What Your Instructional Designers Need to Know

Author: Chris Cooley

In the beginning of our projects, life is picturesque… Positions are posted, we are interviewing and hiring excellent candidates from throughout the organization with excellent on-the-job experience. We are reviewing our project plan, and sending new hires off for certification…all seems well. That is, until someone pokes a hole in our “all is well” balloon. Not the giant, pop your bubble kind of poke, but a tiny pin prick that slowly deflates your balloon overtime. You may notice the deflation and stick a piece of tape over it (hire a contractor), just to find another pin hole… Eventually, our picturesque work life has turned into an understaffed, overworked, and completely deflated balloon. Like Fix-a-Flat, adrenaline can help get us through for a while, but man oh man, how nice it would have been to be truly prepared for all contingencies, from the beginning!

Preparation starts with understanding. The Instructional Designer/Principal Trainer role is arguably the most critical role to the success of go-live and, in my opinion, the most misunderstood.

Let’s start with some definitions:

Instructional Designer: Did you know that Google can’t find a specific definition for an “Instructional Designer”? That should tell us something right there. Instead, they offer the definition for Instructional Design as: the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. – ohio.edu

Principal Trainer: Again – No Google definition (and I thought Google knew everything…). So let’s break it down:

Principal: noun – the person with the highest authority or most important position in an organization, institution, or group.
Trainer: noun – a person who trains people or animals.

Well now, I don’t know about you, but I did not find either of those definitions helpful. Incidentally, when I took my first position as an ID/PT for an EHR implementation, I took the job with the above definitions as my understanding of the work I would be doing. Additionally, my director at the time, had the exact same understanding. See, perfect balloon. So shiny and bouncy…

Here is the Chris Cooley definition for Instructional Designer / Principal Trainer:

One who can understand and master both current state and future state workflows for each role they are supporting; has the ability to take technical materials and transform them into a holistic training model which includes eLearning, classroom training, lesson plan development, workbook development, classroom takeaways, and post training learning opportunities; build and maintain a robust training environment; maintain web-based materials; develop eLearning using Captivate or like product; create and host train the trainer program(s); schedule and manage day to day functions of up to 15 trainers; classroom management expert; proficient in time management, relationships, and material management.

And that’s the Cliff Notes version.

The point I am trying to make here is that it’s all about the details of the role. Most ID/PTs do not get the big picture upon hire, yet are held responsible for maintaining all of these areas (and more) with little oversight and compressed timelines.

In a perfect world, we could screen and hire someone with this exact set of experiences and expertise. In the real world, very few of these people exist, and they are pretty darn spendy if you come across one. So what is a Training Manager to do? Screen between the lines for hidden talent. Find someone who is passionate, has a great base of experience, and is coachable. Throughout my years of experience, the key is to follow up on the coaching! Your responsibility as their manager will be to train and coach them into each of these tasks so they don’t seem so daunting. Teach time management skills, develop leadership skills, and get your team embedded in the areas they are serving early. Without this critical step, you run the risk of burnout and eventually the loss of your employee.

Areas to Focus ID/PT Development

Instruction Design and Technical Writing

Start with the basics: Adult Learning Principles. If we know adults will lose focus after 15 minutes, why are our classes developed with breaks every 60-90 minutes (or even every 2-3 hours)? That’s a potential for 75 wasted minutes of training. Review how to design truly effective training. Does your training allow for enough interaction, time on the computer, and brain breaks? (Trust me, if you are counting on stock material from your vendor, it doesn’t). Have your IDs/PTs ever been trained on how to design a class; especially a technical class with so many distractions to the end users?

What about Materials? Most materials will be thrown out or “misplaced” once an end user leaves class. How do we make the most out of our materials? Should they all be electronic? What takeaways are necessary? What are the nice to haves? Again, think adult learning… what is important to your end user? A workshop to review and agree upon a standard for your organization will go a long way in alleviating stress amongst individual ID/PTs.

Templates, templates, templates…. Early on, design templates for all of your materials. Brand them, decide on a font, bullet style, numbering or sequencing process. Do the pictures go below the instruction, or above the instruction? Do the pictures have a frame around them, are they center or left justified? This will help those of your ID/PTs who are not as strong in technical writing produce readable materials.


This seems basic, right? Oh, but it isn’t! If you ask each person on your team what a “workflow” is, I will bet you get a different answer every time. And most of the time, a project team is only focused on the steps completed in the EHR directly. Really? Because that is NOT how a human brain works. Most people come out of technical training without understanding their new workflow. Review workflows, set standards for your training around workflows, ensure your IDs/PTs “get” how to make a workflow relevant to their end user and all-inclusive! Teaching to a workflow will not only help the material stick, but make the training more fun for the end user, while providing instant trust between the end user and the trainer.

Leadership Essentials

One of the biggest roles your ID/PT will play is as a leader to a team of trainers who will execute all of the materials they worked so hard to develop. Think about your greatest leaders, and work to instill those traits you admire, into your team. Does your organization have a leadership workshop or class(es) that you can enroll your team in? Things like Crucial Conversations, or Coaching Up? Can your ID/PTs run a 4-6 week training program? Do they know how to give constructive criticism, build team trust, or how to manage a schedule? Are they prepared to meet the needs of a diverse group of internal and consultant trainers (the experienced and the inexperienced)?

Time Management

This is the biggest challenge of them all. Your ID/PTs will be pulled in multiple directions, at all times, once your project kicks into gear. Do they know how to balance the “need-to-dos” with the “need-to-do-laters” and the “nice-to-dos”? Do they know how to delegate, when delegation is appropriate, and to whom they should delegate? Do they know how to use organizational tools like OneNote and Outlook to stay organized?

As you are going through these, they may seem common sense, but the reality is, they aren’t. These are the things your ID/PTs need to know. They need the coaching and the help. The earlier you can educate and develop your ID/PTs, the better equipped they will be to keep that shiny balloon inflated.

To learn more about our Epic Credentialed Training Program, contact us at info@pivotpointconsulting.com or 800.381.9681.