Are We Expecting Too Much?

I’ve had clients lately who have been great. I have also had clients who have wanted far more than their agreed-upon budget and timeline would allow. I’m wondering if the current wave of low cost, easy to use tools might be creating unrealistic expectations in the minds of learners, learning managers, and sponsors of learning.

YouTube (for example) is a powerful platform that gives a visual voice to anyone. There are lots of great “how to” videos produced with almost no budget or expense at all. There are also millions of unhelpful or inaccurate videos on the same topics, produced on the same kind of budget.

These are usually informal videos that are “good enough” to be useful. They do not have the benefit of instructional design, but they do not need it. They do not have the benefit of professional production vision or expertise, but they do not need that, either. They are good enough for at least some of the creator’s intended audience. There is value and power in user-created content.

But I am wondering if the availability and ease of user-created content is leading people to think that they can get performance-changing results on that kind of a budget. Is the ease of use fostering an unwillingness to invest in effective design? In some cases I have experienced, I think so. The client asked for an effective, straight-forward solution, but did not realize the work that had to go into what they asked for. E-learning development work, especially, seems to be getting hit with pushback on investment requirements and schedules.

Is this new? No, not really. There have always been people who have had to make investment decisions about training and learning without a thorough understanding of what it takes. I think the change now is that there may be more of these people who think that because anyone can produce a “good enough” YouTube video for next to nothing then a professional firm should be able to do even better work for only a little more money.

Certainly, those of us on the creative side need to find ways to reduce time, effort, and cost for the client. The new raft of tools does make this much easier, if the consultant can keep the client within the templates and boundaries of the tools. But when the client says, “We’re different from everyone else. We’re unique,” then they need to be prepared to pay for the custom work that their uniqueness requires. Easy-to-use tools alone do not replace expertise on the part of learning designers.

Knowing what the tools can and cannot do, how much do we on the creative side push back on unrealistic expectations? When we are engaged in a competitive bidding situation, or dealing with the misunderstandings of a client who had a picture in her head of something that was far different than what our agreement specified, what is our responsibility to educate the client? Do we give in and agree to produce solutions that we know will be ineffective, but cheap and fast? Do we spend our time, effort, and stress on trying to shape the person’s understanding? Do we limit ourselves to working only with clients who “get it?” Where is the balance? It used to be that everybody thought they could do training. (See “Telling Ain’t Training,” for a discussion of this.) Today, it sometimes feels like everybody thinks they can do learning video or e-learning design.


(Feel free to share your perspective! I am curious what others on both the creative side and the buying or using side are thinking. Are expectations changing? Is design being devalued? How much good design is being built into the tools? (Quite a lot in many cases, but customization and “I’m unique” still takes expertise and time to deliver to!) Was there ever a proper value placed on design? Or, do you think I am just whining?)