A conversation with Harvard Business School Lead Instructional Designer, Andy Hyde.
If you were to ask 100 instructional designers what they perceive their key strength to be, you’d probably walk away with nearly as many different answers.
Some may tell you that they have backgrounds in documentary filmmaking and are especially strong at shooting and editing high-quality instructional videos.
Others may tell you that they have backgrounds in IT and are strongest at navigating the myriad hardware/software concerns inherent in online learning.
And still others may tell you that they possess little technological know-how, but instead are best on the pedagogical side, helping content experts express their ideas effectively in an online format.
Whatever an instructional designer’s strengths may be, there is nevertheless one common skill shared by most instructional designers: project management.
I recently spoke to Andy Hyde, a recent HGSE alum (TIE program) and Instructional Designer for Harvard Business School. Andy and his department provide instructional support to the entire school, including HBS’s MBA, Doctoral, and Executive Education programs. For these programs, Andy is largely responsible for the development, implementation, and analysis of the various learning technologies these programs utilize.
Having recently finished a tutorial on macroeconomics, Andy took a few moments to share his experiences as an HGSE student and to discuss the extent to which he relies on his project management skills in his day-to-day work.
Designing a course? Start by designing your time.
When making the transition from HGSE to HBS, Andy was surprised by the extent to which he had to balance competing priorities and tasks.
“Instructional design work is mostly project management,” Andy says.
Andy explains that HGSE gave him but a small glimpse of this fact. “As a student at HGSE, you mostly work on your own projects. You’re doing the design work. You’re doing the implementation. You’re pushing the project online.”
But in the “real world,” most instructional designers have to work with multiple team members, numerous departments, and balance their projects between competing organizational priorities.
“You really have to be next-level organized.”
To Andy’s aid were a number of project management software tools, including an internal tool, ServiceNow, as well as OmniFocus, which he acquired on his own in order to more closely track each project’s phases and deadlines. (Relatedly, several other instructional designers with whom I recently spoke mentioned the followings apps as worthy project management tools: Basecamp, Zoho, and Wrike.)
Andy also said that faithfully documenting progress was especially helpful given that he would frequently have to switch back-and-forth between many different projects. “Staying mindful of key considerations and committing them to paper [rather than memory] provides you with a way back into projects once you have set them aside for days or weeks.”
A major part of project management involves communication. That is, when interfacing with different departments, how do you phrase your concerns in such a way that they become a priority to all.
“I have to write a lot of project proposals and I have found that applying principles of UDL helps.”
Developed by HGSE Professor David H. Rose, UDL (or universal design for learning,) is an educational framework that helps teachers accommodate individual learning styles and variations. UDL does this by encouraging curriculum developers to present information in different ways, to differentiate the way in which students can demonstrate knowledge, and to stimulate interest in and motivation for learning.
Andy says that incorporating UDL into his proposals ensures that his projects accommodate a wide range of individual learning differences—something that those reading his proposals have been sure to take note of.
As a part of managing projects, Andy also finds himself delegating tasks to fellow colleagues, as well as interns from the greater Boston area. Given that those doing course development often come from vary different backgrounds and have very different skillsets, Andy has found that the task of delegation is not always an easy one.
Andy says delegation is difficult because it often requires a lot of his time up-front. “It takes a lot of initial meetings and conversations and often feels like you could do the task faster yourself,” Andy says. But those willing to make this initial investiture usually see the payoff in the end. “Teaching others about your work almost always pays off in the long run.”
Andy also explains that delegation is an ongoing process. “ Just because I have done the initial handoff doesn’t mean I am finished. I need to constantly check in with my co-workers, interns and stakeholders to make sure that everything is on track, and correct early if it looks like we are going to miss a deadline.”
Instructional design is many different things to many different people. But as straightforward or as varied as an instructional designer’s tasks may be, Andy Hyde helps to remind the budding instructional designer that much of his/her job is project management. Managing your time, communicating with peers, and delegating tasks are essential instructional design skills.
“And making Gantt charts,” Andy jokes. “There are a lot of Gannt charts.”