Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

This is a basic outline of how to create a training program for people without a formal instructional design background.

I’m active in the instructional design subreddit (/r/instructionaldesign). Someone without an instructional design background posted this question about how to design training for volunteers.

Simple background is that I work for a large church with multiple campuses and an extensive volunteer base. Over the years as technology has developed, especially in the production realm, it’s become more and more difficult to adequately bring volunteers up to speed. Most of the roles in the production side are “volunteer” versions of professional jobs and while people espouse the love of volunteering, they also expect professional results.

My job, as one of a handful of professionals serving in staff (production systems engineer), the task lies with me to train the volunteers (and other staff) in how to get the best results. We have very sophisticated audio, video and lighting systems, so the ability to produce good results ends up in the hands of the volunteers each weekend.

We have recently begun a process of organizing the training tasks for the whole church in a way we can efficiently deliver it across time and distance, in hopes we can bring our knowledge base up to meet the challenges of continuing to grow and launch new churches.

I’m going to parse through all the links I can find on this sub, but if you have any specific resources or advise, I’d appreciate any help you might offer.

TL;DR Volunteers need to be trained and I’m the technical guy so they’re all looking to me to organize the process.

-sosaudio at
Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

Backwards Design

In this situation, here’s a basic outline of what I’d do. (Note that my limited understanding of the tasks means my examples may not be 100% accurate.) This process is partly based on “backwards design”: figure out your end goal first, then work backwards to get there.

The Design Process

  1. Task List: Identify all the tasks that need to be done in detail. Not just “audio,” but a list of the subtasks within that. The more detailed you are with the goals, the easier the rest of this process will be.
  2. Learn With Support, Not Practice: Once you have your list, look at which things are tasks people can reasonably be expected to do without practice. Those tasks are ones where your focus should be on providing documentation and checklists to help them remember. This is especially true for things people will only do a few times a year (which may be most of them, if volunteers aren’t doing it every week.) This list will hopefully be pretty long, so you’re mostly focusing on writing up clear checklists of procedures. That’s initially time consuming, but in the long run it will be more efficient because you can reuse your documentation over and over.
  3. Learn With Practice: Looking at that list of tasks, which ones are things people will have to practice in order to get them right? Those are the ones where you should focus on training.
  4. Practice Activities: How can you have people practice those tasks, maybe in multiple ways?
    • Maybe you give them a paper handout with the sound board and ask them to physically touch or mark what they should adjust for different situations.
    • Maybe you have them listen to sound with something adjusted incorrectly and have them try to figure out what’s wrong.
    • Maybe you have them adjust the sound board and see what changes. Think about a couple of ways you can do it.
      Note that of my examples above, #1 and #2 can be done by a whole group of people at the same time, rather than each person getting a chance at the sound board. They probably need that eventually, but try to be creative about things you can do to train multiple people at once to be more efficient with your time.
  5. Information: Now that you have a plan for practice exercises, figure out what information they need to be able to do those practice activities. If they are troubleshooting what’s wrong by listening to audio, then they need to know the channels and knobs and what they do. They need some basic terminology so they can understand what you’re talking about. You can probably find some of this content online, although you’ll probably have to adapt it for what is most important.
  6. Organize: Organize the content in terms of tasks rather than functions. That is, don’t try to just tell them what everything on the sound board does from left to right. Tell them: This is how you set it up for a normal Sunday morning service. This is how you adjust it for special music etc.
  7. Pilot: Try out your training with a small group of volunteers. Ask them what went well and what was still confusing. Determine if you met your goals. Adjust your training for the next round based on that feedback.
  8. Follow up: You may discover that you need some follow up or refresher training. Maybe the initial training should only focus on the normal Sunday morning service, but you have later training for special events or musicians or the annual Christmas pageant.

Apply This Process

While this example is specific to a particular situation, this basic process can be applied to many situations. This is obviously simplified, and more could be done. I don’t have much here for feedback and evaluation, for example.

This process works though, and it’s probably good enough to get started. When I asked the original poster for permission to use his question in a blog post, he replied,

Absolutely! The information you gave me has been monumental in getting this project rolling. I’m sure lots of others will be helped with your post.


10 thoughts on “Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

  1. Hi,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I can say I have similar experiences providing technical training to to volunteers, especially in a church. I worked for a church for 3 years as a Media Manager and I can guess the issues you may have encountered. It is not easy to break anything technical down to people who do not do it professionally. Your job aid was done well and was easy to understand. Good job!

    1. Thanks! I haven’t actually had to deliver this training myself, but I have been one of the volunteers to set up the sound system at my church. Our system is simpler than what the original poster with the question asked about, but it gave me enough to guess at the kinds of practice activities that would be useful.

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