Demystifying Instructional Design

S2E12: Jean Dengler ~ It's so much more than design

June 07, 2022 Rebecca J. Hogue / Jean Dengler Season 2 Episode 12
Demystifying Instructional Design
S2E12: Jean Dengler ~ It's so much more than design
Show Notes Transcript

Jean Dengler is a Senior Trainer with Service Corporation International. In her role she delivers a variety of training programs to a diverse group of associates using a virtual platform designed in Adobe Connect. While her primary role is to facilitate training, she considers herself fortunate to have the support of a fantastic team who offers her opportunities to develop learning content, design virtual classrooms and brainstorm innovative ways in which to enhance both training content and delivery. She is a 2021 graduate of UMASS, Boston, having received her MEd in Instructional Design and has found endless opportunities to apply instructional design practices in her work and in her life. She joins us today from Buffalo NY.

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REBECCA:

Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what instructional designers do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you're interested in a different kind of professional development this season, check out myfest.equityunbound.org. That's myfest.equityunbound.org. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider subscribing or leaving a comment on the show notes blog post and consider helping to support the podcast with a donation to my Patreon account. Welcome Jean to Demystify Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. Can you start off by introducing yourself?

JEAN:

Sure. And thank you, Rebecca. I'm glad to be here with you today and to catch up. My name is Jean Dengler and my actual role is as a senior trainer for a company called Service Corps International, or Service Corporation International. We are a group of funeral homes and cemeteries in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. And my role, my primary role is to deliver training in a virtual platform. We use Adobe Connect and to deliver a variety of content to our 24 or 25,000 employees over the course of the year. In that role, I'm part of a department under training and development that also gives me the opportunity to do some instructional design. So I do have the opportunity from time to time. I've just wrapped up a two year project that involved creating a number of courses for a specific department in the company. Some of my work gets to play with instructional design. Some of it is in the delivery of content and some of it is in coming up with innovative ways to reach the people that we need to reach and teach them what they need to teach them or train them in what they need to learn, and then circle back and discover ways that we can improve that function in ways we can make our processes better in terms of delivering that training. I get to do a lot of different things, which is fun.

REBECCA:

How did you get into your role? I like to call it the origin story of instructional design. How did you get there?

JEAN:

I have given that thought over the years, interestingly. It's a great question. I did turn 60 last year. At the time that I graduated from UMass program in Instructional Design, the master's program, which was a fantastic experience, the way you and I met and paused and gave myself some reflection last year. How did I get where I am now at 60? How did I get to this role and this position? And when I look back, honestly, I have done something in training and development in every part of my career. So right out of college my background was in programing and I began with a small company in Boston, Mass. And learned how to program. And it was a 4GL language. And part of the role that I had then was to deliver training. So whatever I created, I had to teach someone how to use. And I'm sure I was not following any kind of sound instructional design principles. I would love to see what I actually had created and delivered in those days, I don't recall, but I was involved in delivering that training. I feel like I've always had this interest in instructional design. I just never knew the terminology or never knew the constructs of it or how to go about learning more. I was an instructor at a college here in the early nineties and then I did a lot of support work over the years for the software company that I used to work for. And a lot of that involved trying to help people understand how to use the software in some shape or form. I've almost always been involved in delivering training in some capacity, but it wasn't until seven years ago maybe that someone said to me, have you ever thought about instructional design, and I really hadn't. So I started to look at what instructional design involved, and interestingly, in my mind, I thought it involved design. It's hard to sometimes describe what instructional design is because it's so much more than the design element. But I pursued an interest in it because of the design element. I was interested in how to make things more engaging, more interesting, more appealing for a learner. And someone suggested UMass and I applied, and next thing you know, I learned about what instructional design really is, which was probably fairly different from what I envisioned it to be.

REBECCA:

So I'm curious, how do you describe what instructional design is these days?

JEAN:

I believe I would say that instructional design is really problem solving, so it doesn't always end up being a training initiative. It doesn't always end up being a change to the way you do things. But it is a, to me it's problem solving, it's an organizational or institutional issue or problem. Someone comes to you and says, This is what I want, but this is where I am. How do I get there? How do I deliver? How do I change the way we're meeting with customers? How do I change the way we offer our products to our customers? How do I change the way our team implements services, goods and services that we deliver? How do I change something? How do I get to where I want to be with what I have right now? And so to me, instructional design is really, it's problem solving, which I love. If you had asked me 20 years ago, what would your ideal job be? It would be, I just want to come up with ideas. I just want to solve issues and problems and make things better, improve things. And that's to me a lot of what instructional design is. Here's our problem. Let's take a good look at it. Let's do some research on it, figure out how this is happening now and how it can be improved, where those pieces of improvement can happen. Maybe they can't. Maybe this is as good as it gets. But as part of that investigative kind of issue that I like, trying to solve the problem, trying to get to the bottom of it, trying to figure out what would in fact make it better.

REBECCA:

Because you talk, you we're talking about instructional design being problem solvers. And I'm just curious, what are some of the solutions or the types of solutions?

JEAN:

A lot of the problem solving piece that I see is we have an objective, a company objective or an institutional objective, and we're not quite meeting it. So how do we meet that objective, given the current resources we have, given the information that we want to be distributed or channeled down to everybody in the company? When the company is large enough, you may have senior leaders who have an idea of what they want to have happen, and you want to make sure that translates to the people who actually have to do the job. I think a lot of what we end up doing is developing training initiatives that address those needs, whatever they are, whatever learning a new software program, learning it can be that simple. Learning how to how to handle customers who might be difficult. How do you ,how do you handle something where a situation escalates and something needs to be resolved for the customer's benefit and for our benefit as well? And the training that we deliver can just be very varied. It can be a straightforward compliance, things that we need people to do exactly the way we teach them. It can be more soft skills. So leadership skills, management skills, all of our managers go through training programs that help them learn how to lead people, learn how to develop their people, how to help them grow, how to help them become better at their role and hopefully become future leaders. So mentorship programs, inclusion and diversity is a big topic for us right now and developing programs in-house that help teams become more inclusive, more diverse, more innovative. The range of skill sets that we offer is pretty varied from from very straightforward compliance to much more about leadership, innovation, development and growth of our teams. Yeah, it can be very interesting.

REBECCA:

What kind of projects do you find fun?

JEAN:

I find almost all projects fun and the reason I do is because there's something that needs to be created and there's something that needs design and creation and sometimes innovation, which I love. The more you tell me something can't be done, the more I want to find a way to do it. So any challenge that says we've been struggling with this particular issue or this particular topic or this particular training, we don't seem to be hitting our mark. How can we make it better? That's interesting to me. So if I have a goal of improving something, that's all I need. For the most part, any project can be appealing to me. I like variety. I often tell my supervisors I can't do the same thing over and over and over again. You have to give me variety, even if it means I'm working ten times harder. I like variety.

REBECCA:

Yeah, I'm the same way. I can't teach the same thing too many times.

JEAN:

No, I've got to find a new way to deliver it.

REBECCA:

Even if you find a way to do it. Exactly. Do it a little differently every time when students first start out, one of the bits of advice we often give is to find your niche. How would you describe your niche in instructional design?

JEAN:

Honestly, I think my niche is delivery, which is interesting because in some ways because a lot of instructional designers may never deliver the content that they develop. But part of the benefit of being involved with this team of designers and developers as the person who delivers it, is that I get that feedback from the learners. So we do create web based training. I don't have any, I don't necessarily deliver or or I'm not the person who does the video script, but when I deliver in-person content. So we do it virtually I have to measure whether or not the learning is hitting the mark. So I have to try to determine, are our learners actually learning the objectives? Are they able to apply what they're learning when they go back out and start working? And I think one of the interesting parts of that role is that I can provide that feedback to the actual learning managers or the instructional designers. Hey, we're not quite hitting it on this particular objective. We're doing great on these two or three, but this one doesn't seem to resonate. We need to fine tune it a little bit. It's almost you have the design, the development, the delivery. If the delivery isn't hitting its mark, then all of the work that led up to it isn't going to be successful. So it's kind of fun to circle back at the end, debrief a little. Are we, did we actually deliver what we hoped to deliver? Did we actually deliver content that our teams or individuals are going to be able to apply and use in the way that we had hoped that it would? And so I think my niche is providing that feedback now. I can now look at content that's coming my way, and if I understand the audience and who the audience is and what their perceptions are, I can look at content before we even begin to deliver it and be able to say, I think we're going to need to fine tune this area a little bit more to reach this audience. And so it's an interesting spot to be in. It's fun, and I have a fantastic team that welcomes that kind of feedback.

REBECCA:

How do you determine whether it's reached the mark?

JEAN:

Lots of challenges in that. It's like the final assessment piece. The assessment can be a challenge for instructional design and in the virtual delivery we do have interactions, we have engagements, we have people come on audio, we have people come, we use a chat pod, texting, we use polls, we use sometimes we do a debrief at the end where we'll ask several questions related to the content, but then they have to go out into the workforce and apply what they've learned, and that can be a lot more challenging. We do have, depending upon the initiative, we could have metrics that we measure, reports that we can measure and check to see did we reach our goal. But sometimes it's a little more elusive for the soft skill set. With leadership, that's a lot harder to determine. Did our managers implement the soft skills we taught them to be strong leaders? That's a little more challenging. So not always measurable. I would say when it is that feedback is important and when it's harder to measure, it becomes much greater challenge to see if it hit its it if hit its mark. So not an easy answer on that one.

REBECCA:

What are the biggest challenges you face. It's cliche,

JEAN:

But it's resources and it's resources of time. People, things you have to purchase goods or services, whether you have to purchase an application or a software application, or you have to change the way you deliver it. Maybe Adobe Connect stops working for us the way we need to and we need another software program, but that's on a large scale for us when we have a company our size. So that becomes an event in itself to research software and decide which one is going to appeal and which one is going to suit your needs across the entire company. So it's definitely resources to make time for your training team. As I mentioned, we have a number of initiatives coming out in the next several months and we're going to be tapped that we're all going to have a lot on our plate to be able to deliver this in the timeframe that we've promised the stakeholders. So resources is definitely the biggest challenge to me.

REBECCA:

You've mentioned a couple of times. Can you tell us a little bit about the size of your company and the size of your training and development organization?

JEAN:

The company is around 24,000, 25,000 employees. That's probably two thirds part timers and a third full time perhaps. And different languages, different countries, different languages to some extent. A lot of French speaking in Canada, the U.S. and then Puerto Rico and Hispania and our training and development team. I actually don't know the number, but it's small. I would say it's under 100 and it might be under 50. I'm actually not sure who we would include in all of that training development. As far as individuals writing content, I think that's around ten or under. And then we have people who are specialized in the video production and we have people who specialize in the design of the web based training pieces as well. And then we have a team of about 8 to 10 that do the virtual delivery and also we do some in-person training as well. So there are some topics where we actually go on site and deliver that content. That's not my role right now, but my department does that as well.

REBECCA:

What you call small, a lot of people would say is huge. Yeah.

JEAN:

Yeah. But I think about all we do in a year, I'm like, Wow, this is not a really large team and I don't think it's 100 unless we fall into the Department of Human Resources. And so that department grows exponentially. And thinking about the individuals who actually are involved in creating content, it's probably in the 50 range is what I would guess. So that does sound bigger. Yeah.

REBECCA:

What skills do you find most useful in your work?

JEAN:

There are Soft skills, oddly, but optimism. The optimism that you can solve a problem or help a client or help a stakeholder get what they need. I think patience is very important and as is multitasking. Sometimes you can start down a path on one project and it gets stuck. For whatever reason. You need to hear back from a stakeholder or you need to do a little more research on a specific area, or you need some help or guidance with something. So you pause on that one and you move on with another one. And so there's there is a lot of multitasking. You absolutely have to be organized. There is a great deal of organization. UMass in their program offers a project management class. And I think it's really important that you do often become the project manager. You're not just creating content. You are in charge of the timeframe and the schedule and the meetings and getting those subject matter experts involved so that your content is accurate. So there's a lot of organizational abilities that you need or you need to be organized, you need to be structured, you need to be able to multitask. You need patience and understanding. And a little bit of optimism is a very good idea.

REBECCA:

I love the optimism. I think that's great. What did you wish you knew or learned sooner?

JEAN:

It's some of the things I still wish I knew more about. It goes back to thinking that instructional design was much more about design than it necessarily is. It's so much more to me now about understanding an issue from a broad perspective and from multiple perspectives, and being able to narrow down the parts that matter so that you can focus on what will actually support the end result. I don't know how to describe that. Well, except that it's much broader it's a much broader topic than I ever would have imagined. It has so many moving parts, the project management, the design, the development, the initial research, the ability to interview stakeholders and actually get to the bottom of what you need to know. The ability to reach out to subject matter experts and gain an understanding of a topic that maybe you've never even thought about before. So you might be charged with creating content for something that you've never had any experience with. You have to get to the point of knowing it well enough to be able to create the content. That can be a challenge, so you have to be able to ask the right questions. You have to be able to do some research on your own. You have to know when you, when things aren't making sense. And sometimes that's a challenge. It's much broader a range of skills and abilities than I would have imagined when I first began.

REBECCA:

What advice would you give to new instructional designers?

JEAN:

Ask a lot of questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't make any assumptions. So I've even been guilty of this myself, where I have enough experience. I've been with the company 20 years where I think I know the answer to a question related to a topic. And when I actually ask the question, I discover I really didn't have any idea what the answer was. So it's don't assume, don't make assumptions, ask questions, be willing to reach out to people. Don't be afraid to to ask more questions, to get to dig a little bit deeper when you need to. Find a mentor. If you can find a mentor, someone who is willing to support you and give you some guidance, I prefer with the content that I've written, at least initially when I was starting out to have someone who has more experience, just take a look at it. Am I missing something? Am I Is there something in this content that could be better? Is there a way to deliver this that could be better or create this that could be better? And I often got great feedback from several instructional designers on how to make improvements. The beauty of instructional design is you can solve a problem in 50 different ways. So getting other opinions about how they might do it sets off that creativity and helps you helps guide you to making a better product. I think.

REBECCA:

I have one last question I like to ask everybody, and that's what's your prediction for the future of instructional design?

JEAN:

The interesting thing and I think that in some regards, the pandemic in 2020 and the shift to remote learning and to remote working and everything related to remote life with COVID gave me some opportunity to think about instructional design and one thing and your podcast as well. When you spoke about the fact that you use some instructional design strategy with your Treehouse Village marketing, and it has made me think about the incredible number of areas in which instructional design skills apply or instructional design principles can be applied. And honestly, it's everywhere. It's honestly everywhere. People think of it as just training or education or academics, but it's in marketing and advertising. You're trying to convince someone, trying to give someone enough of knowledge about something, to convince them to go out and purchase something. So it's marketing and advertising. It's regular, straightforward training and development. I can see it in almost everything I look at. I see some measure of instructional design. It's like when you buy a new car and then everybody's driving that same car also, and you see it everywhere now with some knowledge and instructional design. I see it. I literally see it everywhere. I see it on the airplane when you're flying in the airplane and they played a little video about how to be safe on the plane and how to get off the plane. That's got instructional design elements. And I literally see it in so many capacities and I think it's just going to continue to expand. I think it's a it's an exceptionally good period of time to be considering instructional design as a career, lots of opportunity. The remote work means you could work for anybody practically and anywhere and from anywhere. And so there's just a wealth of opportunity in the field, in my opinion, and I think that's going to continue to grow.

REBECCA:

Excellent. Thank you very much, Jean, for sharing your insights with us.

JEAN:

You're welcome. Glad to be here with you today and to catch up after so long a period of time.

REBECCA:

You've been listening to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. Show notes are posted as a blog post on Demystifying Instructional Design dot com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post.