Recently I had two clients complain to me about how difficult and frustrating it is to find a good instructional designer (ID). I know how they feel. It’s taken me decades to build a database of quality instructional designers to staff our projects. It seems like there are a lot of IDs out there, but few who are really good.
Here are eight tips that I’ve found work to find good instructional designers.
Know what good instructional design looks like. If you don’t know what “right” looks like, you might pass up a good ID-or worse yet, hire a bad ID for your next project.
Ask for referrals. Start with your colleagues. Then branch out to good IDs you may already know, but who may not be available when you need them. Good people know good people.
Be willing to pay for it. Good IDs do not work for $35 or even $50 an hour. You could get lucky and land a good ID who is working at these rates because that person is new to consulting or is just filling time between full-time jobs. But do you really want to bet on this off chance, risking the aggravation of working with a bad ID?
Look for a good writer who can also design instruction. 90% of ID work is writing, because the ID needs to document best practices to be taught in the training. Only 10% of ID work is designing instructional strategies to teach those best practices.
Avoid jack-of-all-trades types. In twenty years of consulting, I’ve only met one ID who is both a good ID and a good programmer, and I’ve run across a few IDs who also do a good job of facilitating training. By and large, though, hiring specialists is safer. So hire an ID for training design, a programmer for programming, and a desktop publisher for formatting. If you try to fill multiple roles with an individual who has diverse skills, you may find that the quality of his or her work is not very high in one or possibly all areas.
Categorize your IDs. I’ve found that some IDs do amazing work when they are designing a course around easily structured information, such as a software system. (People have to learn how to do certain tasks on the system, so the training is naturally organized around these tasks.) These same IDs flounder horribly when I hand them an assignment to design training for which they have to create the structure.
Don’t over-rely on work samples and references. I’ve gotten glowing recommendations and viewed stunning work samples only to be disappointed by an ID’s work. The problem with ID work is twofold. First, many people don’t know what good ID work looks like, so they end up recommending an ID on the strength of their working relationship rather than on the strength of the work. Second, it’s hard to tell how many people downstream from the ID massaged his or her work to make it into the work sample you are viewing. For example, did an editor clean up the writing, or more misleading yet, completely rework it? It’s hard to tell. As a result, it’s smart to break up your project into small chunks so that you can see how the ID work is progressing. For example, have the ID write a lesson rather than a whole course for your review. If you discover the ID that you hired isn’t up to par, it is much less painful to bring in a new ID early in the process than to get close to your deadline only to realize that you’ll need to rework the whole course yourself over the weekend.
Listen to the questions the ID asks and the recommendations he or she makes. A good ID asks you questions that poke holes in your project and ultimately lead to recommendations for improvement. He or she functions as a partner rather than a flunky, by telling you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.
I hope these tips help. Now, good luck in your ID quest!