Friday, August 14, 2015

Instructional Designers and Product Managers – Traversing The Common Trail

I have been working as a Product Manager with Raptivity for the last 5 years. It has been an amazing journey till now. My favourite moments of this journey have been whenever I have talked to any of our customers and seen how they used Raptivity, how they visualized the product to be used, how they mapped hundreds of Raptivity interactions into various phases of eLearning course development and so on.

As I think about thousands of these conversations that I have had over the years with instructional designers and course creators, I thought I could easily map some similarities between a product manager’s job profile and an instructional designer or even a course creator’s job profile. Here are a few things I could recommend to every budding instructional designer that they could learn from a product manager or vice versa.

1)    Have a long term vision
A product manager constantly focuses on the product’s core ideology and the direction in which it has to be developed. A product cannot be built with one feature. Neither can Product Managers  focus on only the features being developed at that moment and get busy with it.

Similarly, an ID should focus on the long term learning goal rather than just one course or module. Behaviour of learners cannot be changed in just one course. It takes consistent efforts and the vision to get the desired behaviour changes in a learner. If an ID has that vision in mind as he/she develops courses, the vision will be a reality

2)    Product idea itself should solve some problem for the customer
Before getting into product development, a product manager’s key responsibility is to verify if the product idea is just a cool innovative idea or if it really solves a problem. Understanding the problem being solved creates a huge positive difference in later stages of product development, product marketing, and sales.

Similarly, an ID needs to understand the problem that a particular course would solve. Understanding the pain points of learners assists in designing the right course material and helps in attracting the learners to the course; as the course addresses a key problem they are facing.

3)    Understand your customers
A question: “Who is your Customer?” is the most commonly asked question to a product manager. Unless you know whom are you addressing, you cannot design a product. Not only who, but also “Where is your customer” helps in designing the product. Answers to these questions are critical as one starts converting a product idea into reality.

Similarly, an ID should know which learners are they targeting and where are they located. This helps in connecting at an emotional level with the learners. The age group they belong to, the lingo they use, the images they prefer, the accent they understand, and many more course design elements can be thought through before even beginning with the course development.

4)    Product design makes a huge difference
A product manager always starts with product design first before getting into developing the product. Product visualization and how it functions is the key not only in faster development with minimum reworks, but designing a user friendly product.

Similarly, an ID with a visualization of the course, the interactions it would have, the experience a learner would have while interacting with the course, is the key for  successful course development. An ID should have a clear visualization of every small thing like the labels to use, font size and style, color combinations to use, places where help would be needed, etc. In addition, if mLearning is being considered, then the devices the learners would use to take the course would be key design considerations before getting into the actual course development.

5)    Innovative ways to engage your customer
If a product manager is successful in designing a product that engages the users, s(he) has won the battle of keeping customers engaged. For example, updating product tutorials, sharing product key updates, access to blogs and community, tips and tricks, etc. from the product are the key elements to engage the customers’ right at the place where they need it.
Similarly, an ID needs to constantly think of finding new and different ways to engage the learners. Presenting content in the old fashioned page turner style with a next-previous button would not motivate the learners to take the course. If one can use different ways of presenting content like games, 3D worlds, character based simulations, case studies, etc., they would engage learners and want them to come back for more.

6)    User validation at early stages
A product manager runs a beta user group where certain selected customers get access to the product being developed at regular stages. These customers try and test the product and share feedback with the product manager. It helps in designing the product correctly for the entire user community before it is released publicly.

If an ID could get the course tested with some selected learners to get their inputs, it would make a huge difference on what the final course would look like. These could be the same people whom the ID interviewed to understand their pain points (step #4). Involving learners in the course design could be an innovative step an ID can take and see the changes in the end result. These learners could also champion those courses making the entire initiative a success.

These are some co-relations I could suggest as a product manager. Do you have any other thoughts? Please feel free to share those in the comments below.