Ever wish there was an alternative to the pushback, relational frustrations, and misunderstandings that often plague the interaction between trainers and subject matter experts (SMEs)? The alternative to a competition-based approach to training is collaboration, which is proposed in the "open-source" method of instructional design.What is it?
The collaborative approach is simple. It's the difference between a workplace filled with ongoing frustrations based on ignorance of design theory and the design process, and a workplace that empowers its SMEs by developing their own ability to apply the basics of design.
Consider these premises: In today's thought economy, knowledge is a commodity rather than a specialty. Designers must shift to an "open-source" mentality to stay on track in today's climate, where
- Maturing technology enables SMEs to develop their own content, often with counterproductive results.
- There is an abundance of bottlenecks - deadlines, review cycles, expiring lifecycles, personal conflicts, group, and department levels.
- The global economy demands efficiency, and a designer must do more than work on one project at a time.
Now consider the desired outcomes:
- Designers add value by empowering experts, helping them to acquire the basics of the design skill set.
- SMEs who design more efficient, effective content reduce bottlenecks, thereby adding value.
- Designers can plan ahead instead of scrambling to meet the next deadline.
- Designers who unlock greater productivity within their SMEs will find themselves in perpetual demand.
Additionally, collaboration transforms the relationship dynamic between the parties. The instructional designer becomes a teacher and mentor rather than a corrector and developer of another's content. The working relationship becomes more similar to a partnership or collaboration rather than a client-vendor relationship in which the client is trying to "get his money's worth" from the vendor, who often has to put up a "happy face" while proving herself under difficult conditions and deadlines. In extreme cases, this might be similar to a hazing ritual.
In contrast, collaborative relationships remove the heavy-handedness and lower the walls for both parties. It often leads to much greater productivity, quality, and morale.
Today's workplace environment is much different from the one that birthed models such as behaviorism and instructional design in the midst of World War II. Many practitioners have noted that the "rigid" nature of traditional design theory simply needs to be updated for a more sensitive workplace. Unfortunately, many habits and cycles related to design have been seemingly cemented in place, to the frustration of some. For people who resonate with the collaborative approach, it's tempting to use a jackhammer to reinvent the process - nevermind the noise, dust, and damage!
A safer approach is for interested professionals, including trainers, SMEs, managers, and executives, to take the subtle, grassroots approach. By being mindful of potential collaborators and respecting the limits of your corporate culture, many baby steps can be made without rocking the boat or overstepping the status quo within your department.
Why it works
An open-source, collaborative approach is a common-sense solution in a fast-paced world. The assembly-line, rigid-hierarchy, bricks-and-mortar job is antiquated. Instead, we take for granted information that self-integrates as a commodity, thanks to Google. Organizations that combine content expertise with design skill are positioning themselves for an explosion of productivity. Proactive designers who tactfully posture themselves in that way will find themselves in demand as they unlock greater potential with each SME partnership. Finally, a designer can choose her own strategy, approach, partner, and pace, and be free to make the best decisions and stay in the driver's seat.
For practitioners looking for a relevant, effective, and practical way to overcome the increasing bottlenecks in the training process, collaborative design is one way forward. In multifaceted projects involving ongoing creation and review cycles, collaborative partnerships often synergize. The results can speak for themselves: greater satisfaction in the partnership, increased learning observed in materials that are better aligned with design techniques, and an expedited product, without the corresponding rise in stress. The workplace that moves toward collaboration will lift its limitations while becoming more externally competitive as well.
Nathan Eckel's Infoline on designer-SME collaboration is scheduled for release in May 2010. Stay tuned to infoline.astd.org for updates.