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Instructional Design Lessons from a 6-Year-Old

My 6-year-old daughter wants an American Girl doll in the worst way.  Recently, she cracked open her piggy bank to see if she had enough money to afford one.  As a mix of change and dollar bills lay on the ground, she started counting her pennies.

She counted out 40 pennies and asked if that was enough.  I explained that the doll cost over one hundred dollars.  Instead of trying to count her $1, $5, and $20 bills, or even nickels, dimes and quarters, she went back to counting her pennies.

In truth, after six years of squirrelling away spare change and birthday money, she had more than enough money in her piggy bank to buy an American Girl doll.  But she insisted on counting all her pennies, pausing to find out if she had enough for a doll every two or three minutes.

When I asked her why she didn’t try counting her paper money or her other coins, she explained that it was easier to count by ones, and she knew that each penny was one cent.  More than enough money was within her grasp to buy an American Girl doll, but she insisted on staying within her comfort zone of counting pennies.

As I reflected on this, I was struck at how remarkably similar this process was to developing training components.  The coveted object of desire – the American Girl doll, so to speak – for me or SMEs or anyone else doing presentations should be cultivating new skills and knowledge and better ways to do things among their audience. The best way to do this is through good instructional design and engaging presentations, but developing such components can take significant amounts of time and sometimes requires us to go outside our comfort zone to try something new.  It’s a lot easier to regurgitate old lessons or relapse into old habits of lecture and bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentations because they’re quicker to put together and there’s just so many other things that need to be done on any given day.

And when we eschew risk taking and trying new things and putting the effort into good design and engaging presentations, we’re basically just counting pennies.  In the name of ease and comfort, we sacrifice the opportunity that is right in front of us to create an amazing and transformational learning experience.  And at this pace, we’ll never get our hands on whatever the trainers’ equivalent is of an American Girl doll.

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