Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

Even if you don’t have formal training in instructional designing, you can learn and use a basic instructional design process. For example, someone with no instructional design background posted this question about how to design training for volunteers in the instructional design subreddit (/r/instructionaldesign). I’m sharing this question and answer with the original poster’s permission.

The question: How to design volunteer training

Simple background is that I work for a large church with multiple campuses and an extensive volunteer base. Over the years as technology has developed, especially in the production realm, it’s become more and more difficult to adequately bring volunteers up to speed. Most of the roles in the production side are “volunteer” versions of professional jobs and while people espouse the love of volunteering, they also expect professional results.

My job, as one of a handful of professionals serving in staff (production systems engineer), the task lies with me to train the volunteers (and other staff) in how to get the best results. We have very sophisticated audio, video and lighting systems, so the ability to produce good results ends up in the hands of the volunteers each weekend.

We have recently begun a process of organizing the training tasks for the whole church in a way we can efficiently deliver it across time and distance, in hopes we can bring our knowledge base up to meet the challenges of continuing to grow and launch new churches….

TL;DR Volunteers need to be trained and I’m the technical guy so they’re all looking to me to organize the process.

-sosaudio at
Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

Backward design

In this situation, here’s a basic outline of what I’d do. (Note that my limited understanding of the tasks means my examples may not be 100% accurate. Focus on the process rather than the specific examples of tasks.) This process is partly based on “backward design”: figure out your end goal first, then work backward to get there.

The design process

1. Task list

Identify all the tasks that need to be done in detail. Not just “audio,” but a list of the subtasks within that. The more detailed you are with the goals, the easier the rest of this process will be.

2. Learn with support, not practice

Once you have your list, look at which tasks people can reasonably be expected to do without practice. Those tasks are ones where your focus should be on providing documentation and checklists to help them remember.

This is especially true for things people will only do a few times a year (which may be most of them, if volunteers aren’t doing it every week.) This list will hopefully be pretty long, so you’re mostly focusing on writing up clear checklists of procedures. Creating checklists and support will be initially time-consuming, but in the long run, it will be more efficient because you can reuse your documentation.

3. Learn with practice

Looking at that list of tasks, which ones are things people will have to practice to get them right? Those are the ones where you should focus on training.

4. Practice activities

How can you have people practice those tasks, maybe in multiple ways?

  1. Maybe you give them a paper handout with the soundboard and ask them to physically touch or mark what they should adjust for different situations.
  2. Maybe you have them listen to sound with something adjusted incorrectly and have them try to figure out what’s wrong.
  3. Maybe you have them adjust the soundboard and see what changes. Think about a couple of ways you can do it.

Note that of my examples above, #1 and #2 can be done by a whole group of people at the same time, rather than each person getting a chance at the soundboard. They probably need that eventually, but try to be creative about things you can do to train multiple people at once to be more efficient with your time.

5. Information needed for practice

Now that you have a plan for practice exercises, work backward to figure out what information they need to be able to do those practice activities. If they’re troubleshooting what’s wrong by listening to audio, then they need to know the channels and knobs and what they do. They need some basic terminology so they can understand what you’re talking about. You can probably find some of this content online, although you’ll probably have to adapt it for what is most important.

6. Organize information by tasks

Organize the content in terms of tasks rather than functions. That is, don’t try to just tell them what everything on the soundboard does from left to right. Tell them: This is how you set it up for a normal Sunday morning service. This is how you adjust it for special music etc.

7. Pilot

Try out your training with a small group of volunteers. Ask them what went well and what was still confusing. Determine if you met your goals. Adjust your training for the next round based on that feedback.

8. Follow-up training

You may discover that you need some follow-up or refresher training. Maybe the initial training should only focus on the normal Sunday morning service, but you have later training for special events or musicians or the annual Christmas pageant.

Apply this basic instructional design process

While this example is specific to a particular situation, this basic instructional design process can be applied to many situations. This is obviously simplified, and more could be done. I don’t have much here for feedback and evaluation, for example.

This process works though, and it’s probably good enough to get started. When I asked the original poster for permission to use his question in a blog post, he replied,

Absolutely! The information you gave me has been monumental in getting this project rolling. I’m sure lots of others will be helped with your post.


Originally published 10/16/2018. Updated 1/25/2024.

10 thoughts on “Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers”

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  3. Hi,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I can say I have similar experiences providing technical training to to volunteers, especially in a church. I worked for a church for 3 years as a Media Manager and I can guess the issues you may have encountered. It is not easy to break anything technical down to people who do not do it professionally. Your job aid was done well and was easy to understand. Good job!

    1. Thanks! I haven’t actually had to deliver this training myself, but I have been one of the volunteers to set up the sound system at my church. Our system is simpler than what the original poster with the question asked about, but it gave me enough to guess at the kinds of practice activities that would be useful.

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