In the Meet the Team series, we'll introduce you to Bull City Learning's instructional design staff. They'll share professional insights, passion projects, and recommendations. First up, Shantel Smith, Bull City Learning's resident tech enthusiast.
What makes you most excited to come to work each day?
S: I love the development process of creating a learning experience. I get to take a challenge like improving performance or changing a behavior and find the most engaging and relevant way to present that to an audience. That process of brainstorming, prototyping, and creating something that will make someone’s life easier is exciting to me. That and the surprise donuts.
How’s technology driving innovation in instructional design?
S: Part of ID is designing for the audience; meeting the learner where they are. And in cases where the learner is living in technology, innovation provides an excellent opportunity for IDs to create engaging, relevant, and impactful learning experiences. Some of my favorite technologies driving ID today are AR/VR, chatbots, xAPI, and all the easy-to-use, OTS tech tools for IDs. It’s easier than ever to incorporate tech into your learning experiences without having to be a tech guru.
You served in the US Army before joining Bull City Learning. How has your experience in the military impacted your approach to instructional design?
S: Traditional content training in the military is very cut and dry. It’s standardized, relies heavily on PowerPoint and reading (or listening to someone read) a lot of detailed PDFs. It wasn’t engaging at all when I went through TRADOC. But that experience was so insightful for my perspective as an Instructional Designer. I observed how that type of experience negatively affects performance and engagement. I was also able to add to my idea box a ton of ways to make dry content more engaging.
What have you read lately you would recommend to others in the ID community?
S: I love this topic because I think it’s so important that Instructional Designers continue to expand their horizons and look at outside perspectives and concepts. Instructional design is more than just crafting the content. It also involves crafting the learning (or doing) experience. This is where marketing concepts, user experience design, and human-computer interaction principles can really help an ID advance their skills and approach.
I love learning about user experience design because if the training isn’t created in a way to be user-friendly and engaging, the content is going to fall flat regardless of how well it was crafted. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman dives into cognitive psychology and how people interact with objects. Knowing how someone’s brain is working while they are using your learning experience really helps empathize with learner target the experience to the audience.
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug covers the foundations of web design and usability and illustrates how a poorly designed web interface can ruin the experience. Since so much of training is consumed via web, it’s important to make sure the UX and UI is intuitive. You want your learner to use their thinking capacity for the content, not for navigating the interface. A good rule of thumb is if you have to provide lengthy instructions for how to use the interface, then it’s probably too complicated.
Another area I think IDs can take notes is marketing! Targeting your audience, getting them engaged, making them want to buy-in quickly: all of these concepts can and should be used in ID. I recommend Made to Stick and Storynomics, which is all about story-driven marketing. The concept of using stories to communicate ideas is invaluable for crafting a learning experience.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
S: I think as an ID it’s important to be a lifelong learner. Instructional design is a constantly changing field and in order to serve the learner you need to be familiar with as many options as possible to give them what they need.
Right now, I’m working on creating a chatbot using AWS Lex. The chatbot is for IDs and they will be able to tell the bot what kind of project they are working on (audience, content, technology use, etc.) and the bot will provide a list of theories or concepts that could be used as the foundational building block for that course.
The theories will pull from multiple subjects, not just ID -- computer-human interaction, user experience, graphic design, cognitive psychology, and more. The chatbot would be an excellent piece of performance support, helping IDs start working on a project faster and with a more informed outlook.