An Interview with Myra Roldan
Instructional Designer at Amazon Technical Academy
Instructional designers and learning theorists have a curious relationship with each other.
IDs are from the “applied” branch of teaching and learning. They take the research insights of learning theorists and turn them into actionable materials with measurable learning outcomes.
For most of their mutual histories, these two types of professionals have largely stayed out of each other’s way, but thanks to new learning technologies, IDs are seeing first hand that the data and learning theories don’t always accord.
Barring some experimentally-supported psychological learning theories, most pedagogies are not based on empirical, scientific processes.
There’s a lot of lore and baggage that are only now being debunked. It’s not difficult to find studies tackling each of these neuromyths with only a casual visit to Google.
The new generation of learning designers are embracing the idea of data-driven design and few people understand this as well as Myra Roldan.
Working in A Data Jungle
Myra is one of the latest hires at global technology juggernaut Amazon. For the last fifteen years however, she’s largely been a free agent building a reputation as a top voice in her field and believe us, she has the awards and conference circuit badges to prove it.
Q: Tell me about your job history as a ‘nomadic instructional designer’
A: Being a digital nomad, allows me to experience different places and interact with people with different beliefs and understand their views on certain things.
A: Because we all learn differently. Having that broad exposure with people really helps me with my design
Although she appears to have put down roots at Amazon, Myra still describes her job as “somewhat nomadic in nature”, so we guess a leopard never really changes its spots!
Myra is a very result-focused learning professional. Things that work to drive performance can stay, if something is irrelevant to that goal then it must go.
This is why, one of the key processes she advocates for is the close scrutiny of existing content in an organization to identify what could be effectively repurposed to achieve the performance goals of the day.
Something she believes is a job perfect for instructional designers.
However, breaking the mold of the expected ID role has remained a key challenge over the years she’s been consulting to top-firms, such as, General Motors.
Mix and Match
The types of tools that Myra and her colleagues use to create their instructional works is quite varied.
Q: What kind of tools were you using to curate this content? What does your standard toolbox look like?
A: We always use Powerpoint to create our visual storyboards, but once we started getting into video editing it was Camtasia. But final publication is standardized to Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline.
Whatever the actual tools in use, Myra emphasizes that the central process is always one of storytelling.
Each choice of tool and the direction of the design is highly data-driven. This is a philosophy that Myra believes in so strongly, that she’s comfortable describing the LMS as a legacy system that’s only still around because if institutional inertia.
Q: What do you foresee for the future of the industry?
A: I would love to say the LMS is dead. In my heart and in my brain, the LMS is dead. However large organisations have millions invested into a system. It’s more than likely the are not going to be able to break away from that.
"It will require some smart IDs to demonstrate the value of moving towards a more open platform and integrating the use of an LRS and xAPI"
For an innovator and mold-breaker, there is no greater antagonist than tradition and the sunk-cost fallacy, but thanks to technologies such as xAPI and the LRS it’s becoming much harder to defend practices that simply don’t accord with the data.
Death to the Anecdote
“Data is not the plural of anecdote”, it’s often been said in the context of the sciences. Myra has a deep respect for data as a source of sound decisions.
Something which has been all too rare in the “soft” area of learning design. Knowing how learners are actually interacting with the learning content and where they are succeeding or failing is a non-negotiable requirement.
Q: Where else do you see the industry headed?
A: I see the value of moving towards an open platform. And integrating the use of an LRS and xAPI, I see that being a huge movement.
A: I think the more that instructional designers understand the value of xAPI, the LRS and data, the more valuable it will be.
A: I want to know how are the learners interacting with things, what are they doing, where are they stumbling.
"For me, data is king, I want numbers not anecdotes"
It’s notable however, that Myra doesn’t see herself as an LX professional, but as an instructional designer first. This ties in with that data-driven approach, where learner performance and measurements of learning are very important.
Nonetheless, she sees LX as a powerful tool to make engaging learning experiences that are retained over the long term.
Change is the Only Constant
Myra highlights the power relationship between applied learning professionals and the academics that craft learning theories.
Changes in learner performance in response to certain designs or interventions are plain to see when you have access to a wealth of live data.
This means it’s no longer unreasonable for an ID in the trenches to dispute the orthodoxy passed down from academia. Actual results and behavior matter more than anything else.
Training is meant to make a measurable difference, if it doesn’t, something needs to change.
Q: Is it fair to say that the future of LX design is flexibility? Perhaps where less people are attached to their models and more open to different ideas?
A: I think we will see instructional designers having to make that jump from being order takers.
"There are order takers and rule breakers. In order for ID’s to survive, more are going to have to become rule breakers"
You can find more of Myra's recent work in the book: Augmented!: Augment YOUR Learning Reality, available here.