Instructional Designers’ Serenity Prayer


In my 30th year in the workplace learning field, I've seen in my own work — and in that of my clients — that I cannot control everything that happens. I can make recommendations to clients, and I can get better as a persuader, but I can't force change.

I've also seen my clients and instructional designers everywhere struggle to make small improvements against floodwaters of organizational lethargy, misunderstandings about learning, conflicting priorities, and more. I've seen the same thing with CLO's, training directors, and other learning executives as well.

I've come to know many dogged professionals who keep at it year after year against Sisyphean challenges, making improvements — even small improvements — wherever and whenever they can. I admire them greatly.

To be effective in our jobs as learning professionals, we not only have to know the research and know our craft, we also have to develop an ability to marshal our resolve, maintain our perseverance, and retain at least some semblance of equanimity.

Perhaps by sharing our laments and our aspirations, we can get a little closer to these ideals.

I'm not religious, but it seems that a "serenity-prayer" approach for instructional designers might prove valuable.


Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.


Things that cannot be changed (in the short term):


  • Sometimes, I will need to crank out learning interventions that fail my standards for effectiveness.
  • Sometimes, I will need to fail to adequately evaluate my learning interventions.
  • Sometimes, I will need to do an inadequate job in doing needs assessment.
  • Sometimes, I will need to….

            List your "things that cannot be changed (in the short term)" below in the comments.


Things that require the courage to push for change:


  • Learning interventions that produce only awareness — should be improved to help learners be competent enough to perform a skill.
  • Learning interventions that don't utilize spaced repetitions — should be improved to space repetitions over time.
  • Learning interventions that don't provide substantial realistic practice — should be improved to provide skill practice that mimics the most salient aspects of the targeted (on-the-job) performance environment.
  • Smile sheets that utilize Likert-like scales or numeric scales — should be improved to utilize distinctive answer choices.
  • Et cetera…


Wisdom to know the difference:


  • By making a distinction between the short term and the long term, I can meet my task goals while pushing for lasting improvements.
  • By searching out the most dedicated learning professionals, by gathering together in a mutual effort to make the system work for better learning and performance improvement, I can maintain my motivation and energy to keep at it.
  • By meeting my organizational obligations with a steady excellence, I can develop the credibility and power to enable me to be persuasive and potent in pushing for improvements.
  • Et cetera…


These are just some examples… My hope is that you will add your thoughts and wisdom in the comments.