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How different is instructional design in a K-12 setting vs. a corporate training setting?

We just hired a former teacher as our newest instructional designer. What does the learning curve look like when a teacher enters the world of corporate training?

Instructional design, at its core, is about creating learning experiences that engage and excite learners to embrace new knowledge and skills. That said, does the context – whether instructional design is applied to a traditional school classroom or a corporate training room – matter? Or is instructional design the same, regardless of context, setting and audience?

Last Monday, Endurance Learning welcomed its newest employee – Lauren Wescott – to our team. I first learned of Lauren and her skill set about 6 months ago when I saw a post on LinkedIn that said she’d been working in a K-12 setting as a teacher and instructional designer for several years and now wanted to explore the world of corporate training.


Today, Lauren is going to share some of her insights on the similarities and differences between instructional design in a K-12 setting and a corporate training setting. 

In Lauren’s words:

Teaching and training are two words that are often used interchangeably. However, there are important differences to note. Teaching is more theoretical and abstract. Teachers are imparting knowledge. Conversely, training is hands-on and immediately applicable. Trainers seek to develop ability.

For example, a teacher would teach you the rules of basketball, the physics of the perfect shot, and the measurements of the court. A trainer would provide practical knowledge to master the skill of basketball and develop player abilities over time.

When examining K-12 and corporate learning environments, there are some important contextual differences to take into consideration.

Classroom management looks different.

In K-12 learning, many teachers spend 50% or more of their time focused on classroom management. Teachers are making sure that their students aren’t eating crayons or passing notes to their boyfriend. In corporate learning, classroom management challenges manifest themselves in the form of standoffish learners who resent their manager sending them to a session, participants with a superiority complex, multi-tasking executives or quiet-yet-brilliant participants who are unwilling to speak up in a large group.

Corporate training is focused on application while K-12 learning is primarily assessment based.

In K-12 learning, teachers spend their time preparing students for their futures, 10 to 20 years down the road. In teaching, the way to gauge learning is assessment, usually in the form of testing. As a trainer of adult learners your content is relevant to your learners today. Learners directly apply their learning to their lives and jobs.

For both teachers and trainers, however, instructional design looks very similar. The goal is engaging, exciting learning.

All learners need to be engaged.

Kindergarteners respond to singing, dancing, costumes, and visual aids. Guess what? Adults do too! Engagement is key in every learning situation.

All learners need to interact with their learning.

Kids love games, building, and crafting. Similarly, I’ve never seen a room of adult learners that didn’t perk up when I put a box of Playdoh or a bucket of LEGOs in front of them!

Truth be told, instructional design should be the same regardless of the context, setting, and audience. Instructional design should be based on solid educational principles. Content delivery should be dynamic, interactive, and applicable. What will vary between teachers in a K-12 setting and trainers in a corporate setting is how learning is verified at the end of a lesson. Is learning being taught and assessed or trained and applied?

Have you come to corporate training or instructional design from a different career field? What transferrable lessons have you brought that have made you a better trainer or instructional designer?

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