The Business of Learning

I have three kids and a husband. Without exception, they are easily and quickly drawn to the shiny new thing off in the corner. I can lose my husband for hours in a bookstore as he picks out books one by one and says, “Oh, cool!” My kids do the same in the toy aisle at Target. At some point in both of these occasions, the question becomes, “Can we have this?” And, as the person who often has to answer in the negative, the question in my head is: “Do we NEED it?”

As someone working in an ever changing and advancing field, there’s always the new shiny thing that’s set down right in front of us. And then there’s the shiny new thing that’s coming soon after that. We get excited—Mobile, HTML5, Storyline, and more that I can’t even begin to imagine. Even in instructional design there are new methods, techniques, ideas and so on. And we, being passionate about our field, want to use every one of them—NOW!

Long ago, I worked with a web developer to build a service website. About half way through telling him about our need, he was no longer listening. He was off in his world of possibilities. When it was his turn to speak, this simple website had become, in his mind, a universal portal available to everyone in the world with this and that and all these really “cool” things. I didn’t realize it until after, but this was a valuable life lesson—just because something is possible doesn’t mean you should do it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about possibilities. But those possibilities have to serve a purpose. Cool for the sake of cool does nothing but increase your stress and budget. Because of this, I weigh every possibility on the following questions:

  1. Am I clear on the objectives of this project?
  2. Would the possibility in question serve those objectives in any way?
  3. Would the possibility fit within the budget and timeline of the project?
  4. Am I clear on the audience for this project?
  5. Would this possibility appeal to and benefit the audience?

If the answers to any of these are “no,” I know to back away slowly from the shiny thing in front of me. It still is cool, but I can guarantee you, if it’s truly that cool, it will come up again. Just put the shiny new thing on a shelf and look for an opportunity to pull it down, dust it off, and use it on the right project.

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