Today at my other job (I also work for a large state agency), I was faced with an instructional designer’s ultimate challenge. It was kind of like when the bakers on Cupcake Wars get some off the wall secret ingredient like squid ink that they have to incorporate – even though they’ve never heard of the ingredient.
I am working on a multi-module gardening curriculum to train volunteers in horticulture knowledge. I do pretty well with that content. We have some amazing subject matter experts on board, and an incredible project coordinator.
However, we are at the end of the amazing content we have. And there’s one last module to be created.
We could not get anyone on board to provide content on soils. This is a huge gap because improving garden soil is the ultimate key to improving your landscape. We are late in the project – we launch in two months. This content has yet to be developed, as we had no base content to go with.
Now, my undergraduate degree is in agriculture. I have taught many a botany and gardening class at the elementary school level. I’ve designed and developed elearning modules for plant diseases and other units in this gardening basics curriculum.
I had no background to develop soil science content from scratch. So what’s an instructional designer to do? I can’t stop the project in its tracks. We’ve asked, the project coordinator has asked – and nothing.
So we put it off in hopes of someone – anyone – giving us content. I had a single PowerPoint from years ago and a very short chapter in a training manual.
Cue getting creative.
I combed the other modules for anything we had on soils. Bingo. Concepts were beginning to emerge. The need for deeper levels of information emerged. A search yielded research sites to pull that deeper information from. In a matter of a couple of hours, we had a skeleton of a great science-based soil-water-plant nutrition course.
Now to move on to the next few days of fleshing out the skeleton.
What information is absolutely necessary?
What information is needed?
What information is nice to know?
We want and need learners to get a certain skill out of this module – the ability to conduct, submit, interpret and respond to a soil test. With that focus and the collected knowledge of all the other modules, we are well on our way.
Even without an active contribution from a subject matter expert, we were able to pull together a whiz-bang module that will get learners the response the project coordinator is looking for.
Creativity is part and parcel of the mindset of the instructional designer.
Without creativity, we are nothing but PowerPoint pixel pushers. With creativity, we make magic out of what sometimes seems like nothing.