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How to collaborate successfully in complex instructional design

There’s an old saying that goes, “too many cooks spoil the broth”, meaning that if too many people are involved in the same task, it will not go well. This is mainly because people don't always think alike, and it also depends on the complexity of the project.

However, many tasks require a team effort. Instructional design is one of them.

Instructional designers work with HR specialists, web developers, animators, visual design professionals, LMS administrators, user experience consultants, and project managers. Sometimes, several instructional designers with different backgrounds and areas of expertise work on the same project.

It can be a hot mess.

How to collaborate successfully in complex instructional design

Dermot Crowley wrote Smart Teams: How to Work Better Together to help companies build more productive teams.

According to the book, the three keys to successful collaboration are alignment, agreement, and awareness:

  • Implementing a process or a project management scheme. Otherwise, the work will be chaotic, and the outcome will be less than optimal.
  • Taking time to map out and agree on approaching a project as a team can lead to improved consistency, good communication, and better productivity. Afterward, there will be less to re-do because of missed information between various team members.
  • Drawing this map and giving clear instructions helps everyone know their role and consequently collaborate better to reach the collective goal.

The outline of excellent collaborative instructional design

Setting up the process is the first step. There should be a single designated owner of the project, somebody to ensure that the steps are followed and adjustments are made when necessary. I make this distinction because I’ve been in several situations when the process was very well planned. However, the client changed some of the requirements or moved the deadline and everything went out the window. Organization is essential and it should be a constant goal.

Allowing team members to play to their strengths is also very useful. If each individual does what they are best at, the end-product will have the highest possible quality. There may be a difference in background and experience, but each of the people involved surely has something to bring to the table and they should be encouraged to do so.

Have a clear timeline (and stick to it). In all team projects, something will always come up. For example, there’s an important e-mail to answer, a crucial report to run, or some other relevant distraction. Having a specific timeline and knowing who is supposed to finish a certain task by the appointed deadline will be very helpful in moving things along.

Set specific design standardsthat are consistent with what the organization’s LMS can accommodate. It’s a given that an e-learning material should have the same graphic identity, tone of voice, and user interface from beginning to end. Since it’s not the same person creating all of it, the team must follow the same standards for format, colors, buttons, quiz questions, and all items in the finished product.

Have regular short meetings to discuss the progress and share experience. It’s important to keep them short while also getting the relevant information. Extensive meetings are rather detrimental to productivity, but brief get-togethers where everyone states where they are and asks for clarifications or help are beneficial to the overall process. These are also very good accountability tools.

Invite the Quality Assurance team to the table. After creating and implementing the design standards, they need to be measured to ensure they provide the best, coherent, high-quality learner experience.

Closing thoughts

Working in complex teams to create e-learning courses can be difficult, but it’s also very rewarding. There are plenty of skills and competencies that get sharpened during such projects, and there’s great satisfaction in launching a quality product as a result of a coordinated team effort.

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