Saturday, May 8, 2010
Deciding between Formal and Informal Approaches
When our department was first formed (a few transformation projects ago!), we set up an instructional design standards committee. I chair this committee. Our work thus far has focused on outlining a course development process to ensure quality, consistency and efficiency for the learning programs that are produced in our department. To that end we created a Course Development Map which breaks down our internal instructional design process into four phases: proposal, design and development, implementation, and course maintenance. The map outlines the steps in each phase and includes links to tools that can be used to complete some of the steps. Along with the Course Development Map, we also created an Instructional Design Standards performance support tool to help specifically with developing instruction. It includes guidelines for writing and evaluating objectives, suggestions for activities and interactions, skins for e-learning, templates for ILT workbooks and leaders' guides, and guidelines for fonts and graphics that align with our corporate branding and color schemes.
Okay, so here is my dilemma:
Our new instructional designers are all enthusiastic about contributing to the team. All three have asked to join the committee. We already have sufficient representation from each of the sub-teams in our department. I'm concerned that if these new people join, the committee will become too large an ineffective. This got me thinking: our process and standards are already in place. We do tweak them from time-to-time based on feedback collected during various design projects, but we haven't made any major process changes in a while. Perhaps we no longer need the top-down approach. Instead of the committee, we might form a Community of Practice that would allow everyone to contribute and share best practices around instructional design and learn informally. Our novice designers could learn from our experts; our new employees could learn from our tenured ones.
But is this really a better approach? The new employees and novices might need more structure and defined learning goals.
It seems that my situation mirrors the discussions about whether or not to use formal or informal learning. Similar to the tools created by our committee, formal learning is a great way to help novices learn the ropes. It is structured, with clearly defined outcomes, timelines, and measures. With this approach we can be sure our new designers will learn the things we want them to know. On the other hand, the Community of Practice approach promotes informal learning. It is natural, fluid and voluntary. The outcomes are not as clearly defined but that may encourage deeper investment, learning beyond our minimum requirements, and creation of new knowledge.
So, if you were in my place what would you do?