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Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Terror of Templates: an Instructional Designers nightmare!


In today’s world of rapid everything, particularly when it comes to e-Learning programmes, I have noticed and become a victim of a most disturbing trend: the scourge of templates.

Rapid e-Learning design has its place but not when instructional design is compromised. The use of templates is nothing new, where at the start of a e-Learning project it is agreed by the instructional designer in conjunction with the client, the graphic designers, and the programers, where specific assets can be placed on the screen.
Over the last few years though, I have noticed a most disturbing and counter-productive trend – one where templates become the sine qua non of all e-Learning design; effectively kicking instructional designers into touch. So, here’s my take on what is the good, bad and (the downright) ugly of using templates in designing e-Learning programmes.

Templates – the good
First of all, let me say that as an instructional designer I define and use templates. However, these are very simple and few in number. Generally, they just cover where graphics and text can go, to make life easier for other instructional designers in the team and for the programers.
Knowing what the various options are, it’s relatively easy to look at some content and decide what screen layouts to use: graphics & text, text & graphics, graphics/text and so on.
What happens next though is left solely to the instructional designer, in terms of how the text, graphics and audio work with one another, and the interactions that are required. The instructional designer is therefore completely in charge.

Templates – the bad
Here, the programers, with minimal or even no input from an instructional designer, come up with 20 or so templates, all of which are to do with what they want to see in order to make their lives easier.
Very few, if any, of these has anything to do with what an instructional designer would have chosen or that will work best for learners.  They attempt, and generally fail, to describe everything, including interactions.  Their use serves only to provide boring and predictable e-Learning programmes.
In short, these types of templates become a strait jacket for the instructional designer, depriving the latter of any creativity or of using their considerable knowledge and skill of learning to produce high quality, effective e-Learning.

Templates – the (downright) ugly
OK it goes like this. An e-Learning provider (who will remain nameless) gives me a total of 80, yes 80, templates to use (and on pain of death if I didn’t use them correctly). Each one of these 80 templates is so complicated, so restricted, and so inane that I rapidly lose the will to live!
Being an inquiring soul, I ask why do all these templates have to control what I do? Answer: “Well, we are using an offshore company to keep the costs down and this is the only way we can control what they provide”.
So, the tail is wagging the proverbial dog. I tried, oh believe me how I tried, but after a few days I gave up, as I couldn’t work/dance to such a cacophony.
I also felt that everything I knew and was experienced in doing as an instructional designer had just flown out of the window.  In short I’d become the operator of a sausage machine!

Sweet dreams
If I am going to sleep well and perform at my best as an instructional designer, then the ‘terror of templates’ has to become a thing of the past.
I do wish more instructional designers who have had sleepless nights or, worse still nightmares, about this scourge of the templates would also speak out. The life of an instructional designer can, at the worse, be a fairly unthankful task but with all these templates, it is rapidly becoming an unworkable one.
As I always live and work in hope, can I now say ‘goodbye to the terror of templates as “Sweet dreams are made of this. Who am I to disagree?” (Eurythmics). I most sincerely hope so.