Lessons Learned from Learning Design

The similarities between marketing and instructional design and how to apply Bloom's Taxonomy to communications strategy.

Before I landed at Taoti, my communications career took a little detour through the exciting world of instructional design. Ever heard of it? Neither had I until I was applying for the job.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: designing instruction. Through a combination of learning theory and creativity, instructional designers (good ones, anyway) make courses that effectively communicate information and teach skills.

Of course school teachers are well-versed in instructional design principles for young people, but instructional design as a profession generally refers to folks who make trainings for adults—think professional development courses.

Different jobs, same principles: Similarities between marketing and instructional design

Much like marketers, instructional designers usually work in-house at large organizations with their own internal training teams, or they work for consulting firms that specialize in training on certain topics. Much like marketers, instructional designers work alongside subject matter experts to figure out what information is most important, then apply their unique skill set to turn that information into something their audiences will understand, remember, and act on.

The similarities between communications and instructional design go on. That’s why I was able to work in the field. But it’s not only that my communications experience helped me as an instructional designer, I also learned new skills and tools in the training world that I now apply in my marketing work.

Bloom’s Taxonomy: A Framework for Creating Achievable Objectives

One of those tools is called Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s a framework developed by an educational psychologist named Benjamin… you guessed it, Bloom in 1956. You use Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop learning objectives.

Just like any good communications plan, the first thing you do on an instructional design project is to develop objectives. You need to know where you want to go before you can chart the course.

Learning objectives are similar to communication objectives but with a key difference:

  • Communication objectives describe what your audiences to do—sign up for your email list, buy your product, trust your brand, etc.
  • Learning objectives explain what you want your audience to be able to do. This could be following a new process, using a new skill, or just knowing new information.

Bloom’s Taxonomy helps you create achievable learning objectives by creating a scale for the complexity of what you’re asking people to do. It looks like this:

Lessons Learned from Learning Design

Each layer of the pyramid builds, from remembering information up to creating your own original work. So if you want to develop a training that teaches people how to improve their website’s SEO, for example, you might start with these learning objectives:

  • Analyze a website for SEO opportunities
  • Apply SEO tools to enhance search performance

By the end of your training, your audiences should be able to do both.

How to use Bloom’s Taxonomy

Our objectives fall on the third and fourth tiers of the taxonomy pyramid. This means our first step is making sure your audience can remember what SEO is and understands SEO best practices. They also have to remember and understand SEO tools. When both of those levels are achieved, you can teach them to use this knowledge to analyze the site and apply tools to enhance search performance.

Bloom’s Taxonomy helps you make clear end goals for what you can expect to achieve, and it also helps you assess where you’re starting from. Before we start designing our SEO training, we should ask ourselves: “Can my audience already remember what tools to use? Do they already understand the data these tools provide?” We can get to our end goal no matter where we start from, but the way forward will look different depending on the answer to those questions.

Communicators face a similar challenge. We have to be clear about where we want our audiences to go, and we have to know where they are starting from. Are they already familiar with our brand? Do they already know what we do and what we stand for?

Get Creative with It

You don’t necessarily have to go in order up the pyramid. For example, you could ask people to analyze two sites, one with good SEO and one with poor SEO. Make them note the differences, then use their analysis as examples to explain basic SEO principles. Creative approaches like this work well because they engage people in the learning right away, pinging their curiosity and supplying real-world examples of what they will spend the rest of their time learning about. But even with this more creative approach, you still need to get through all the levels of the taxonomy eventually if you want to achieve your objectives.

This is similar to communications strategy. For example, suppose my communication objective is to increase sales for my new shoe company, Taylor’s Shoes. I could start by running ads that explain the mission and value proposition of my company during every episode of the Voice. That would be a quick way to reach a lot of people with the basics of what my company does, but it doesn’t do much to get people really invested in my brand. Not to mention how expensive it would be.

There are a million more creative and financially sound ways to launch a new brand. We could create a brand ambassador program and send our shoes to influential sneakerheads. We could paint giant shoeprints in public spaces across the country to generate PR buzz and drive people to our website. The possibilities are endless, but ultimately, we want our new customers to remember our brand and understand our mission and value proposition by the end of our campaign.

Whether you’re developing a marketing plan or a curriculum, Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a structure for assessing what tactics are needed and how complex your journey will be toward achieving your objectives.

Bringing a Unique Perspective to Your Next Communications Challenge

In terms of my career path, I think of my time as an instructional designer as a pitstop. I was able to fuel my creative engine by exploring a new field, with different ideas and practices, before I sped back onto the marketing and communications track. Bloom’s Taxonomy is just one of the tools I picked up along the way, and it’s one I think marketers, digital strategists, and PR pros alike can easily apply in their day-to-day work.

Want to work with me and a whole team of people who take creative approaches to marketing and communications? Let’s talk!