Why am I interested in Instructional Design?

Why am I interested in Instructional Design? I am trying to untangle the knot of organisational transformation and get better at helping organisations to become (and remain) high performing, effective, and healthy. I wonder whether we need new knowledge or whether we need better ways to land what we already know to be true.

I know that I need a theory of change if I am to work in organisational change. If you are a bone surgeon you need a theory of how bones grow, break, and heal. If you heal torn muscles or help people grow stronger muscles, you need a theory of how muscles work and grow and heal. If you are a brain surgeon you need a theory of which parts of the brain do what, and how you might fiddle about with them to fix them. Organisations do not have bones. Or muscles. Or a brain. Those are all metaphors.

Organisations have people, and routines, and technology. Powerful people who control organisations want profit (usually) or the efficient achievement of non-profit objectives. That tends to reward the reduction of variance, and routinisation. Because of that, I think that much of what the learning and development units in organisations do is to promote routinisation and reduce variance. L&D units do this in the pursuit of efficiency and alignment around routines and technology. Chris Hardy in 1996 (building on Weick, 1992) asked “how far do organisations and the people in them merely behave without learning?”

True learning is disruptive. Learning involves transformation. Hardy (1996) defined learning as “knowledge…created through the transformation of experience”. Nobody disputes that general idea – at least not at the individual level of analysis.

Organisations are not individuals. It seems reasonable to say that the basic unit of change in an organisation is not an individual – it is a group. Sometimes organisations need to change. Sometimes they need to change quickly and often. Change happens when groups learn, together. Change happens when people set up relationships to solve problems together. In such transformational groups people use their relationships to “share tacit knowledge… exchange ideas… engage in discussions… innovate new problem-solving routines… manage and repair the social context” (Hendry, 1996). Hendry describes “learning in an organisation (as) …socialisation.” 

The essence of Hendry’s argument is that communities of practice drive organisational transformation. Among his references were early articles co-authored by Etienne Wenger-Trayner (then just Etienne Wenger). Wenger-Trayner went on to publish (arguably) the first major or popular book on communities of practice (1998) and has not stopped writing since. For Hendry in 1996, the “top team” (C-suite, or executive team) could be an example of a community of practice in organisational transformation. 

Articles linking communities of practice and instructional design started appearing in the early 2000’s. As I work through the tangle of organisational transformation, I wonder whether it might be helpful to re-think the idea that groups are the unit of organisational change – and consider that communities of practice might be a more powerful idea. I also wonder why this idea is not institutionalised in our practice – what happened since 1996, and what have we learned?

How would an OD practitioner best facilitate and equip an organisational community of practice in a post-covid, digitally enabled world? 

What could you call them, so that they might be acceptable or exciting for organisational change stakeholders? 

Instructional design has something to say about this, I bet. 

We will be exploring this in our OD talk on 6 December 2023 – and I really hope that we can hear your experience (positive or negative) in the use of great instructional design for organisational transformation. Come along! In our chats you learn a bit, share a bit, and connect to… a community of practice! 

Look out for more information on our LinkedIn page.