Raw Content

One of the biggest challenges that exists as an Instructional Designer is the concept that information does not equal the learning materials. So often we get a powerpoint deck with bullets, a written list, or a manual and we are told that everything is there, just go ahead and put it into a tool. Maybe we are also told to “pretty it up” or add media but the message is clear. It is not necessary to change or adjust our raw content.


Think if you were building a house, don’t the raw materials that you need to build the house need to change, be put together, and morph into something else in order to become a house? You can’t just put some wood, drywall and lights together in a pile (even if you arranged it nicely and painted it) and call it a house. If this happens, I am pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to do much more than look at it.

Same is true for learning solutions. There is more to it than just putting some materials together and making it look nice. There are several layers of transformation that your content needs to go through in order to become a learning experience that will move the needle in your organization.

Don’t misunderstand – the raw content and the subject matter expert’s expertise is invaluable to the process. We need it to determine the details and complexities that exist around the topics. However, we are there to put it together in a way that helps other’s learn and practice what they need to get to an expert state.

Before we spend too much time with the various textbooks, manuals, presentation slides, and documents, we first want to look at what the overall outcomes are that we are trying to achieve. These need to be action-focused. What should the learner be able to DO as a result of the training? (not KNOW).


By the way, especially today people have access to more information than they can possibly consume. No one will tell you they need more information – what they need are actionable ways to practice and apply the information that they have into meaningful ways so they can see why the information is important.


  1. Start by mapping the first activity a learner needs to be able to do to reach the first outcome.
  2. Prototype that activity and then add feedback AND information that they may need to complete that activity. (Don’t be surprised if this is hard for some people– just keep going)
  3. Play with the prototype for awhile and see if you can simplify it even more.
  4. Go to next activity and so on down the line until you have designed an activity for each outcome.

Working with Subject Matter Experts

Here is the deal. Think about something that you are an expert in. Can you remember what it was like before you knew that particular expertise? No way. You know too much.

This is how our subject matter experts feel everyday. So it isn’t their fault when they have someone telling them to put together a powerpoint deck to teach a new learner about their expertise. They will typically start with a lengthy history of whatever it is that they are an expert on, lots of detail and then a whole batch of scenarios of things that have happened for them to become the expert. (sometimes small corrections, etc).

I believe that if you were to work with a subject matter expert, they wouldn’t say that their deck should be the end all be all of the training. However, many practitioners take that and just use it — maybe they add images, audio or other media but the course ends up being a linear content focused informational session that someone could have just gotten in a one page pdf.

So our job becomes important as we add Instructional Elements to it (outlines, objectives, scenarios, content grids, and Interactive Elements to it (Contexts, Challenges, Practice Activities and Feedback). Then it is looking at how to make it a cohesive learning experience that moves the needle. For this we need to add a motivating and emotionally charged introduction and call to action, as well as support materials and resources. Hopefully rendering the original deck unrecognizable.

The Solution

–Provide Subject Matter Experts with a storyboard template that gets the level of detail you need versus an empty powerpoint deck for them to fill.–

Most learning practitioners say, “oh yes, that is what I would love to do but…[fill in the blank].” Most of the time that answer is but I don’t have time… I would argue that if we could provide resources for SME’s to input their expertise into instead of leaving it to them to write a massive deck, we would get closer to Instructional Design utopia – making it easier for you to gain traction and make a great learning experience that moves the needle.

This storyboard template is grounded in the activity and then the SME only has to define what a learner needs to have in terms of information to complete that activity. Not the other way around. It shortens everyone’s time and expectations are set from the beginning to better align with need and experience.

Do you have a good storyboard template to share? Email it to [email protected] to post it here.