Instructional Design

Precision and Creativity: Difficult-to-Teach Qualities

By Zachary Fruhling

Having spent over a decade training and mentoring educational content developers and instructional designers, I have come to the conclusion that there are two qualities (or perhaps personality traits) that are nearly impossible to teach to someone who doesn’t already possess them: precision and creativity, both of which are important for creating effective and engaging online educational content.

An educational content developer or course writer who is not a naturally precise thinker will struggle to explain concepts clearly, and to write assignment instructions and requirements that are clear and unambiguous. Similarly, an educational content developer or course writer who is not naturally creative will struggle to find pedagogically innovative, original, and varied ways to teach important concepts in an online environment.

The interesting thing about innate personality traits is that we never seem to deviate too far from those traits, although with conscious effort they can be overcome to a greater degree. A course writer who is not naturally a precise thinker can learn to be more precise, but usually only to a degree. Similarly, a course writer who is not naturally a creative thinker can be encouraged to think more creatively, but within some range of his or her baseline creativity level.

Given this difficulty in cultivating precision and creativity from educational content developers, course writers, and instructional designers who lack these difficult-to-teach qualities, what can be done to ensure precision and creativity in the online course materials they produce?

In both cases, the answer is collaboration. The imprecise course writer can benefit from working with a fellow author or instructional designer who is more precise, someone who can help the imprecise course writer identify areas of his or her work that call for extra precision or clarity. And the less-creative course writer can benefit from collaborative brainstorming and planning with a fellow author or instructional designer who can help find the most creative ways to effectively teach the concepts and materials from the course, and to create the most engaging learning experience.

If you find yourself struggling with precision or creativity in your own work as an educational content developer, course writer, or instructional designer, the best thing you can do is to seek out a collaboration partner who possesses in abundance the qualities you lack. Spend some hands-on time brainstorming, collaborating, discussing, sketching, drawing on the whiteboard, and reviewing each other’s work. Let that collaborator partner help you make your content more precise and help you create the most innovative and engaging learning experiences in your online course materials.

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