Why and how every instructional designer should include “performance notes” for virtual classroom courses

Think about how written music works. Looking at something on a piece of paper is a FAR cry from real music, right? So what do composers and arrangers do?

They include a myriad of annotations that give a musician looking at the sheet music direction on volume and tempo and repeats and mood and on and on.

And instructional designers should take note (pun fully intended).

Unlike a lot of training content, a virtual class is live

This means that the strength of the facilitator’s performance can help — or hurt — attention and cognition. A story told by a storyteller isn’t just about the story, right? It’s also about delivery.

Unfortunately most training courses are heavy on cognitive and light on affective, and what’s delivered most of the time by instructional designers is heavy on content and light (non-existent?) on guides for how the content should be delivered and the feelings learners should be experiencing.

Unlike music, there are no standardized performance notes for live training content

And while we’re at it, we might as well call out that instructional design processes are all about process and content, too, right?

The good news is that instructional designers are a diligent bunch. You are just going to have to invent a way of annotating the work that works for you. And by the way, this may start with — but should not end with — PowerPoint presenter notes. If the only thing you’re delivering to trainers is PowerPoint, keep working.

Start with the affective (emotional) first

Given that we’ve two important sides to the brain and a lot of training content is one-sided, I’d start with adding in ideas for improving affective impact.

Example: Perhaps one point in the content is about the dire consequences of a mistake that is to be avoided. Saying a few words is one thing. It’s another to

  • allow time for the learners to reflect on or personalize that impact
  • ask for learners to generate their own answers instead of giving them one
  • deepen that reflection by spending the time to ask more questions. “Why is that important?” “Tell me more?” “Who else would be impacted and how?”

You get the idea.

Add in notes about pace, pause, and phrasing

Speakers, storytellers, and musicians all use variance as a means of getting and keeping attention and improving retention.

Not every slide or exercise has to have the same duration. What if one part of a slide deck had a series of visuals that went by quickly as part of a story? Then perhaps you pause for an interaction for application, discussion, reflection?

Again, you’re making it up, but a few notes go a long way.

Leave room for the “performer” to interpret

It’s possible to overdo it. There’s no magic way to figure this out…it might be that you do or don’t know the facilitator(s) who will be delivering your stuff, it might be an adjustment or suggestion based on culture, and on and on.

Keeping with the other performance analogies, though, actors and musicians both take cues from scripts and directors and sheet music and bring something of their own to the table.

Great trainers and facilitators will do the same. Ones that aren’t so great, well, won’t. Different problem to solve.

The bottom line

There’s a huge opportunity in the world of learning and development to positively impact people’s lives. Add to this that an awesome and engaged facilitator and add a multiplier effect of that leaves learners wanting to go conquer the world.

You’re smart. Go forth, be a leader, and rock it.


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