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Instructional Design for Non-training Professionals

Guy Wallace has been working in the field of training and instructional design since the 1970s. He’s seen a lot of fads come and go, and he’s also seen some models and research that has withstood the test of time.

We recently had an opportunity to talk about his experiences, especially as they relate to people who just want to help their employees grow and learn but who have jobs that don’t let them spend vast amounts of time on social media debating the merits of ADDIE vs. SAM nor do they have the time to read a bunch of scholarly articles about how learning happens.

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which is a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of a company called Endurance Learning. And today I am joined by Guy Wallace, who has been a Performance Analyst and Instructional Architect since 1979 and an Instructional Systems Design Consultant since 1982. We’ll get into all those fancy terms in a minute.

But before we get to that, I do need to mention that we are brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing a live, instructor-led training. So basically, you go to the computer, you tell it how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person to virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you. It has clusters of training activities designed to help you accomplish all of your learning outcomes. Don’t just listen to me babble on about it though. You can try it for free, if you’d like, for two weeks if you go to

6-Word Bio

All right, here we are, the main event. I’m really excited to be joined by Guy Wallace, who I’ve been following for years. And this is the first time I’ve ever actually gotten a chance to speak with you, Guy. And we’re going to have you introduce yourself using exactly seven, maybe eight words, to the audience just to keep it brief. And our topic today is really focused on just this idea of instructional design in general. And so if I was to introduce myself to the audience using exactly seven words, I would say, “ADDIE’s not a model, it’s a lifestyle.” How about you, Guy? How would you introduce yourself in exactly seven or sevenish words?

Guy Wallace: Well, you know I’m going to use eight, so it’s “Focus on the performance requirements and enable them.”

Brian Washburn: And I want to jump right into this, just in terms of everything that you write, and I follow lots of things that you tweet out on Twitter, and then you have a number of different publications that you’ve been involved with. But before we actually jump into that, I’d love to hear a little bit more in terms of what actually got you started and what has kept you in this field for so long?

The Journey of an Instructional Systems Design Consultant 

Guy Wallace: Well, I have a radio/TV/film degree, and the company that I was working with in my last two and a half years in college were switching from 35-millimeter slides with audio tracks to video. And I had worked for three managers and they all found out that the company was going to be making the switch to video, and they all encouraged the vice president of human resources to hire me and he did. 

So I joined a small training organization, a small department – ten people. And I was oriented immediately to the work of the late Geary Rummler and the late Tom Gilbert and the late Bob Mager and the late Joe Harles – people that I met shortly thereafter, and I knew pretty well except for Gilbert. But so they– I was schooled in this performance orientation to instructional design, instructional systems design – what we might call learning experience design nowadays. And it also embraced, beyond training, job aids in the old days. Now we call that performance support. So performance support and learning experience design is kind of what I’m all about in an enterprise context where we’re trying to help people learn how to perform.

Brian Washburn: So with this whole concept– and you mentioned a few different terms of instructional design or instructional systems design- if you take a look at training social media, which is super nerdy, right? So you go to Twitter, you go to LinkedIn, and you have a lot of people who will present at lots of different conferences and things like that, people who have written books. And they get into these debates around “what is instructional design?” or “what’s the best model?” or things like that. 

But in order to even have a productive conversation, I think we need to have a common definition. And so whether or not people who are listening agree to this definition, Guy, how would you define instructional design? Just so that we can kind of level set, and we know that this is what we’re talking about here.

What is Instructional Design?

Definition of Instructional Design: it is the process for producing instruction that guides people's performance back on the job, either through performance support or what used to be known as job aids or through learning experiences, what used to be known as training.

Guy Wallace: So instructional design is the process for producing instruction that guides people’s performance back on the job, either through performance support or what used to be known as job aids or through learning experiences, what used to be known as training. And so that helps people learn how to perform tasks to produce outputs to the stakeholder requirements. And so that’s kind of a simple definition of what’s it all about? Begin with the end in mind. You want people to actually learn how to perform, and then it’s backing out everything from there and giving it to them in the right sequence, et cetera.

Instructional Design Models

Brian Washburn: Now, if you were to Google “instructional design” or “how do I start with instructional design?”, or “what models are out there?” There is ADDIE, right? Which is kind of the granddaddy of them all, but then there are a lot of other models. Now, when I look at these, I look at them all and they all seem to have some sort of analysis. They have some sort of design and development phase. All of the models eventually lead to you have to implement it somehow, and then you should probably see if it’s actually working so evaluate it, right? 

So that is ADDIE, but there’s all these different models out there. And people are like, “Oh, switch it from ADDIE to this or that.” I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is everything out there simply ADDIE by another name? Or are there actually other models that could be really helpful for people who are trying to give structure to the way that they’re designing things?

I think people try to make a distinction, but there's not really much of a difference between all the various models.

Guy Wallace: Well, I think people try to make a distinction, but there’s not really much of a difference between all the various models. They may use different language, they may configure the thing differently. But just like in the engineering organization, you begin with the end in mind. You decide what the requirements are, which is what we would call “analysis” or “discovery” is what they would call it in Europe. So there’s– all the models are pretty much the same. 

Now I made my own adaptation to ADDIE a long time ago, back in the early eighties, and I put project planning and kickoff before the analysis phase. And my professional society used to talk about Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation for non-instructional interventions as well as instructional interventions. So it’s not limited to instructional design and instructional systems designers. It’s really kind of a universal model and it’s not a design model, it’s a project planning and management framework.

Designing Different Learning Programs for Different Purposes

Brian Washburn: Now, and this is not a question that I sent you in advance, so we’re going to see where this goes. But just today I was scrolling through Twitter and I saw something you posted about five different kind of buckets, basically, that any sort of learning experience might fall in. Whether that is kind of orientation to the organization, orientation to the job, skill-building, things like that. 

Now, when people are building out some sort of learning intervention or learning program, whether they’re using job aids, whether they’re doing training, whether they’re doing something else, how do you differentiate or do you need to think differently if you’re doing something like new hire orientation versus a skill-building workshop versus introducing people to a concept?

Guy Wallace: Well, I think those are different. In fact, you’re beginning with the end in mind. What do I need people to be generally aware of? Or do they have to have some sort of knowledge, deeper knowledge of it? Or is it actually a skill? 

And then one of the things that we need to always consider is the performance context that people work in. Does it demand a memorized response? Well, then you can’t give them a job aid for them to reference later on because there’s no time for referencing anything. They have to commit that to memory. Or it’s a honed skill–how to respond to a customer complaint or a customer inquiry where you need to know that off the top of your head. 

We have to begin with the end in mind in terms of what is it that we really want? Is it awareness? Is it knowledge? Is it skill? And then we have to engineer our intervention to enable performance.

So we have to begin with the end in mind in terms of what is it that we really want? Is it awareness? Is it knowledge? Is it skill? And then we have to engineer our intervention to enable performance, whether that’s provide a job aid or performance support so people can reference it if the performance context allows for that. And if it doesn’t, we need to train them or give them a learning experience, so– and with enough practice and feedback so that they’ll actually have that at the ready when it’s demanded.

Time Constraints on Learning Programs

Brian Washburn: And what do you do in instances when people say, “I have to timebox this, I have 60 minutes, that’s it. And I need people to be able to deliver good feedback to their employees.” So we have a skill that needs to be built, it probably needs to be practiced, but we’re timeboxed with the amount of time that we have to deliver something.

Guy Wallace: Yeah. Sometimes we’re giving kind of artificial, arbitrary framing. And if it’s 60 minutes and then I– but I would always tell my clients that the two-thirds at least of what I’m going to produce is going to be practiced with feedback. So we can immediately begin with practice and giving feedback, constructive feedback that reinforces or extinguishes certain things. And then have Guy, the learner, do it again and again and again and again–getting feedback throughout, at the end, before the next opportunity to perform. 

We need to even shape not just their behavioral tasks that we can see and observe, we have to shape their thinking about what they're doing, as well. And that's the trickiest part about instructional design.

I think we have to focus on what’s that performance? If it’s giving feedback to somebody else, well then we need to have people practice that and we need to shape their behaviors. We need to even shape not just their behavioral tasks that we can see and observe, we have to shape their thinking about what they’re doing, as well. And that’s the trickiest part about instructional design.

What Does “Good Instructional Design” Look Like?

Brian Washburn: And we can get super nerdy when it comes to all sorts of models and theories and things like that. There are a lot of people who are listening who are like, you know, just, “Look, all I want to do is find the best way to develop my employees.” And so what does “good instructional design” look like? And what do people who are– whether they’re new to training or people who are non-trainers – so maybe people who are in HR or Operations – what do they need to develop their employees? You know, what do they need to keep in mind when they’re designing something?

Guy Wallace: Well, I think it goes back to that “begin with the end in mind.” People are on the payroll not to behave or to perform tasks. Those are means to the ends of producing an output, which is an input to somebody else downstream – an internal or external customer. And so we need to understand: why is it that we want to train people or give them some learning? What is it that we want them to do? So I believe it’s to perform tasks, to produce outputs. So, begin with that output in mind, understand how you tell a good one from a bad one, and then teach them steps to get there. 

Whether those are over-easy to see behavioral steps with no thinking involved, or if there is some trickiness to it, you have to teach people how to think about what they’re doing as they’re doing it. Because it may be there’s a situational variable that they might need to do. Instead of going left, you go right and you get to the same place in the same amount of distance, but you’re just trying to avoid barriers in performance. And that’s the other tricky part, it’s not just 1, 2, 3, A, B, C to produce an output. There might be variables in the performance context that we need to teach people how to anticipate and avoid if they possibly can and what to do if those barriers were unavoidable. And the experts that do this, they know these things. We just need to elicit that from them and then package it somehow.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I love this conversation and I could be so nerdy with you for such a long time. Unfortunately, we have run out of time. But before we end here, do you have another minute or two to do some speed round questions for us? So people get to know you a little bit better.

Guy Wallace: Certainly.

Get to Know Guy Wallace

Brian Washburn: Awesome. All right. So my first question, because I have seen you on social media a lot, Twitter or LinkedIn?

Guy Wallace: LinkedIn.

Brian Washburn: Interesting because I see tons of your stuff on Twitter. So maybe I’ll have to connect with you on LinkedIn and see what it is that is there. Why do you prefer LinkedIn?

Guy Wallace: Well, I think LinkedIn doesn’t give you the limited number of characters that you can use to be more expansive.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Guy Wallace: But usually I do a lot of blog posts and they automatically post to both sites. So you’ll see me here, there, and everywhere.

Brian Washburn: Gotcha. How about: do you prefer to read books or write books?

Guy Wallace: I think I prefer to read books, but I’m doing a lot of writing lately here as I– the sunset is headed my way and I’m semi-retired. And sometime soon I’ll be retired.

Brian Washburn: How about what is the last new thing that you learned? Or an aha moment you’ve gotten from somebody else in the learning field when it comes to learning something new about instructional design?

Guy Wallace: This is not that recent, but I’m learning more and more about it. And it has to do with the unconscious, non-conscious nature of knowledge. And what the research by Richard E. Clark Professor Emeritus of the University of Southern California– he’s done a lot of research on this for the past 25 years or so, and he’s got a methodology called Cognitive Task Analysis. And this is how we elicit from experts or anybody. We’re all operating on non-conscious knowledge where 70% of what we use to make decisions is non-conscious, and you can’t get it from me because I can’t tell you. I can do the work, but I can’t tell you how I’m doing it. And even the things that are behavioral that I can see myself doing, I’ll miss 35% of that when I explain to you step-by-step how to do something. 

We need to arm our learners with how to think about what it is that we want them to do.

So this non-conscious nature of knowledge is really part of the trickiness. We need to arm our learners with how to think about what it is that we want them to do. And so I’ve spent a lot of time investigating this and done a bunch of videos with Dick Clark, and he’s kind of the master of this. There’s many, many different variations on Cognitive Task Analysis out there in the world – over 100. And he says most of them don’t do what they purport to do, so we have to be wary about what you begin to embrace.

Brian Washburn: Excellent. And that’s Richard Clark from The University of Southern California?

Guy Wallace: Richard E. Clark. Yeah.

Brian Washburn: Perfect. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

Guy Wallace: Back in my early days, I was told not to be such a perfectionist. I would be disappointed if we couldn’t really leverage, you know, the performance that we were analyzing and developing instruction for. And my boss took me aside and said, “You have to back off a little bit. If we improve things 10%, that’s huge across the entire company.”

Brian Washburn: I love that. And the first thing that came to my mind immediately is that people are trying to kind of grasp things and play with concepts. And sometimes they go to social media to share something. And one of the things that I think that really is kind of a turnoff for me, especially in the world of Twitter, is that people will post something just because they’re trying to share something they learned that is new and maybe they want feedback or maybe they don’t, but there is a portion of the L&D crowd that will jump on people quickly. And they’re really quick to point out, “No, that’s wrong.” And that’s not a bad thing though, right? 

So it’s really– it’s how we learn is by sharing things and experimenting with things and putting it out there. And if somebody– if it’s not right, then how do we fix it? But the tenor and the tone of some of those conversations is like, “Ah!”

Guy Wallace: Yeah, I think that we could all use a little improvement in terms of how we express ourselves and we need to be less quick to judge. And if something doesn’t seem right, you know, ideally we would ask some questions to better understand what the person was attempting to say. Because just because they tried to communicate doesn’t mean that they did successfully. What they intended to say may not be how it’s interpreted. And so there’s always that gray area in interpersonal skills and communication skills, whether it’s written or verbal. I mean, we always have had this kind of an issue and challenge.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, true. Before we end here, do you have any shameless plugs for us?

Guy Wallace: Well, I’ve written over 30 books, so you might check out my Amazon Author’s Page. I’d also suggest to people that they check out LDA, The Learning Development Accelerator. It’s a new professional affinity group that’s been around now for a couple of years, but you should check them out. They’re bringing evidence-based practices to learning and development professionals. 

And then my professional home since 1979 is ISPI – The International Society for Performance Improvement. So I think it’d be worth everybody’s while to check them out and to see what they have to offer.

Brian Washburn: I love this conversation, Guy. Thank you so much for giving me some time today, and thank you everyone else for listening. If you know somebody who might find today’s conversation around instructional design to be important, go ahead and pass on a link to this podcast. 

If you want to make sure that you’re notified anytime there is a new podcast that’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe to us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Even better would be if you were to go in and give us a review or give us a rating – that’s how other people find us. It’s only going to take you a minute, but it would mean a lot to me. 

If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can go ahead and pick up a copy of my book: What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training at Amazon. And until next time, happy training everyone. 

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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