Instructional design isn’t a simple effort of creating a program in PowerPoint or Word in an afternoon. It’s a talent and a skill that takes time to develop and with that development, amazing things can happen.
Instructional designers want to know how people work and what inspires them to learn. Instructional design combines science, art and psychology. It is science in that it’s a constant experiment to see what works and what doesn’t by testing and evaluation. It is art in that learning is seeking to appeal to senses and emotion in the same way that a song or a painting does. By evoking emotion, learning retention occurs. It is psychology in that it works with the human brain to achieve its purpose, which is to create change in knowledge, behavior or skills. The learners should enjoy themselves and walk away different than when they started the training.
What makes people want to learn? What keeps them involved? Instructional designers investigate and instigate the learning experience. ‘Imagination is intelligence having fun’. – Anonymous. Where another person’s eyes glaze over with boredom, an instructional designer eyes light up and suddenly they’re having more fun working on a training project than almost anything else. Their imagination is fired, their intellect is challenged and they’re off to work/play with creativity that was theretofore unsuspected.
When people ask you (as an instructional designer) what you do for a living, if you answer ‘instructional design’, I can guarantee you that someone will say: “What is that?” You could answer: “Instructional design is the creation and/or improvement of training through analysis of learner needs and subsequent systematic design of instruction”. Either the person asking will roll their eyes and ask what that means or walk away. Most people will not want that much detail about instructional design to answer the question of what you do for a living.
Giving an ‘elevator speech’ will suffice to explain. An elevator speech is a phrase that means you have approximately two minutes or less to answer a question in a way that both educates and engages the listener.
Imagine getting on the elevator with the president of your business and s/he asks what you do for the company. How would you answer him/her, providing a solid answer that is factual and shows your value to the business? How would you make yourself memorable with your answer?
First, don’t answer the question” What do you do?” with the title of ‘I’m an instructional designer’. That doesn’t say what you do; it says what you are, which is useful to you and to others in the training arena perhaps, but not to John Doe or your business CEO. You want to explain succinctly, showing the value of what you do.
A good elevator speech invites the listener to want to know more about you and what you do but at the same time it does not leave the question unanswered about what instructional design actually is. Don’t focus on “I do this” or “I do that”. Don’t give a list of your job functions; answer with the results of your job function.
Using a story as an example can help; keep a past project in mind that illustrates what you did as an instructional designer and how you helped the learner and/or the business. A good elevator speech inspires curiosity so you may want to have answers ready if the listener has follow-up questions.
Here’s an example to use as a foundation for your own elevator speech: “I am part of the instructional design team, which means I analyze needs and design training as an intervention to solve those needs. My team just finished the Widget project training for XYZ. By analyzing what Widget does and the associates who needed to sell and/or support it, we were able to design and develop web-based courses and job aids that helped users operate Widget and position it to customers successfully. Sales for Widget exceeded expectations, according to the feedback from the Sales Forecasting team.”
The question might come back “How did you do that?” That type of response opens the door to selling your team, yourself and instructional design as a valuable business resource that needs attention and appreciation.