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Ask the Experts: Dr Luke Hobson

Luke Hobson is a learning specialist currently leading as senior designer and program manager for MIT. Added to this he is a university lecturer in instructional design, an author with a hit book (and audiobook), a podcast, website, channel and training institute for new designers!

It's great to have you here in season 2 Luke. Learning Nerds unite!

1 – Professor, author, YouTube learning leader and prolific podcaster, you have definitely impacted the industry. How did you get into learning and why have you stayed?

Eric, first thank you so much for setting up this interview! Also, thank you for all of the kind words. They really mean a lot to me.

Somehow, I have found myself in the learning space and my journey can be traced back to failing out of high school. Ironically, I hated school growing up so now being someone who talks about teaching and learning on a daily basis is still a wild concept. I say that my learning journey started in high school because after going to summer school 3 times to earn enough credits to move forwards, I transferred to a school that offered music courses. I always wanted to be a musician so seeing that something I would learn in school would actually help me in the real-world was a revelation. Fast forward to when I attended college and I had a great working relationship with my academic advisor. I thought it was such a unique opportunity to be able to coach students on their goals and studies. I decided to apply for an academic advisor position after I graduated and that’s when I fell in love with higher education.

It was during this time that I was networking with every person who worked at the university because I was so curious on what all of these non-traditional jobs were. That’s when I met an instructional designer. “What the heck is instructional design?” is what I asked him. That’s when he explained about how someone had to design the learning experiences my students were going through and that was his job. After that, I knew I wanted to become an instructional designer. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with the field and that passion has motivated me to want to do as much as I can for our community and our space. Since starting the blog, podcast, YouTube channel, and everything else, it has been so rewarding helping others to find their own voice in the instructional design field.

2 – Your book ‘What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Instructional Designer’ is a smash hit and a great introduction for newcomers to the field. What do you often find is the most difficult thing for newbies to deal with?

Thank you! The most difficult thing by far is where to start. There are so many books, videos, articles, courses, and resources about instructional design. Everyone has their own perspectives and opinions about where to begin, but what’s so challenging is that our field has significantly evolved over the last several years. The same advice on how to become an ID years ago may not apply. You’ll often hear from folks about how they accidentally became IDs. That’s changed now with so many people purposefully trying to transition into this space. I found a million resources about instructional design models and theories, but I really didn’t see a career guidance kind of resource.

After having the exact same conversations everyday with aspiring instructional designers, I finally decided to put all of their questions and my answers together into one resource and that became the book.

3 – In your backwards design course, you cover designing for optimal learning transfer. What’s the best example of great learning design you’ve seen in the L&D field?

The best example I can think of is Eduflow’s Instructional Design Principles for Course Creation. I was fortunate enough to be one of the facilitators when Eduflow decided to launch this course and it has been incredible to see the impact it has had in our space. We’ve had learners from all over the world take the course and I always love to read about how they have applied the teachings into their workplace or their individual journeys. What’s so fascinating about the course is also the demographics of the participants. Their experiences range so drastically from those who just heard about instructional design to those who’ve been in the field for 30 years. It has made the conversations so engaging and whenever we can bring the learners together, we always hear about how grateful they are to make new connections.

4 – Your book is now also an audiobook! That’s exciting and also not the first audio-based endeavour you’ve tackled. What place do you think audio-only learning has in the field?

So, it’s funny. I never envisioned making an audiobook. The inspiration came from my wife because she signed up for Audible and was listening to book after book. One day she was like, why isn’t your book on Audible yet? I thought about it and realized that the way I wrote the book would completely align to an Audible version. I write in the exact same way I talk so it’s not like people would be falling asleep listening to me as if I were directly reading from a textbook. I’m still shocked anyone would want to listen to me nerd out for 5 hours, but hey, that’s a thing.

I started exploring audio-only learning when I heard from participants in one of MIT xPRO’s leadership programs about how the learners wanted to be involved in the learning experience, but they didn’t have time. After conducting a few focus groups, I put together that they did have time, but this time was spent during their commute to work. So, in theory, if I could provide them with some kind of resource that could be used during that hour to work, they would take advantage of it. That’s when we launched a podcast for those learners and I was shocked when they actually listened to the episodes. After some reflection, it really shouldn’t have been shocking. Podcasts have exploded in growth over the last 10 years and the audience is primarily adults, so why wouldn’t they use this kind of resource? After this, I started to place podcasts in all of my courses and because I have my own instructional design podcast, I embedded my episodes into the courses I teach about instructional design. I always hear from learners about how much they appreciate the variety of content and modalities. The more ways we can serve our learners, the better.

5 – Besides audio learning, you also have a great selection of online courses at your Instructional Design institute. Do you believe other technologies like VR/AR/XR and machine AI (like ChatGPT) have a use in the industry?

They certainly do have a place and purpose in our space. So many other industries have thrived with technology and ours always feels like we are a step behind. To give you an example, when I was working on a VR course with a professor at MIT, he mentioned how VR provides a sense of identity and accessibility that the physical space doesn’t provide. He asked me if I ever heard of a Vtuber, and of course, my response was, “What the heck is a VTuber?” A VTuber is a virtual YouTuber. Think of a person creating videos, but instead of themselves on camera, they have an avatar do the talking. This allows those who do not want to be seen on camera to create videos and they strongly identify with how their character looks and acts.

Gen Z has seen to wholeheartedly adopt VTubers with some of the more popular channels having millions of subscribers. So, if this is the case, why are we still telling students that they need to turn on their cameras during Zoom sessions? There are plenty of valid reasons why students don’t want to do this, and I know of plenty of employees who also prefer to not turn their cameras on. Why not give them options to use lifelike avatars instead to allow them to participate? We can empower students in whole new ways with VR and XR and I’m so excited about this.

In regards to ChatGPT, how much time do we have? I feel like it’s all we talk about nowadays, but for a good reason. For educators, ChatGPT can become your new personal assistant. I’ve seen it helped with creating objectives, syllabi, rubrics, assignments, and more. To me, this is a kickstarter when you need a boost of creativity. Of course, at the timing of this interview, GPT4 just launched and this could add drastically change how we use AI.

6 – Discussion online has also focused on the debate between engagement vs learning vs performance. Which of these should we be focusing on when we design?

There will always be debates like this and it’s all silly to me. If you are designing a learning experience, wouldn’t you be focused on making sure it’s engaging, that learning is truly taking place, and that it serves the purpose of helping someone to perform better? I do appreciate the conversation around these debates though.

To consider all possibilities, you need to have everything in place and that’s where folks seem to get stuck. You need to clearly define what the purpose is for the learners and know how your learning experience will help them. Their thoughts, considerations, and past experiences should be applied into the design to make them feel a sense of belonging and contribution. The content should be focused on the real-world to tie into how what they are learning about can be applied into the real-world. Senior level leadership should be bought into the project and open communication should be established to talk about the significance and findings. There are plenty more variables, but overall, if the project isn’t scoped accordingly and it’s designed without taking many considerations in mind, things will quickly fall apart.

7 – Buzzwords and trending learning theories are all over the net. What should we be avoiding or adopting for best practice?

We should be avoiding using something for the sake of using something. Every type of learning strategy and learning theory have their own purpose. We should be starting first with what problem we are trying to solve with training and education and then determining what’s the best path to take. Often, I’ve seen the opposite. I’ll hear that an organization so badly wanted to make gamification their identity so all they practice and preach is gamification. While gamification is all well and good, it should not be the solution to every problem. That doesn’t make sense. The same can be said for any other kind of strategy or theory. So, we should be conducting research to determine what the best solution for our problem is going to be.

8 – As the industry has moved L&D learning to fully online approaches, where do you see the role of the instructional designer in 5 years?

To me, instructional designers have 5 specialties:

  • learning

  • research

  • project management

  • technology

  • and relationship management.

As technology keeps on improving with ChatGPT and other AI, relationship management is going to be a critical focus of the 5 in the future. How we collaborate and build relationships with SMEs will be crucial to the success of our projects. It’s already significant now, but this is only going to grow.

9 – You have recently taken a new position lecturing, what can you tell us about this exciting new role?

Honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years. I absolutely love teaching and when I can teach about instructional design, it’s a match made in heaven. About a year ago, I received an interview request from a student from the University of Miami’s Ed.D. program in Applied Learning Sciences. Her project in her course was to interview an instructional designer and how they have used the ADDIE model. After speaking with her, she mentioned about how I should connect with the director of the program because we had a lot in common. After speaking with him, she was completely right, and I decided to apply to teach in the Ed.D. program.

Here I am a few months later with finishing my first semester teaching courses about designing formal learning environments and online learning environments. It has been such a pleasure to work with these students. I loved seeing the designs they came up with and to share with them more about the instructional design space.

10 – Lastly, what other advice would you offer to new designers coming into the field?

Identify your skills and strengths. Those won’t let you down. When all hope seems lost and you find yourself in a challenging state of mind, you can always reflect upon your hard work. I’ve talked with many aspiring designers who are finding that applying to positions is so mentally taxing and they’re right. It is an entire process to change fields and to learn about the field at the same time. It took me 2 years to become an instructional designer, but I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth pursuing. Don’t give up.

Keep on going!

Thank you Luke for those incredible answers, it was a pleasure hearing from you.

Please be sure to check out Luke's great audiobook on audible here.

There is also a wealth of other learning resources and information on Luke's page. Please be sure to check it out.

(Note: I do not gain any financial benefit from these links, They are solely provided for your ease of access).

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