How to Solve any Problem as an Instructional Designer

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

Do you want to be able to solve any problem? 🎯

As an instructional designer, you do not solely create learning experiences, you solve problems. A good instructional designer is not an order taker, they seek to understand the problem prior to solving it.

At Belvista Studios, we have worked on hundreds of projects. With each project, we gain more experience and with this experience we tweak and improve our process.

Whilst each project we work on is based on different subjects/topics/ideas, they all involve a problem that needs solving. We have come to realise that every problem can be solved using the same process.

When we say ‘problem’ we are not only referring to projects as a whole, this is relatable to every single task that you complete. From implementing one client feedback comment to responding to an email. For every action you take, ask yourself:

  1. “What is the problem?”
  2. “What is the goal?”
  3. “What do I need to do to close the gap?”
  4. “What are the risks and consequences?”
  5. “What assumptions am I making?”


In this blog, we will take you through each part of the process that we use to solve problems. This has:

  • Made our life as instructional designers easier. 👌🏽
  • Enabled us to confidently explain why we made certain decisions. 💁🏻
  • Enabled us to solve the right problem. 🎯
  • Made our stakeholders feel understood. 💙
1. “What is the problem?”

Before solving a problem, ask yourself, “What is the problem?” This may seem obvious but we can sometimes forget this and rush into a solution (guilty 🙋🏻).

For example, imagine a client asks you to add extra content to a storyboard. Before you make a decision on what action to take, you need to be clear on the problem. This involves seeking to understand it. You know the client wants to add extra content but what is the reason why? What is the problem that is leading them to ask for this? If you are unsure, seek to understand.

2. “What is the goal?”

Along with understanding the problem, you also need to be clear on your goal. How can you solve the problem you are facing if you do not know what goal you are trying to achieve?

Referring back to the example above, let us say that your project goal was for, ‘Leaders to hold performance conversations with their team.’ When the client asks to add extra content, you would ask them, “Can you help me understand how adding this information will help us meet our goal of leaders holding performance conversations with their team?”

3. “What do I need to do to close the gap?”

The gap is the space between the problem and achieving the goal. The gap can be closed by taking actions that result in the achievement of the goal.

For small scale tasks, you may be able to figure out the actions quite quickly. For example, if you are implementing client feedback, you should already have a project goal and may be aware of the actions required to achieve it.

If you are unsure of the actions required to solve the problem and meet the goal, you can conduct human-centred design activities. This will help you to gain an understanding of what is required to close the gap, relevant to the context of the problem. Check out our ‘Human-centred Design for Instructional Designers’ playlist’ on YouTube to find out more (Belvista Studios, 2020).

We also recommend referring to ‘Action Mapping’ by Cathy Moore to help you turn insights into actions (Moore, 2020).

Referring back to the earlier example, your question, “Can you help me understand how adding this information will help us meet our goal of leaders holding performance conversations with their team?”, will help you understand what is required to close the gap. Will leaving the information out or putting it in best help you meet your goal?

It is important to note that even if you know what is required to close the gap, maintaining effective communication and relationships with your stakeholders is just as essential to meet your goal. Ensure that you explain your reasoning and seek to understand from their perspective if your decision is correct. Your aim is to have them decide what will close the gap, regardless of their prior thoughts or opinions.

4. “What are the risks and consequences?”

Every action that you take to close the gap involves risks and consequences, which you should consider.

Referring back to the previous example, imagine that you decide to give the storyboard to the client so that they can add the extra content themselves. Before doing this, you should consider the risks involved and the consequences if something goes wrong. For example:

  • The client adds content that does not contribute to the goal.
  • The client changes other content in the storyboard without your knowledge.
Considering risks like this helps you understand if the action you have chosen is the best option. Ask yourself, “Am I comfortable with the consequences of this action if something goes wrong?”.

We recommend closing the gap with the least amount of risks and potential negative consequences as possible.

5. “What assumptions am I making?”

Before closing the gap with an action/s, consider if you are making any assumptions. Making assumptions is a very easy trap to fall into and can have a serious impact on achieving your goals.

Referring back to the previous example, an assumption could be that the client who asked to add the content has identified that it meets the goal. Someone else could have asked them to add the content or maybe they found it in a folder and sent it to you without reading it. Always check your assumptions.

We hope that you can use this process to solve the problems that you face. Our advice for you is to plan every task. This process is what we use to do this. Practice using it next time you face a problem. It will make your life as an instructional designer much easier and help you solve the right problems with confidence. 🙌🏻

If you would like to discuss this in further detail please do not hesitate to contact our passionate founder Kim via kim@belvistastudios.com or by connecting with her on LinkedIn.

If you like tips and insights like this, you will love our creator hub. It has templates and resources to help people like you develop, improve and grow to meet your future needs.

References

Belvista Studios. (2020). Human-centred Design for Instructional Designers [Youtube channel]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL53y2Uv-umyZ7HP3WsyIOMEtsSmYG6R81

Moore, C. (2020). Action mapping headquarters. Retrieved from https://blog.cathy-moore.com/action-mapping/.

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