Connections > Content

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I was finally inspired to take a break from doom-posting (intermixed with exuberant joy-posting, because that’s just my style) on Twitter to write a lil’ post about why we struggle with design vs. delivery. 🧵 embed below.

If the Design is Good, Why Do We Miss in Delivery?

This post is inspired by conversations with a friend who supports faculty in teaching courses designed by instructional designers (essentially following a structured course map and delivering synchronous sessions with the class), and other conversations with instructional designer friends who struggle (as we perhaps all do) in getting buy-in from faculty to work with an ID when creating courses (typically online, but I think this struggle extends to all modalities).

My friend Beth put it beautifully in phrasing this as the tension between design and delivery. You ship off a lesson plan, and the instructor goes on a tangent about that one time with the pineapple instead of activating prior knowledge on actuarial science.

You create a flashy website about how to teach online that invites your audience to please, please, pretty-please consult with their friendly neighborhood ID before building that course. And then dumps a bunch of resources on you, because…well, you like research, right? You’re used to stacks of papers, printed and marked-up, on your desk. This is just the digital version, packaged into a nice little “resource” website.

I’m thinking back to all of the digital teaching toolkits that schools at my former institution developed at the start of the pandemic, when we realized, “Oh shit, faculty are gonna need to do this online.” There were resources galore. There was a (somewhat failed) effort to “centralize” that guidance through the “central” team in which I worked — but I wasn’t an ID, just tech support, so my input wasn’t asked for. I just clicked buttons in an LMS, after all. I didn’t know anything about teaching.

Why Didn’t the Content Work?

It took me a while to get here, but I think I am finally doing it because of my varied experience, and a weird convergence between “multiple teaching” roles right now. I’m teaching “Writing for Digital Media,” a graduate-level core course in a Master’s of Professional Writing Program, for the third pandemic summer in a row. I’m also a full-time instructional designer at Automattic (and still figuring that out, I know, 8 months later). But holding space for those things in my brain, mingled with my undying passion for learning about instructional design (yes, I’m also taking a free course on ID through Eduflow right now), got me to realize it’s not about the content, and we fail when we don’t take time to connect first.

Let me elaborate with a story about my grad class: I tweaked the title of our first major assigment, and compared to past summers, most of the class “gets it.” But some are missing it, and totally misinterpreting the assignment. I’m not upset with them (how could I be?) because I was often that student. I didn’t “get it.” I got lost in the sea of instruction, the sea of content. What if the struggling students don’t get the terminology? What if I thought everyone knows what an “outlet” is, but…I’m wrong? This is one of the challenges in teaching asynchronously, online — missed opportunities for conversations and connections. But we can still create them. I invited the struggling students to get in touch with me for support, and gave them an example of what I’m looking for. That was an extra connection point, and now it’s up to them to engage in a way that they can, and want to. But I’ve invited it, in a more personal way.

So How Do We Connect?

That’s the hard part. We can lead a horse to water, etc. I think it really comes down to empathy and always showing curiosity about your “learners,” or your “target audience,” however you want to phrase it. One ID friend was struggling to connect with a faculty member, and decided to take her pottery class. He made a cool mug! And they connected. I feel like the secret ingredient there is caring. He took time to care about the faculty, rather than “c’mon, let me just work with you on instructional design!” It starts with caring. And that’s why affective context is my latest learning jam, and why I’m so obsessed with the work of Nick Shackleton-Jones and the many others who came before him. For too long, we’ve been conditioned to “leave our emotions at the door” when it comes to learning, or even working professionally with others. But emotions, caring, are the key to open the door.

a green wooden door with a heart cutout toward the top, allowing you to peek inside. The door is surrounded by greenery, kind of like in the movie "The Secret Garden."
Photo by Pixabay on

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