Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Podcasts that can make you a better instructional designer

You know how when you're early in your career you'll be willing to do just about anything to get your foot in the door? Well, that's how it was for me and my first full-time instructional design role... and the "anything" in this case was a repulsively long commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic every day.

I won't lie, the hours in the car were all sorts of stressful and unpleasant, but there was one plus side to it: I finally started listening to podcasts. Sure, before this job I had understood that podcasts were a thing and had even poked at them with a stick once or twice, but I hadn't really bonded with any. Hours and hours in the car, though, gave me a great excuse to try out a bunch and finally find some I loved.

The podcasts kept me entertained, but (and this is possibly because I skew towards non-fiction in my choices) they also taught me a lot about how to convey content in a fascinating way. It might seem like an unusual source of inspiration, but they definitely influenced the way I design training. If you haven't gotten into podcasts or if you're looking for some new ones to try out, here are the ones that I've found have helped me out the most as an ID.

Podcast: 99% Invisible
Listen to it to learn how to: make ANY content interesting, leverage storytelling to convey information, get excited about design
That this podcast on the design of everyday things is my all-time favourite should surprise nobody at all (a big thanks to @marklearns for suggesting I try this one out)! The topics of each episode can range from things as bizarre as the carpet in the Portland airport, buildings that started out as Pizza Huts, or those strange "dancing" inflatable creatures you sometimes see at car dealerships, but when it comes to the content it's always solidly based in finding the fascinating story behind a design. This podcast has given me a lot of ideas of how to use storytelling to make my content more interesting, but it's also been helpful just as a simple boost to my creativity levels.

Podcast: Stuff series
Listen to it to learn how to: talk about content in a way that's exciting to your audience, explain concepts in a simple way that newbies can wrap their heads around (without making them feel you're dumbing it down too much), make things interesting that could easily be boring  
This is actually a family of podcasts from the How Stuff Works website. Each series covers a specific subject (like history, tech, and science), but is structured basically the same way: the (usually two) podcast hosts use each episode to get you up-to-speed on one specific topic. In the hands of a lot of people, this could end up being a snoozefest of a content dump, but the Stuff hosts are amazing at talking about content in a conversational, chatty way that makes you feel like a friend is catching you up on a topic over coffee. They're also generally quite good at pacing the content for the audience (you won't find it goes over your head or is too easy) and knowing what they can leave out to make things go faster. It's been a great inspiration for how to write training content that's effective and interesting.

Which one should you start with? While I personally have a soft spot for Stuff To Blow Your Mind because once they used Katamari Damacy to explain accretion, you're pretty safe just looking for the show topic you like best and starting there.

Podcast: Snap Judgment
Listen to it to learn how to: talk about content in a way that's exciting to your audience, leverage storytelling to convey information, explain your content concisely 
There is one simple thing that links all the content in this podcast together: great storytelling. Every episode has a loose theme, like Unrequited (the opening story of this ep is a personal fav), The Return, and The B-Team, and features a collection of stories, often non-fiction, from a variety of speakers that all in one way or another connect back to that theme. The storytelling in this podcast is some of the best you'll find and you'll be astounded at just how much ground they can cover in just a few minutes. I think storytelling is one of the most important parts of the work we do, so I love this podcast as a source for a wide variety of examples of how to do this right.

Podcast: Welcome to Night Vale
Listen to it to learn how to: design for your audience, think about the long game of conveying information, putting fun in your content 
If you know anything about podcasts then you've probably already heard about this one. Night Vale is one of the most downloaded podcasts these days, which you wouldn't really expect from a show that's pretty much Lake Wobegone by way of The X-Files (with a healthy dash of Eureka in there for flavour). So it's really entertaining if that's your cup of tea (note: it is totally my cup of tea), but what does a silly and bizarre show like this have to tell you about creating great training? Plenty.

First, Night Vale knows who its audience is and is written in a way that appeals to that group. Because of this it's not the kind of show that's right for everyone, and it's better because of that. It's a perfect example of how much more effective something can be when it targets a specific audience. Also, it does a great job of long game storytelling. It plants threads of stories here and there for episode after episode, and sometimes these threads don't pay off for months... but when they do it's so much fun to see how everything eventually comes together. This is a great technique to use to make your simulations feel more real or to help content spread over a lot of lessons feel like it's meaningfully connected. Plus, Night Vale is an excellent reminder that humor is a great way to catch and keep attention (writers of dry technical or legal training: take note!).

So those are my four favorites of the moment, but I'd love to hear more about the podcasts you find inspire your work (or just inspire you to think your commute is a bit more bearable). Be sure to put your favs in the comments below!

No comments:

Post a Comment