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Let’s Screw Up

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought lately to the nature of what it is I do. This is spurred in some part by recent posts by Reuben Tozman and Clark Quinn, two leaders in the L&D field who have quite eloquently expressed some weariness with the state of things. Their sentiments seem to echo a lot of the things I heard six months ago when I attended my first professional conference, Devlearn. Many of the speakers there brought the same points up: elearning courses need to be more than just page-turning PowerPoint presentations, and an instructional designer’s toolbox needs to include more than just courses.

Yet when I look at what the companies developing our tools, all I see are tools that make prettier info dumps with loads of text on a page with next buttons. Somehow an avatar looking you in the eye lessens the blow?

So why the dissonance? Why do the leaders in our field preach change and innovation, while the developers we depend on try to sell us on pre-built characters and “programming-free” development? Why are they trying to force us down the well-worn path that we know isn’t good enough?

Probably because that’s what we’re asking for.

A lot of times, when I’ve shown people my work, they’ve remarked “Oh, I could never do anything like that because I’m not an x.” X being a graphic designer, a voice actor, a sound editor, a programmer, a game designer, a creative writer, a whatever. The truth is I’ve never been any of these things either (unless you count my brief, illustrious career designing yellow page ads and junk mail). More often than not, I decided I wanted to do something, then I messed around with stuff until I got what I wanted.

I think the reason companies give us these kinds of tools is they understand that many of us are stuck in a fixed mindset, where we have simply accepted who we are and believe there’s very little we can do to change it.

I’m too busy, I don’t have time to be creative! Just let me crank out the same thing I’ve been cranking out for the past dozen years!

To be fair, I don’t blame people for saying this. Large organizations and profit-seeking enterprises tend to not care for messing around and playing with new stuff. You gotta hit your numbers and pump out those widgets under budget, etc.

Let’s consider some of the ideas that came out of Daniel Coyle’s keynote at Learning Solutions. Instead of treating instructional design like a job (where we do what we’re told and go home at the end of the day), let’s think about it like a craft where we continually strive to make more awesome stuff. We don’t need an elearning tool making all the decisions for us and holding our hand through the process. Let’s do something new, even if it means doing something unconnected with your 9 to 5, and even if it means doing something terrible once in a while. Let’s not hate on beginners and people experimenting outside their comfort zone.┬áLet’s screw up without fear.