Instructional Design: Shelly’s Overture

See also, canon.

Typically, when I share stories from Behind the Firewall, I intentionally omit names and paraphrase things, as I am not authorized to speak on behalf of my employer (Apollo Group), my opinions are my own, and so on. In this case, however, my friend Shelly Cole, an instructional designer with our Learning & Professional Development team used a metaphor so incredible I had to share it verbatim (with her permission, of course).

As you read this piece, I suggest loading up this Youtube video. You’ll be glad you did.

Why is what you’re doing over there important – to you, to everyone else?
First, just so everyone knows, I’m an instructional designer for Enterprise, so the team I’m on is the starting point for training development. As a general statement about what we do as a team, we are all passionate about improving the learning space within the organization. Personally, I pursued my degree in Curriculum and Instruction for two reasons. First, I’ve always been an advocate for education, so any way I can be involved in and improve the world of education is a deep passion of mine. Second, people often underestimate their own intelligence and abilities when they fail to learn something or can’t transfer teaching/training to doing.

I’ve worked in the learning space formally and informally for about ten years, working with people at a range of ages and abilities. My experience has taught me that often it’s the method or organization of the instruction that inhibits learning transference. In short, people are smart and capable, but when the information isn’t presented in a logical, digestible manner that supports recall and application, people fail and blame themselves. My desire is to enhance people’s self confidence by facilitating learning in a practical way.

That sums up why what I do is important to me, but why is it important to anyone else? That’s an excellent question, and one I have to answer based on some assumptions, so please excuse me for that. I’d like to answer this question by offering an analogy. I have played the violin for nearly two decades, and spent much of my youth participating in orchestras and symphonies, so I’m going to compare instructional design to music composition. I’m selecting Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as an example because it’s so recognizable to a wide audience.

If you’re listening to the 1812 Overture at a concert, on CD, or more likely from your iPod, you’ll notice that it is a brilliant composition. Complex, recognizable, harmonic, and striking with cannon fire and brass fanfare. It is a stirring piece, hence its popularity. Tchaikovsky had an incredible musical mind, with a deep understanding of rhythm, instruments, dynamics, tone, and musical theory. This is important because without this knowledge, and some talent as well, Tchaikovsky could not have produced a work that not is not only pleasing to the ear, but that stirs the hearts and emotions of those who hear it. Additionally, Tchaikovsky could not perform his work on his own. He needed a fleet of musicians and stage hands who practiced for hours on end to perfect the performance of his work. He also needed an audience to hear it. What good is music if no one listens to it? All of these elements together make up the musical experience, which hones the talents of creators and performers and enhances the lives of listeners.

Similarly, learning facilitation involves composers – instructional designers in this analogy – to use their talents and skills to provide performers (facilitators) with the compositions that touch the learning audience. Anyone involved in deploying training knows there is a fleet of people involved in logistics, scheduling, planning, reviewing, and delivering learning experiences. We are all enriched by these experiences. In the same way we have been touch by Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the learning audience can be touched by the experiences we provide them.

I am a violinist because I love music, and an instructional designer because I love learning, but what I take from participating in those experiences is a sense that a group of people can work for the greater good of others. That’s why what we do is so beautiful. Most learners never know who I am. All they know is they can do their jobs better. We don’t get public recognition for what we do, yet I’ve never been happier to work so hard to improve other people’s abilities to perform.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures. Thank you, Shelly, for allowing me the privilege of sharing this with the world.


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  • Hi Scott,

    Brilliant post.  I loaded up the 1812 Overture while reading the post and you could feel exactly what she was talking about. 

    Great analogy about conducting.  Every team member has their part.  They may not always be playing the melody, but the music sure would feel empty without them. 

    Will be back again in the future.



  •  Agreed, completely. It would seem, then, the music is more than the sum of its parts. Only when all the pieces are present (and in harmony) is the whole realized.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it!

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