I recently indulged my inner geek and re-watched The Matrix. I hadn’t seen it since, oh, around 2000 (right after the world was supposed to end).
One line that particularly stuck out for me this time was uttered by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in the “wise-sage” character who tries to help Neo (Keanu Reeves) understand that he is “the One” who will bring an end to the rule of the machines. Morpheus expounds to Neo,
There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
This line kept rattling around in my head for several days. Walking the path. How many hundreds of references are there to “walking” in songs, literature, everyday discourse, etc.? In songs, think Walk this Way by Aerosmith (and for all my 80s brethren, the remake with Run-DMC), I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash, Walk Away by Ben Harper, and hundreds of others. Or, for another movie reference, what about Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction wanting to give up the life of a hit-man and, “walk the Earth like Kane in Kung Fu?” Probably the most well known reference to walking a path in literature is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. And what about in everyday discourse? How many times have we heard the adage, “Don’t judge someone else until you have walked a mile in their shoes?” Or what about all of the various fundraisers where we are encouraged to, “Walk for X,” or “Walk to stop X disease?” When I was a kid I remember participating in a fundraiser called Walk for Mankind (sic), in which I asked people to pledge a certain amount of money per mile that I walked.
So where am I going with this? Walking is inherently active. Granted, some of us walk faster than others, but the sheer act of walking is motion. You are moving forward. And so should it be with your choice to do whatever it is you do on this Earth. Since I am an instructional designer, I’ll focus on that. It’s easy to “know” what good instructional design looks like, whether you have been through a graduate program in ID or are an accidental instructional designer. Disclaimer: I went through a formal program and earned a Master’s degree in ID. For me it was the right thing to do. I needed to do it and it helped form who I am today. Others have fallen into the role of instructional designer and have figured things out on the job. I’m not espousing one or the other here. I value my education and am happy I chose that path. But, my degree doesn’t give me a pass. It doesn’t make me part of an elite club that does “real” instructional design. I know what good instructional design looks like, but so do plenty of other people who don’t have graduate degrees in ID.
Ok, so I know what good ID looks like and so do a lot of other people. It’s what we as designers choose to do with that knowledge that makes us better instructional designers, better co-workers, better employees, and probably better people. I know what the path of good ID looks like. I know it engages the learner, challenging him/her to think and learn. I know good ID tells a story. It takes the learner through the points (s)he needs to know to perform a task. I know good ID is not just words or bullet points on a screen. It is aesthetically pleasing, yet simple enough to deliver the message. I know good ID doesn’t include interaction for the sake of interaction, but interaction that engages the learner. I know good ID doesn’t push a ton of information out, but rather aims to get the learner to pull the information and engage with it. I know “games are inherently learning environments,” and good ID can incorporate games as instruments of learning. I know all of these things about ID and they can help me in my craft.
But, there is a difference between knowing and recognizing good ID and practicing good ID. Designing it. Developing it. Living it in your utmost being. Walking it. Walking the ID path means incorporating all of the aforementioned items and actually putting them into practice. How much easier is it to say,
- I know I should tell the story and offer some exploration for the learner…BUT I’m on a tight deadline and I know I can crank out a page turner with the corporate template that has been used a million times.
- I know the learner just needs to know how to assemble widget A…BUT leadership wants to include the history of widget A and why we use Widget A vs. Widget B.
- I know I haven’t analyzed the content and don’t know the problem yet…BUT I’m going to put this ‘interactive’ element in the learning because it looks cool.
I’m issuing a challenge, mainly to myself, but also to my learning network. Walk the ID path. Simple enough. We all know what the ID path looks like. Some of us may even be on it. Some of us may have started on the ID path with good intentions and gone astray for whatever reason. For some of us, staying on the path is a lot like those Driver’s Ed classes in high school. In theory it seemed easy to steer the car in a straight line, but remember when the slightest nudge of the steering wheel left you kissing the curb? Funny how overcompensation can happen in all areas of our lives. There may be a ton of reasons why we don’t walk the ID path.
I’m tired of fighting with leadership. It’s too hard. The page-turner-bullet point template is a lot easier – you just plug and play. The learners aren’t going to care. They just want to take the course and sign off on the requirement.
All of these are reasons not to walk the ID path. Some would say they are just excuses. It really doesn’t matter if you think they are valid reasons or excuses. Using these justifications and giving in when you know the true ID path just pushes you further away from walking the path. You are sacrificing a bit of your ID soul. I know that may sound corny. I know that each of us has to choose our battles and sometimes fighting “the man” isn’t one of them. But remember why you are an instructional designer. The core reason IMHO is that you want to help people by providing quality instruction that engages and assists in learning a task. If that isn’t your central goal, then perhaps you should choose a different path. If that is your goal, then fight for it tooth and nail. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s scary. You may question yourself and wonder if you are doing the right thing, or if it’s really worth it. I’ve felt all of these emotions and more and there have been plenty of times when I stopped moving forward and got stuck on the ID sit-n-spin, churning out content without really thinking about it. Don’t do it. Walking the ID path is about growing, learning, and sharing. Walking the ID path is about being in forward motion; moving yourself out of knowing and into doing. Be the instructional designer you are. Walk the ID path.