What Instructional Designers and Tour Guides Have In Common

I recently visited our clients across the east and west coasts of the US, including a number of Canadian cities. In-between, I took the opportunity to take a couple of weeks off on holiday with organised tour groups.Tour bus

There was plenty of time to reflect on things as the 60-seater coach drove hundreds of miles from one city to another. It was during this time that I had a brain wave, which was a surprise considering I was not supposed to be thinking about work. What I found at the time – as I recall today – are the similarities between tour guides and instructional designers / trainers in relation to their key tasks. Now stay with me here, this is not my holiday brain speaking…!

As a competent guide, you need to be adaptable, knowledgeable, timely, organised and well-spoken. Every morning, our guide, Tom, engages with the patrons like myself with a greeting, and asks how everyone rested the night before. While the coach weaves its way out of the hotel carpark, the list of the day’s attractions is announced and explained. Before long, the coach hits the highway and half of the group falls asleep.

Now, how do the tasks a guide compare to that of an instructional designer / trainer? (For simplicity, when I mention instructional designers, I also include trainers and facilitators.) Let’s look at the similarities…

Tour guideAt the start of each course (much like at the start of each day on tour), a good instructional designer should include introductory information for the learner, including the name of the course, outline the expectations and the learning objectives. A good instructional designer will tell you that information needs to be categorised into either, ‘must haves’ or ‘nice-to-haves’. Any content that is deemded ‘nice-to-haves’ are put aside from the main content in a logical manner.

Fifteen minutes before arriving at an attraction, the patrons are woken up with a somewhat apologetic “hello” from our guide, Tom. He explains that we are not far away from our next destination, explains what we can and should see, when we need to get back onto the coach, and most importantly, where the restrooms are! Tom’s years of experience means patrons like myself are given the best opportunity at each destination to get the best seats or best vantage points. Tom makes sure he does not overwhelm patrons with too much information so he keeps other handy tips for the following attractions until it is relevant.

Like any well designed course, the amount of time a learner needs to set aside is clearly defined, and instructions are provided only at relevant points of the course. The inclusion of a help section ensures their most basic requirements are satisfied. For example, some explanatory text on navigating through an eLearning module, or information on how best utilise a given workbook in class. This creates an ’emotional safety’ for the learners in a foreign training environment.

As we depart yet another attraction, Tom, without fail, engages with the group and checks-in: “What did you think of the history behind the place? Did you enjoy seeing the falls up, close and personal?” He also gives us feedback on how well we did returning to the coach on-time; and on the odd occasion, give us some cheek about our tardiness… blame it on the restroom queues!

At the conclusion of a learning objective, an instructional designer puts in place tasks to evaluate the learners experience, and whether the learning has taken place. Usually a short test or a recall activity is run, and the result determines whether there are any necessary tweaks that need to be made from a delivery point of view.

I hope you have found the similarities between the tasks and competencies of a guide and an instructional designer as fascinating as I do.

To me, training is not about simply applying a particular learning theory. It should also be adaptable to the needs of the learners, knowledgeable to deliver the key learning objectives, contain timely and relevant information, organised into ‘logical learning chunks’ and delivered in a well-spoken, or well-written manner.

Every time you design a course, take yourself on a tour – it may just be the ingredient to turn a good course into a great course!