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How to mentor an inexperienced instructional designer

With so many of the Baby Boomers retired over the past two years, combined with a global staffing shortage, your L&D department might have to hire an instructional designer with little to no experience. Whether the employee is coming straight out of school or we’re looking at an internal promotion, you’ll have to get that person up to speed pretty fast.

Since instructional design is complex, you might think that it will be a very lengthy process and a long time before you get to see quantifiable results. That may well be the case if you go down the path of formal instruction alone – hire the person, then provide months of certification courses.

However, if you choose the mentoring path, you will have that person productive and integrated into the team much earlier.

Read more: Mentorship and knowledge transfer between Baby Boomers and Millennials

Why mentor instead of teach?

I’ll start answering this question by saying that it’s not an either/or situation. Some of the theoretical aspects are still better covered by courses, and that is great.

When I started my L&D journey, there wasn’t much in terms of formal education geared towards corporate learning. As a result, as soon as I made the team, I was assigned to one of the senior trainers and shadowed her for a month. I can honestly say it was the best learning experience because I got to see how everything worked and could ask questions that were specific to my organization and the expectations it had from the L&D team. It was also a great way to learn more about my colleagues and office dynamics.

Generally, when you have a vacant position for an instructional designer, you have specific projects that need the job done, and it’s best if the new hire gets familiar with those and gears most efforts towards reaching those goals.

Getting started with mentoring

The most important thing about pairing a mentor and a mentee is availability. Compatibility is nice to have, but in a professional environment, people can usually make that work if the need calls for it.

However, I’ve seen many mentoring programs fail because the mentors did not want to be part of the program. It’s a common misconception that you should have your top performers as mentors. If they are motivated to do so, great. But if they’re not, finding people who are genuinely invested is better.

Matching the right people will boost motivation (and results) and the mentees will find someone who enjoys sharing knowledge and answering questions. You might even find out that you have people on the team who are naturals at this, and it would be a shame not to use that potential.

Read more: How many types of mentoring are there?

Creating a plan

Just because mentoring is less formal than certifiable learning programs doesn’t mean it has to be unstructured. In the first meetings, the mentor and the mentee should establish the main topics to be covered and draw a calendar for them.

Since we’re talking about a new hire, some learning modules might be necessary as a foundation. They should also be completed in a logical manner. For example, the new employee will need to learn about creating and deploying learning needs assessments before delving into specific design topics.

Read more: The need for a Training Needs Analysis

It would be a waste of the mentor’s time to provide a crash course when there is enough quality material the mentee can access and then come up with questions to learn more. However, it’s important to set goals and ways to measure their achievement; otherwise, the whole process might be a bit overwhelming.

Working on a project

Instructional design is, in itself, very practical. There is a finite product that can be evaluated. That’s why it’s best if the mentorship process focuses on the applicability of everything learned.

Since there is always a need for quality learning material, whatever the new hire designs can serve a need that the organization has. The mentor’s presence in the project will ensure that the quality is good and the finished product hits its mark. Actually working on a project will help the mentee understand the process and apply all the theory they’ve learned.

If the end result is useful for the organization, it will only add to that person’s confidence and strengthen their position within the team. However, it’s important not to assign something with enormous stakes or a very tight deadline, as learning takes time and quite a few do-overs.

Wrapping up

There is one characteristic that most L&D people share – the love of learning. This means that if you find employees with the right potential, it’s not hard to train them to fulfill the role they were hired for, even if they don’t have much experience. If you think about it, it can be a good thing. With the assistance of a mentor, you can help them become the missing piece of the puzzle in your team.