Ways you can use AI help to improve your instructional design workflow

Dominique Robertson
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When I was a kid I loved watching Star Trek the Next Generation, and I always thought it would be beyond cool if I could have a computer that worked with me just like the one on the show. As soon as I started playing around with Open AI’s ChatGPT 3.5, my first thought was, “WOW! It IS the Computer from Star Trek! It’s finally here!”. I was so excited to start working with it and bringing it into my instructional design workflows. 

On a slight aside, it was pointed out to me that this is an “old-timey” reference, and an example to fit with today’s more youthful audience would be comparing AI tools like Chat GPT3.5 to Jarvis from IronMan.

Like with all new things, some polarized feelings toward these AI tools exist. Will it turn into “Skynet” and take over the world? Will it take over the need for our jobs? Let’s take a pause here before we spiral out of control.

When the electric light came out, it’s pretty safe to say it wasn’t as big of a ‘turn on’ as Thomas Edison would have hoped. People were reluctant to use these “light-bulb” doodads, but fast forward 150 years, and today, this piece of innovation is a shining example of how adoption and use changed popular sentiment.

Similarly, the idea of the telephone. Why anyone would want to talk to someone not in the same room wasn’t exactly trending in the early days. Now there’s no denying that our phones have become so much more than a means of talking to someone – they are mini supercomputers in pockets. It’s hard to imagine our lives without #engagement #viral. Did THESE tools take over the world and eliminate the need for people? 

The impact of technology on jobs is a double-edged sword. While it may have snuffed out some jobs like street lamp lighters, it has also lit the way to new opportunities, such as moving the work of phone line installation over to fiber-optic cable and WiFi router installation.

So what does this mean for using AI technologies and instructional design and project management workflows? “When will you get to the Star Trek Computer part?” you ask. 

I’m glad you asked! How’s about right now? 

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

We asked artificial intelligence to define… well, itself:

Screenshot of ChatGPT asking it to define AI: "Artificial intelligence, or AI, refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think and learn like humans. This can include tasks such as problem solving, decision making, and pattern recognition. AI can be divided into two categories: narrow or weak AI, which is designed to perform a specific task, and general or strong AI, which has the ability to perform any intellectual task that a human can.

Artificial Intelligence (or AI) is a pretty awesome concept, as described above. You’ve probably read, watched, or heard something about this already. It's like having technology that can think like a person or even better than a person! We can break down artificial intelligence into two categories, strong AI and weak AI. 

Strong AI

Strong AI is artificial general intelligence – meaning machines with this form of artificial intelligence can mimic human behavior and even improve on it by solving various problems. A Strong AI system can perform intellectual tasks such as “understanding” natural language,  recognizing objects and images like the quality assurance cameras on industrial conveyor belts, and making real-time decisions like a self-driving car. Looking at you, Tesla.

Weak AI

Weak AI, on the other hand, is a system designed to perform a specific task. Weak AI can complete tasks such as speech recognition like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa, playing chess, or picking out and identifying objects in an image. However, just because we're referring to it as “Weak AI” doesn't mean it didn't give world champion chess player Garry Kasparov a run for his money or that it can't be used for useful things like facial recognition software.

Now that we have a grasp on what AI is, let’s discuss what tasks a typical instructional designer or project manager does and dive into how you can use AI to help you work more efficiently. Let’s start by looking at a short list of AI tools to get you started. Some of the names may be familiar to you, as they have a considerable current media buzz. Others may be less well known.

What AI tools or resources should you review for improving your instructional design workflow?

AI Tools can be divided into several categories: language, image, presentation, multimedia (music, audio, video), Deepfake, and CRMs. We’ll only be covering a few from each of these categories, so by no means is this an exhaustive list. In the future, Neovation will release additional articles about these tools and how you can use them to your advantage!

AI Tool
ChatGPT 3.5
Sources info from 2021 and before
AI chat assistant – works like a natural conversation chatbot, but it remembers your answers
Works like a mix of ChatGPT 3.5 and Jasper
Translates based on various doc inputs (PDF/DocX/PPT)
Jasper AI
Sources info from 2019 and before
Helps prepare entire content articles, blocks, or outlines in seconds
Various pricing plans: Boss Mode / Business Mode
From Open AI – creates Art based on text prompts – prompt guide
Used via Discord server – If you are using a free account, your prompts are open for all other users to see/use
Various pricing plans: $10USD monthly to premium subscriptions as high as $600USD annually
AI personal assistant
Various pricing plans: Basic $4.60USD/month – Premium $22USD/month
Presentation generator – a mix of text and AI images
Plagiarism checker

Now that we have a point of reference for the AI tools we’ll be covering, let’s look at some typical instructional design tasks.

Where can AI help with common tasks that instructional designers do?

As professionals in the field, we fulfill a multitude of roles, with the two most prominent being that of project manager and instructional designer. We are storytellers and communication specialists, and we use our strategic planning skills, sociological insights, and architectural knowledge to bring our projects to life. The following table outlines some of the typical tasks associated with project management and instructional design and the AI tools that can assist us in completing these tasks more efficiently.

AI tools that can help with project management tasks

Communicating with clients around vision, scope, timelines, and costs and getting buy-in

  • Conducting meetings with all stakeholders
  • Writing emails to clients, stakeholders, and vendors
  • Writing project management plans, timelines, and budgets

Top AI tools to help with client communication

Managing and coordinating the production and delivery of the instructional materials 

  • Identifying milestones
  • Getting sign-off on milestones
  • Identifying and managing risk
  • Executing all elements of a project (proposals, initial drafts, revisions, etc.)

Top AI tools to help instructional material management

AI tools that can assist with instructional design tasks

Performing curriculum planning, consulting, analysis, gap assessments, and course content gathering

  • Conducting needs assessments to determine the learning and/or performance gaps of an organization or individual
  • Conducting interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs) and other stakeholders to capture a project’s vision and eke out and verify source content and materials
  • Identifying and analyzing the learning objectives and goals for a course or program
  • Designing and developing program and course outlines for various formats such as instructor-led courses, custom eLearning courses, microlearning courses, simulation courses, augmented reality, virtual reality, etc.
  • Testing and evaluating the effectiveness of the instructional materials
  • Creating maintenance and improvement plans for launched programs

Top AI tools to help with curriculum development

Establishing and communicating the project’s vision and ultimate user experience

Top AI tools to help with the project vision

Honorable mention to a great website for the latest trends in AI for instructional design

Now that we’ve identified some of our most common tasks, let’s dive into what some of the benefits of incorporating these tools might look like.

Let us know your thoughts if you’ve integrated AI into your workflow!

What are the benefits of using AI as an instructional designer or for eLearning?

As we’ve explored our most common tasks, we can agree that instructional designers must be adaptable and able to navigate this ever-changing, fierce landscape of learning and development. We can integrate AI tools into our workflows to reap the following benefits.

  • Improved productivity: AI tools help us automate repetitive tasks and streamline communication and collaboration will set us apart from the rest of the pack. With repetitive tasks looked after by AI, we can focus on the most important tasks and improve productivity. They can also help us significantly reduce the time it takes us to develop Outlines and content.
  • Faster and more efficient task completion: We can complete tasks faster and more efficiently, leaving us more time to focus on the important stuff like catching that elusive big client or creating the next big thing in eLearning.
  • Better analysis and decision-making: We can quickly analyze data and make informed decisions that move plans and development along.

What are the current drawbacks to using AI?

One of the biggest drawbacks to using AI is that some people might think it's a magic wand that can solve all their problems, but in reality, it's more like a Swiss Army knife. It's a useful tool, but it still needs a human touch to make it truly effective, just like the Computer on Star Trek needed a person to create the needed solutions. For example, imagine an AI trying to write a comedy skit. It might come up with some clever jokes, but it's unlikely to capture the nuances of human humor. An instructional designer would need to use their own comedic instincts to edit, review and revise the AI's work to make it truly funny.

Comparison titled, "use AI as a tool, not an end solution," using a a multi-tool pocket knife, and a magic wand and wizard hat. The knife, on the left, has a green checkmark. The wand and wizard hat, on the right, have a red "X". Below the two images are 4 boxes, with either a checkmark or an "X": (X) Doesn’t instantly solve problems; (X) Can't yet capture human nuances; (check) Can be effective for research; (check) Edit AI's work for human consumption.

While AI can certainly be a powerful tool for instructional designers, one area of concern is the issue of copyright. As AI systems can generate unique content, there are questions about who owns the rights to that content. Currently, copyright laws were established before the advent of AI, so they may not fully cover this new technology. Studies have shown that many AI-generated works are "joint works" under copyright law, with the AI developer and the human creator holding rights to the content. However, there is still much debate and ongoing research in this area.

One example of this is the case of a short story written by AI called "The Robot Who Loved Me," which was accepted for publication in a literary journal. The question of who owns the rights to this story, the AI developer or the AI system itself, is still unclear. Another example is the use of AI to generate music. In this case, the AI system may be able to compose a unique piece of music, but it is still debatable whether the AI developer or the AI system holds the rights to that composition.

At Neovation, we take the issue of AI and copyright very seriously for obvious reasons. Whenever we write anything, we use a plagiarism checker to ensure that the content is original and does not infringe on any existing copyright. Additionally, we always strive to keep the human component fully engaged in the editing, review, and revision process to ensure that any AI-generated content is of the highest quality and meets our standards. This is not instructional design on autopilot, but better instructional design with super smart tools.

What are some other ideas that you can use AI to up your instructional design game?

We’ve covered a lot of things in this article, and here are even more!

There are several other ways in which AI can be used to improve instructional design workflows, some of which include:

  • Personalized learning: Use the same methods explained above to create personalized learning experiences for learners based on their individual needs and preferences. This can be done by analyzing learner data and providing tailored content and feedback.
  • Adaptive Learning: AI can create adaptive learning experiences where the content and/or assessments adapt to the learner's progress and performance, thus providing a more personalized and effective learning experience within a learning platform. See OttoLearn for more information.
  • Predictive analytics: AI can analyze learner data and predict which learners are at risk of falling behind or not completing a course, enabling instructional designers or other stakeholders to intervene and provide additional support.
  • Gamification: AI can create engaging and interactive game-based learning experiences faster when provided with prompts specific to the types of eLearning authoring tools like Storyline or Captivate being used. Here is an example of what this prompt might look like (which you can copy/paste and replace the values between the [brackets] with your values):

Use this outline [provide your outline here] and provide some exciting gamified suggestions and experiences on how [insert group of learners] could interact with this content, such as a VR game, branching scenario activities, or deep learning experiences.

Gif of ChatGPT screenshots that cycle through the user asking it to provide step-by-step instructions for several different topics, and ChatGPT's answers, which appear in numbered lists.

What’s next for AI and instructional design?

The future of AI-powered instructional design is full of possibility and promise.  With things moving so rapidly, who knows what innovations could come next? Instructional designers could use AI to create immersive learning experiences where students interact with realistic virtual environments to learn complex concepts, like in the movie Ready Player 1. Perhaps, someday, we can simply provide verbal commands, allowing us to create custom eLearning experiences... The possibilities are endless!

You don’t have to wait until the future to integrate these tools into your work. The future of AI is RIGHT NOW. This post has provided you with some practical tools and methodology to take your instructional design workflows to boldly go where no human or AI has gone before! 

So, let's “engage the warp drive” and see where these tools will take us!

Look for more articles on how AI tools can help streamline your workflows in other fields, such as marketing, research, and more!

Dominique Robertson

Dominique has a solid 8 years of instructional design experience under her belt and has a rich background in multimedia production, film and digital arts. She is endlessly passionate about leveraging new technologies to keep learning experiences anything but boring.

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