Instructional designers at the cusp of new technologies


By Himja Nanavati, Instructional Designer at ellicom

The learning landscape is changing at a fast rate. Our learners no longer learn the same way as they did five years ago; anything you want to learn is available online somewhere and these channels are transforming the way people access information and learn a new skill. What would you do if you were to learn how to operate, let’s say, your new blender? YouTube, right? You would probably search for up a tutorial video on your way home. For most types of information, our learners no longer depend on information that is disseminated via traditional learning mediums like instructor-led or even elearning courses.

The new technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), mobile-first and Near Field Communication (NFC) are shaping learning habits and behaviours and continuously pushing the boundaries of possibilities further. You need to ask yourself: what does it mean to be an instructional designer in this changing landscape? Are we ready to use these learning toys when they become ubiquitous?  What new skills does an instructional designer need to develop to work effectively with these tools?

First and foremost, we need to know when and where these technologies can be appropriate. There is a legitimate place for strictly mobile-first courses, and similarly, there are countless situations today in which VR and AR provide the best fit solution. However, before we get all excited about using them, we need to know their limits.

Take mobile-first courses, for example. Many clients want to create these courses because they seem to be in demand. In all that fascination, questions about appropriateness or suitability are not considered. For instance, if we are creating a fun, new-hire orientation course for mobile phones, should we limit ourselves to using a tool that just publishes content tailored for mobile phones or can we optimize the capacity of mobile phones by using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and location detection? Learners could have a more realistic, immersive experience. To be able to make these decisions and to advise our clients, we need to know the principles of designing for mobile platforms. Instructional designers need to understand the user patterns of the demographics. Milennials and GenX don’t use mobiles the same way; will the course be too cumbersome for one type of users? Are employees allowed to carry their phones freely in all areas of the building? The answers to these questions directly impact what you can or cannot do in a mobile-first learning course.

The same type of relevant questions must be asked about VR learning tools. Currently, they haven’t flooded the market because of the prohibitive costs, but what will happen when they become more affordable? As instructional designers, we must be able to advise our clients if the content is appropriate for VR, or what type of content would make VR the most suitable solution.

We cannot perform our role with élan if we don’t know how each tool works, what are its limitations and advantages, its compatibility with LMS and its technical challenges. To this end, learning about design principles for mobiles, user experience for game design and graphic tools that can be used with Oculus Rift is going to be unavoidable. We need to be learners first and remember our own challenges and struggles to be able to deliver an effective solution. Let’s check some YouTube videos!

Photo credit : Vadim Sherbakov

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