of learner experience and skill. I’ve even heard that, when you measure the readability of such a course, the scale doesn’t give you a grade level. It just says “Awesome.”
Although there have been no confirmed sightings (if you find it, let me know), many an instructional designer has lost time, self-esteem, and clumps of hair trying to create this unobtainable ideal course. But why?
In the second edition of Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning, Dr. Allen states,
“We must be content to know that perfection is not achievable. Thankfully, it’s not a prerequisite for success.”
If you struggle in pursuit of the perfect design, here are five reasons you should adjust your vision of success and celebrate your perfectly imperfect courses:
1. No design project is ever “done”
Whether you’re designing an e-learning course or building a house, there is always something about a project that could be improved if you just had more time, money, or resources. And, as technology and design trends evolve, so do our standards. Perfection is an ever-moving target, and sometimes the hardest thing about a project is knowing when to say, “It’s done.” Which brings us to…
2. Perfection is not the same thing as success
I’d like to direct your attention to exhibit A, the first of Dr. Allen’s fundamental tenets of the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) process:
No e-learning application is perfect (ever)– In the SAM process, we iterate toward the ideal, but eventually, we stop. We need to. Not because our product is perfect or every application can be improved, but because it has met our goal: to enable learners to do what they need to do, while also meeting our timeline and staying within budget. Success in SAM means creating a product that is as close to perfect as possible in the ways it needs to be to meet our objectives, without going over budget or dragging out the timeline.
3. Perfectionism kills productivity
Do you ever struggle with finding the “best” way to start a new project? I’ve spent too many hours of my life staring at open Microsoft® Word documents trying to construct the perfect first sentence. As a result, I have a lot more first sentences than I do completed blogs. But, when I just sit down and write out my ideas, imperfectly worded as they are, I am more productive and have more time to iterate and review my work holistically. So, remember that first drafts are a part of the process. Just write. Or design. Or prototype. Just create.
4. You’ll lose sight of the big picture
The most critical component of any e-learning course is the interactivity – that’s where the learning is and that’s how you’re going to meet your objectives. Yet, I’ve experienced review meetings where stakeholders spend more time debating the perfect color for a banner than they do reviewing the actual learning moments in the course. When excessive energy is spent trying to perfect every pixel, the overall quality of the course suffers because reviewers have lost sight of their goals. Look at your courses holistically. If you feel like your team is stumbling down an unproductive rabbit hole, return to your learning objectives.
5. Perfectionism is bad for you
The perfect product doesn’t exist, so if that is your goal, you will constantly find yourself disappointed in your work and yourself. Perfectionism leads to anxiety, overwork, and burnout. It kills good ideas before they have a chance to be fully explored. Instructional designers who are tried, overwhelmed, and unhappy are not in any state to do their best work. So take a deep breath and let it go. Set realistic goals for your course and yourself. And if you find yourself up at 3 a.m. second-guessing your entire design, take a step back and ask for a second opinion.
Letting go of perfectionism doesn’t mean producing a subpar product or being satisfied with “mediocre.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. By setting a realistic measure of success for your courses and by following the SAM process, you are more likely to create a course that achieves those goals efficiently and cost-effectively. And, you won’t lose yourself in the process.
Be sure to check out Dr. Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning, Second Edition-The #1 New Release in Human Resources on Amazon.com!
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