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The Minimum Viable Practice for Instructional Designers

In: DesignShowing my WorkTipsWhat If Ideas

You know what’s really cool? A couple of people at my job set up a neat experience for anyone who was interested to come together to participate in a 1.5-hour design thinking facilitated virtual session, going through Stanford Design School’s Crash Course in Design Thinking (if you think this sounds cool, it totally is! Highly recommend giving it a try at your workplace). I loved the process. I LOVED the coaching that the facilitators gave that encouraged everyone to give themselves permission to go way outside the box. And it made me think again about the vital importance of practice as a learning experience designer.

Practice made Even Easier

I’ve written more than once about why I think practice is so important (see my posts here and here) but I know that a lot of the reason why people don’t do this is because it takes time that they’d rather be spending doing other stuff. I’ve run into this myself A LOT, but I can afford to and choose to prioritize my practice. And it got me thinking, how could I make it even easier to practice? What’s the minimum thing that an instructional designer could do?

Minimum Viable Product

Another intersection into this thought train has been creating a prototype of a game for my very first game jam (check it here: and my binge watching of the Extra Credits YouTube channel. One of their offerings is a short series of vids that offer advice on making your first game and they talk about the idea of sticking to the minimum viable product. You’ve probably heard the term before. Essentially it means scoping your project such that you strip it down to the smallest thing you can possibly make that will still give you useful data. So you need to be able to put it out there in front of other people as soon as you can. This seemed like a great opportunity for making practice as easy as possible.

Minimum Viable Practice

What is the minimum thing that an ID can do to practice their skills? I believe it’s the rapid prototype. Drawing out your interaction idea and UI and posting it along with your thought process. That’s it. Here’s and idea: you take a challenge (as I recommend in my ebook, you can try and imagine the types of courses that a job poster would want you to create, or you can use elearning challenges) and you draw out your idea for an interaction that you might design to solve the business problem. Consider this description from a recent posting from a software company that targets home health care businesses:

Curriculum Developer to assist with the development of end user software training in all formats (ILT/VILT/Online) for the Client Services Training Team.

Obviously, you’d want to do some further research on their website to gain more valuable information, but this gives you a few important insights:

  • Audience is end users, home healthcare business owners and employees
  • Training is likely on getting the most from the software, using software effectively
  • Need to emphasize making users awesome, not the tool (See Kathy Sierra’s Badass)

From there, get drawing! What might the UI look like for an online training for this? What type of interaction might you design to help people learn to use important software functions? You can even include other notes, such as: what other insights would you like to have? Who would you interview to get those insights? Who would you want to put this prototype in front of to give you feedback?

Kristin, That’s Nuts!

You might be concerned that this isn’t polished, you don’t have enough information, you wouldn’t want to show this to anyone. I can understand those concerns. I stand by my statement that a LX designer’s portfolio should include demos and, whenever possible, you should try to use the tools that a job is looking for. BUT as I’ve also said, don’t let not having access to one of the big three tools (Lectora, Captivate, Storyline) stand in your way. One of the interesting comments that came up in our design thinking gathering was people’s comments that for them (and even for their student workers) they were subconsciously drawing a line between the creativity they exhibited outside of work (making stuff, playing instruments, etc.) and what they were allowed to do as “professionals.” They commented that, in doing the design challenges from the crash course, they felt inhibited, at least at first, because they were uncomfortable with the idea of showing unfinished work and uncomfortable with just throwing things out there, without them being fully vetted and edited before hand. That was really revelatory for all of us because that kind of inhibition drastically reduces how innovative we can be as an organization. That’s where the whole process of showing your work and, more importantly, practicing showing your work can stretch you. Rapid prototypes are ugly and they’re meant to be. In that unfinished state, where you explain your thinking, you are open to feedback and change, precisely because they’re these throw-away ideas, as opposed to a precious finished product that you’ve polished and will want to defend. Take this idea of a minimum viable practice as the smallest way that you can practice getting better at what you do and learn to put it out there.