Designing effective training for public health, with Instructional Designer Leah Roman, MPH, MCHES

hosted by:

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Leah Roman, an expert in instructional design and owner and principal consultant at Roman Public Health Consulting LLC. They discuss where in the process an instructional designer may fit into, common issues seen when implementing training, and what foundational things are key to facilitate learning and development.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Leah first became interested in consulting and instructional design 
  • What kind of work an instructional designer may be hired to do
    • What common issues or problems Leah encounters when creating and refining training programs
  • What is foundational to designing a good program and why it is always important to know the audience and the main problem you want to solve
  • When training is and isn’t the best answer to a problem
  • Advice for creating learnings and trainings if you aren’t able to consult a dedicated expert
  • What changes in instructional design Leah is seeing in the workplace and in academia
  • What resources are available if you are interested in doing similar work

Today’s Guest:

Leah Roman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Roman Public Health Consulting LLC, where she helps public health organizations design effective e-learning solutions. She has 15+ years of experience in public health providing training and technical assistance, health education, project management, and consulting services. Leah has a BA in Psychology (University of San Diego), a master of public health degree (Boston University), certificate in e-learning instructional design (University of Washington), and is a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES).

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Leah 0:00
What do you want the learners to be able to do? At the end of the course? And notice, I didn’t say know, because knowing something is not usually enough to change their behavior or, you know, change some sort of major performance issue.

Sujani 0:19
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.

Hi Leah, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. You are not new around here we’ve collaborated many times. So I’m sure for some of our very early listeners, they know the name Leah Roman.

Leah 0:47
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to come back to the podcast and talk about some new topics with you.

Sujani 0:52
Yeah, and I can’t remember the year but we definitely also hosted a webinar together. So that was fun. And then we had a podcast episode together, which I’ll make sure that I link up for anyone that wants to hear Leah’s kind of journey in public health. And we were just talking that you’re in like, your 18th of your public health area. So-

Leah 1:12

Sujani 1:13
-lots to talk about. But one of the things that you and I have talked about, and we think it’ll be a super valuable conversation today, is around offering and building training for public health professionals. And I think you sit at a great position because you have this 18 year career in public health. And the work that you’re doing now is building and designing training for public health organizations who are looking for that kind of support for their staff members. And maybe we can just quickly tell people kind of what you do, and how you are doing the work that you are doing today.

Leah 1:54
Sure. So I have been an independent consultant for about 10 years now. And in the last two to three years, I’ve really niche down to focus on e-learning instructional design. And I’ll say at the beginning, you know, there’s a lot of different areas you can work in where I specialize is helping develop asynchronous training. So trainings, people are doing online, in a self paced way, or they’re doing it online, on their own time, but they’re within a cohort. I also work on trainings that have some self paced elements, and also are hybrid. So they may have some live elements. But that’s really where my sweet spot is. So people don’t hire me to facilitate live trainings, for example. So I like to do the design behind the scene for a larger course or training that people are going to take online. So just wanted to kind of paint the picture there a little bit, I help people in a couple of different ways. So I’ve different tiers of services so people can get what they need. So first, people can just pick my brain about something. So these are people that are going to do the work themselves, but they’d like to consult with an expert, as they’re either getting started to design their first online course or they’re stuck somehow, or they want to figure out how to evaluate it. So people can hire me just for an hour. And we’ll have a conversation and we prioritize their needs. And they leave with some specific resources and action steps. I also offer an instructional design audit, which is really fun for me to do. And I’ve done a bunch of these recently where people have a course already developed. And then they hire me to take the course, and then show them where their areas of strengths are, identify some areas of improvement. What happens sometimes is then people hire me to fix the course and you know, implement those recommendations, which is also really fun for me to see the progression and improvement of any particular course. And then people hire me for what I call hands on instructional design, which is customized for different clients where they may hire me to perform a needs analysis, which you and I’ll probably talk about more where I figure out, you know, what is the learning problem, and what’s the best way to solve it, they may hire me specifically for the course design. So I’m writing everything from the learning objectives to designing learning activities and evaluation planning and things like that. So those are the major categories in terms of the instructional design work that I do.

Sujani 4:26
I’m trying to picture myself as an individual who’s like, supporting my employees or my team. And I get to a point where I am thinking, Okay, I’m not able to mentor them, and I love to find some resources for them to support them in the work that we’re doing. And so, is that kind of the point that you get people reaching out to you because they’re, they’re stuck in how to support their employees and in a certain part of their work?

Leah 5:00
I’ve had people approached me at different places. So you know, with the audit, for example, people have already made a course. And sometimes it hasn’t gotten great feedback, or high engagement, or people are kind of dropping off in the middle, and they’re trying to figure out, they don’t want to have to just chuck it and start from scratch. So they’re thinking, like, how can I improve this, so they hire me at that point. But I do also get people you know, who hire me towards the beginning. You know, for example, I’m working on a project right now, where a client had an in person, two day learning experience, and they’re going to move the whole thing online. And obviously, that’s quite an undertaking, and it really changes, you know, how they’ll do everything, you know, the learning activities from in person may not necessarily translate the way the timing and how they’re going to deliver the information is different. So they hired me right from the beginning to do a needs analysis. So we could have a really good plan, I’m doing the design, I’m helping them with the evaluation plan. So people kind of hire me at all different places throughout, it really depends on you know, their needs, their budget, and you know, what they’re trying to achieve.

Sujani 6:13
I think it was interesting for me to hear when you- when you told me that, you know, sometimes you will maybe tell them that training is not the right solution for whatever problem they have. What’s an example of that when you when you kind of had to tell somebody that you probably don’t need training here?

Leah 6:29
Yes. And this is really funny, because I think people are like, do you like push away paid work, like what’s wrong with you, you know, but sometimes it’s not the right solution. So it can be lots of things, I always tell people, like you can’t training yourself out of not having enough staff people, or you can’t train your way out of a toxic work environment, you know, so if people aren’t, say, meeting their quota in terms of how many workplace trainings or resources they’re supposed to develop, then leadership might say, Oh, well, we need to really train them on the goals of this department and what the expectations are. And if that was just clearer, they would do a better job. Well, if we had done a needs analysis, maybe we find out they know exactly, you know what those goals are. But you know, they have two open positions in the department, and there just aren’t enough people, or maybe they’ve been tasked with doing trainings out in the community. But there’s a major distrust in the community that makes them not want to bring this organization in, you know, and you can go on and on. So training them on the goals is not going to help the community trust them and want them to come in. So you really need to figure out what the problem is, before you develop a training because sometimes that’s not the right solution. Or maybe it’s part of a larger solution, but doesn’t stand alone, there’s actually a really nice quote that I like I stuck it here next to me, so I could include it. There’s a learning designer, his name is Tim Slade, if you follow him on LinkedIn, he’s got great advice. But one of his quotes that I really like says, If you don’t know why a performance issue exists, you run the risk of creating a training solution for a non training problem. And I feel like that’s a quote, I want to just leave on my desk to remember, you know, the importance of getting to the root of the problem.

Sujani 8:28
That’s an excellent point. And I think I remember from the burnout happening during the start of the pandemic, and reading where people would say that, you know, organizations are telling me to not work overtime or do self care. But then I’m still getting emails after hours, like, am I supposed to respond to it? So that like, for me, I think I think of that as an example, it’s like, you can’t build training, to help people through burnout, and expect them to also take that training on top of all the other work and not hire more people. So-

Leah 9:02

Sujani 9:02
-that’s an excellent, excellent example. What are some, like neat projects? I don’t know if you’re able to share and if you have confidentiality, that you have to sign with some of your clients, but what are some, I guess, requests and projects where you are able to design a training, because that is the right solution. And maybe you can tell us about like how that journey has taken place for that individual organization?

Leah 9:28
Good question. So let me- I think I could probably share some things like in more general terms, you know, so I can talk a little bit about the training that I mentioned that is going from an in person training to an online training. So this is for it’s an academic institution or research based institution. And so they have this wonderful survey that they’ve created and this is a Workplace Health and Safety type project, where you know, they have all these participants who get this survey data but then they need to actually train people on how to use the survey data. And so, so this is a new skill, that it’s new knowledge and skills, and the participants are very willing, they want to learn. So that’s a good intersection for creating a training, right, it’s needed is a knowledge issue is a skill issue, they’re gonna have opportunities to practice those skills, and you have motivated learners. So that’s kind of the sweet spot. So they are, you know, developing this training. But I’ll say, you know, one of the things that we found when I did the needs analysis was not that they shouldn’t have a training, but there was some additional content and skills that the learners wanted. And so it wasn’t just about understanding the survey data, which had been a lot of the focus in the previous trainings was just helping them understand the report and the numbers. And of course, that’s important. But what we figured out was to really make it usable, the learners needed to be able to tell a story with their data, which is, you know, really different than just understanding what the numbers mean. But how are they going to communicate that data to somebody else. And so what I found when I did the needs analysis, which included talking to a bunch of past learners and learners that we’re going to be attending in the future. So I found out, okay, they need to be able to do storytelling, I found out what audiences they were going to be talking to. And so since there’s multiple audiences that they need to talk to about their data, we’re basically developing a new data storytelling module that’s going to be part of the online learning experience. And so then I help them figure out well, what parts of this can be self paced, because it’s going to be a hybrid training. So you know, the learners will be able to do some parts online. And then we really want to focus on our live training, giving them the opportunity to practice those skills, we found out in the needs analysis, they really, really want templates, and scripts, you know, because they are not professional data communicators, you know, and they might not be doing it all the time. So all those resources, so all those things are going to be in development. But the live training is really going to be focused on having them practice all of those skills. So that’s something that’s really missing from a lot of trainings that I see, it’s very knowledge based, or there’s the assumption that if we just tell people how to communicate data, they’ll just know how to do it. But what we know is they actually really need to practice those skills, to build confidence to get feedback from the instructors and their peers and things like that. So that’s the way that we’re designing it. And so, you know, at the end of this, they won’t just understand their data reports, but they’re actually going to know how to identify their priority audiences. Think through how they need to tailor their talking points to talk to different audiences, both in terms of how they deliver, the medium they deliver, the messages in, the language they’re using. And then we’re giving them the opportunity to actually get in front of a virtual panel that we put together to present their data, and take questions and all of that. So that’s an example of where I got to start towards the beginning of a project, do a needs analysis. And then that’s how it affected the design of the training that we’re putting together.

Sujani 13:28
It’s super interesting in question that comes to mind. And I think it’s like an obvious, yes, but you’re probably taking all these steps and building these modules in collaboration and working very closely with the subject matter experts, and probably maybe even the individuals who may have been involved in designing that in person version of this training, right?

Leah 13:51
Absolutely. So a big part of instructional design is working with subject matter experts. And you know, as you and I were talking in preparation for the recording, a lot of times what happens because in organizations there is not you know, money to bring in and outside instructional designer or maybe your organization doesn’t have any on staff. The public health professional is really tasked with being both the subject matter expert, and the instructional designer and the e-learning developer and the evaluator, and that is really challenging for all sorts of reasons but especially because when you are a subject matter expert, and you are really passionate about the topic, you think everything should be in the training, like it’s just like a brain dump of things and so I find like as the you know, neutral person that comes in and I need to help them figure out what is- what we call need to know versus nice to know information in the training. Sometimes they feel like I’m just like pulling the content away from their hands and they’re kicking and screaming to take out things that are not relevant to the learning objective thing. Like, it’d kind of interesting, but they will not help us reach the goal of what we want the learner to be able to do. And so you know, sometimes it just needs to be eliminated. Sometimes it ends up being an optional module. So if people are interested, they can go ahead and complete that module. But it’s not required for everyone. But yes, a lot of what I do is closely connected to working with subject matter experts, which I think is one of the most fun things about instructional design, because I help with courses of all topics. And so you know, I get to learn about all sorts of cool stuff, like I worked on a series of courses with another public health consultant last year, and she was the subject matter expert, for it was a series of courses on data science, and I learned so much from her about data visualization, and, you know, data careers and all kinds of things. And now, you know, I’m working with this workplace violence course, I just finished an audit for someone that develops courses for clinical trial managers. And so I learned a lot about that role, and all the things that they do. So if you’re somebody that likes, you know, learning all these different things, it’s really, really fun to work with subject matter experts.

Sujani 16:18
Yeah, you got to really get skilled up in that area very quickly. Become an expert overnight.

Leah 16:24
Yeah, what I have found, that I’ve done a lot in my professional development is, you know, there’s a lot of great sort of courses and resources about working with subject matter experts. And so over time, I have refined my interview template that I’ve put together for when I interview subject matter experts, and I found the more refined I get that the quicker I can get the information that I need from them, so that then I can put together you know, outlines for the course or working on some scenarios or other learning activities to go into the course or training.

Sujani 16:59
You said a keyword, when you were explaining kind of how you are working on previous project and its learning objectives. I feel like I get many lessons on instructional design, because my older sister is an instructional designer in the insurance industry, and she loves that job. And so she’ll, she’ll tell me, everything about it. And so things like learning objectives and adult learning principles, like some things that we don’t really think about when we’re thinking about designing training, whether it’s like this formal training or presentation, right? Like, those are two of the key things I can think of, based on my mini lessons that I get from my sister, but are there other things that are like so key, and like the foundation of designing really good training that are going to be effective?

Leah 17:49
I mean, definitely the learning objectives. Like you’re saying, they’re so important, because they really drive everything. So I always tell people, I like to work backwards. But the learning objectives still kind of come at the beginning. So in terms of working backwards, what I mean from that is to say, what do you want the learners to be able to do at the end of the course? And notice, I didn’t say no, because knowing something is not usually enough to change their behavior or, you know, change some sort of major performance issue. And again, I mentioned, I tend to work with people who are developing trainings, you know, for people in the workforce. So we are focused more on performance. I think if you’re, you know, developing a course in higher ed or something like that, you know, it may be a little different, where you do have some more knowledge focused goals, but a lot of what I do is focused on performance. And so what are we want them to be able to do? And then once we figure that out, you know, the question is, okay, so for them, you know, we want them to, like, effectively make a data presentation. Okay, well, what does that actually mean? Like? So I would ask the subject matter expert, you know, what are the component, what makes an effective presentation, and I make them, you know, break that down? For me, maybe it’s 10 different steps, you know, you realize how vague we are, when we say stuff, oh, just something effective, well, what is effective mean? And I get them to break it down. And then using that we make the learning objectives, and then the learning objectives, you know, they drive the content, they help us filter things into need to know versus nice to know, with the learning objectives that drives how we evaluate it. So how do we know that that learning objective has been achieved? And how are we going to measure that and you know, I have a lot of conversations with clients about what is their evaluation capacity? You know, in a perfect world, we’re able to look at many different levels of evaluation and we can see how this training has helped them with more of a longer term business school like increasing revenue. But in reality, a lot of people say I only have the staff or the resources to look at more short term things, what can we look at? And so, you know, we have a lot of conversations about that. But the learning objectives really drive that whole process. And, you know, there’s been a lot of really interesting conversation in the instructional design communities that I’m a part of lately, talking about how we communicate the learning objectives, and different wording for them. So for instance, we’ve probably all been on trainings, where, you know, you’re sitting there and the first slide comes up, and it says, you know, at the end of this training, you will be able to list three important project management systems, or whatever it is. And there’s been a push more recently in instructional design, to think about, well, the learning objectives that we develop internally to drive design and evaluation, you know, they’re very specific, they’re very jargony, do we really need to tell the learners that in the same wording, or is there you know, a different way to focus their attention at the beginning of the course, about what they’re going to learn and where they should focus their attention, that’s different from what we need to give to our designers or evaluators. And so, you know, I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. And I’m just helping a client with this actually, right now with her learning objectives and thinking through, you know, developing more of, you know, what we’d call a focusing objective for the learners, which is different than an instructional evaluation objective and taking that jargon out of there at the beginning of the course. But that’s definitely something to think about. I think for people who are designing trainings and things like that the way you communicate the goals of the course, might be different internally versus externally. And I think that’s absolutely fine.

Sujani 21:51
It’s almost like you, you definitely need to write out the learning objectives as you have. But they don’t necessarily need to be communicated to the people taking the training in the same way. Because to them, it’s again, like it’s just jargon text that’s there. But you know, they often go okay, so what, how does this relate to me? What do I need to know in this training?

Leah 22:13
Absolutely, yeah, it’s really important that the learner understands how they’re going to benefit from this and in a way that’s meaningful to them. And often, how are they going to benefit immediately, you mentioned adult learning principles. I mean, that’s a really important one is the relevancy. And for them to see how this is relevant to their current role, how it’s going to help them. And a lot of times, that is not clear, when you take trainings, it’s like, oh, this is just to check a box, but this isn’t going to help me get a promotion, or get a raise or decrease this, like tension on the team that I’m working on, or whatever it is, or get this new skill, you know, for the system that is launching in two weeks, you know, they don’t feel that time sensitive pressure to learn it and pay attention, they don’t feel the benefits that could come from it. And that’s really something that you need to make clear to them right at the beginning.

Sujani 23:08
Yeah. And I think that is one of those learning principles is motivation, right? Like adults are typically like, motivated through themselves, and they have goals or things that they want to succeed in. So tying those learning objectives to, like an internal motivating factor for them is going to get them to, like, retain more the training information.

Leah 23:33
Absolutely. And that’s something that, you know, may come out in your needs analysis, if you take the time, and you have the ability to do that is to figure out, you know, you might find out there’s already a good training that the organization has, but people aren’t motivated to take it. And you can ask some more questions about why that is. Or you might also find out from them, what would make them motivated, you know, maybe leadership, in addition to the training needs to implement some type of incentive system to both complete it, but to also enforce the behavior that you’re trying to get them to do or the goal that you’re trying to get them to do. You know, so I think those questions about motivation, absolutely come out in the needs analysis, if you take the time to do it.

Sujani 24:20
Since you have worked in public health, you kind of know the realities of the funding and access to funding and approvals that are required when you need to bring in somebody external to support you on a project and I think you mentioned that you were in this boat where you were the subject matter expert, and you were also tasked with designing the course before you became a consultant. So you know, maybe some of our listeners, they don’t have access to funding, or they may not have approvals to go out and hire an instructional designer, even though they probably know like, this is probably the best way to go about it. But, you know, maybe sometimes the first step is that they do have have to design something themselves, have people take it, like validate that, you know, their their learners have found value in this, and then use that evidence to then like, put a proposal together to get more funding to then like hire someone like you to level up that product that they build. So for any of our listeners who are like, Okay, I don’t have an option of hiring someone, but I have to do this myself, what are some things that they should really consider when they’re decided that training is needed? What should be some of those first few steps that they should take and some tips that you can offer them? And I think you’ve mentioned a few things like a needs analysis and ensuring we’re writing out some clear objectives. And I’m curious, like, what are some steps that they could take so that they can build some sort of like, an MVP, if you will, for our training program?

Leah 25:53
The first thing they could think about, you know, even though they don’t have the budget to bring somebody in, is to do some calculations, you know, if they’ve been sort of forced to do a training, especially an ineffective training in the past, one of the e-learning textbooks that I used in my coursework, when I went back and got a certificate in e-learning instructional design was written by someone named Michael Allen, and one of the things that he says is the most expensive training is training, that doesn’t work. And so I do think that they could go back and do some calculations, especially if they’ve had a failed training, that hasn’t changed the performance issue, to go back and be able to show leadership, okay, you know, we worked on this for six months, this is how many staff hours, you know, went into this, and it had this failed outcome. And so you know, they might be able to show leadership that the investment in bringing somebody in may be worth it for them going forward, because of how much money you waste and time you waste, not just in the developers. But if you ask 100 people in an organization to take a three hour training, and it does nothing, you’ve also wasted all their time, too. So I think, you know, tracking your time and figuring out how long these things take to develop, which, you know, spoiler, is a lot I know you have developed courses, it’s incredibly time consuming for courses and trainings, especially when they’re done well. So if you want to make an argument about how much time you’re wasting or money, you’re wasting, developing ineffective trainings, go ahead and track your time. If you are going to go forward and create something definitely, like we’ve talked about those needs analysis questions. And so the key questions when you’re doing a needs analysis is that you want to figure out, what are people doing right now? So you know, if you’re training them on a new Excel skill, for example, you know, like, like, what are people doing right now? Are they even using it? What do we want people to be doing with whatever the tool is? What’s the discrepancy between the ideal and what people are doing? And then the key question of, well, why does that discrepancy exist? So when you’re thinking through that planning period, that why question, is it right? Is it a lack of knowledge? Do they not know how to use Microsoft Excel? But again, maybe it’s not, maybe they have the basic knowledge, but they haven’t had time to practice? Maybe they just like, don’t have enough time in their day, like we talked about, maybe it’s a staffing problem, you know, maybe they’re hiring people with less experience than they could have, maybe there isn’t any, you know, shadowing or mentoring on this particular skill, or whatever it is. So you want to find out, you know, why does this gap exist? Because it might be very different than you know, what you’re thinking? And then like we talked about start backwards. So what is the goal? What do you want people to be able to do? Use that to develop the learning objective, so break that goal down be as specific as possible, using words that are measurable in a way that you can actually measure them. You know, sometimes people will have these one hour courses that have like a knowledge based multiple choice quiz, and say, but the goal is listed as having this skill. Well, you can’t measure a skill in a 10 question, multiple choice questionnaire, because they haven’t had a chance to execute the skill or practice the skill. So think about, you know, what is doable with the time and everything that you have, and then continue to use those learning objectives to break down the content that you need, and you don’t need everything. So really be strict with yourself and say, I really, really want to talk about this, but is it related to the learning objectives? Do they actually need to know this to perform their jobs and specifically the skill or this goal that we have set and a lot of times it’s not there’s so much extra background? And, and like all these things in courses, I would also say, really get to know your audience, your learning audience, and you might have multiple learning audiences and find out not just what they need to know, but how they need to consume the information in a way that works with them, you know, so like, not everybody has a desk job, you know, they might not be able to sit down and take a three hour online course, maybe what works for them are, you know, more micro learnings in these kinds of short bursts. Maybe it’s an audio course that you can listen to as short podcast episodes. But there’s also a transcript for accessibility and things like that, you know, when you’re asking these questions, not just the content, but also the delivery. So those are probably like off the top of my head advice if you are doing this yourself.

Yeah. And I think what I heard quite a bit is really understanding the people who are going to take the training and why they need it. I’m almost wondering, like, if the individuals can do all of that research that could also go into their proposal as to like, why they need to hire somebody to build, like a really effective training program. Right?

Absolutely. You know, especially if it’s complex, you know, I was doing some coaching calls, these pick your brain calls that I do with people, I had someone booked a series of calls with me. And one of the things that was a struggle was that, you know, she’d been hired to develop these trainings. And people who hired her were basically like, your learning audiences, everyone, it was like an organization that had, you know, 15 different departments. And so there were basically 15 different learning audiences, because they had different levels of interest, different jobs, different motivations, different accessibility issues in terms of how much time they had to take courses. And it was very overwhelming. We say, always say that in public health, like, if you’re talking to everyone, you’re usually talking to no one because you can’t tailor a message to so many different audiences. And so, you know, really taking that time to learn about your audience is just so incredibly valuable. But yeah, if it’s really complex like that, and maybe it’s going to need a multi level rollout, where you are developing a course that goes to only certain audiences that are prioritized. And again, usually with me, I end up finding out like, or recommending, well, actually, these audiences actually don’t need this information at all right? Or maybe they just need it once a year. So it can go in a knowledge base where they can click on it, when they need it, but they actually don’t need to take a four hour training about this. And so sometimes that you know, that can make the argument you might need to bring somebody in for something that’s that complex.

Sujani 32:48
Is that possible? Or would you break out separate training for separate audiences, if you then identify that you have a handful of people that this training needs to go to?

Leah 33:00
Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely recommended that to people, you know, they’ve basically said, you know, we want you to train everybody about this. And then when we broke it down, you know, I make the argument to them, well, actually, this audience, they actually don’t need this information, like you might want them to know this information. But it’s actually not relevant to their jobs, or the goal or what we want them to do. So I think it’s a lot easier for me as an external person to make these recommendations. If I was an internal employee, and my boss said, you have to do this training, and it has to be for everyone. And, you know, you could push back based on best practices, but it’s much harder to do. You know, that’s one of the fun things about being a consultant is like, you can say this to people, you know, this will not be a good use of your money and resources, this will be ineffective. This is not the right thing for this particular audience, we should prioritize these audiences because of these reasons. So I do say that to people, and sometimes people will surprise you, you know, and say, Oh, that will save us money in time, you know, I try to support it in a way that will be really positive for them. In terms of increased effectiveness, it’ll save them money and time. You know, sometimes it’s not taken as well. And that’s okay. But you know, that’s the good thing about being an external counsel. You can kind of say, what you want based on best practices and and the evidence, and they can take it or leave it, they’re paying you for your advice. So yeah, I do say that to people.

Sujani 34:29
Yeah, like, in my head when I was thinking about it, it never came across to me that you could recommend that actually, you know, it’s only this subset of your team that would have to take the training and this other subset, you could actually save quite a number of hours if you kind of give them a one pager and they just need to read it through and that’s sufficient for the role that they play in this organization. So I would imagine many people would love to hear that right? If they don’t have to take training that they don’t need to.

Leah 34:57
Yes, absolutely. Yeah, not everybody needs to know everything, and especially if they have very different job responsibilities, think about how that affects engagement. If you know they’re doing a training that has a bunch of scenarios in learning activities, and none of the scenarios are related to their role, or what they do, I mean, they’re just going to be bored. Yeah. And it’s not going to help them do anything. So, yeah. So when I lay that argument out for people, and I show all the specific, you know, reasons that I’m recommending that I think it makes a lot of sense to people. But I think they’re used to, using instructional designers are trainers are people in learning and development as like order takers. And this has happened to me, you know, where people call and say, I need you to make a training about X, we really need a training about why. And I already have 100 PowerPoint slides that I’ve used for a prior presentation, you can just take those and make a course right. And so I think people are used to ordering trainings and not as used to the trainer or the instructional designer, to say, well, actually, I wouldn’t recommend that. And that’s, again, why it’s nice to have an external person, because it’s easier for us to say that to people, you know, I’m not going to take on a job, just for money, if I know that I’m creating something that’s not going to be effective at all, you know, I want to stand behind my work and feel really good about it and feel like the person who hired me is going to get a lot of value. So I do turn, it doesn’t happen a lot. I find that when I present my approach, people are really excited about it in general. But when I have made it clear to people that I’m not an order taker, and that, you know, this is the way that I work, and these are the recommendations I’m going to make. Occasionally people might say, well, I don’t want that I want what I want, what I asked for, I don’t really care. And that person is not a good fit for me. And that’s fine. I think you learn that as a consultant pretty quickly is not everybody is the best client for you. You might not be the right consultant for everybody, because of your approach. And that’s totally fine.

Sujani 37:05
When you were speaking, a question that popped up in my head is have you ever had any clients WHO were building courses for university courses, like undergrad or graduate level? Because I think those could use a little bit of help sometimes.

Leah 37:21
Yes, yeah, I actually worked on the one that I mentioned that I worked on last year that was focused on data science that was actually for undergraduate students. Oh, amazing. Yeah. So that was really, really fun to work on. Yeah, I don’t do that quite as much. I think like I said, people tend to hire me for more workplace focused things. But it ended up I mean, it was a really fun project. The other consultants I worked with was just fantastic. And like I said, I learned so much about data sight, it was just really fun. So yes, I was excited to work on it.

Sujani 37:54
Is the instructional design community seeing any changes in how university level courses are being designed? Like, are you seeing a trend towards maybe professors collaborating with instructional designers to produce like different kinds of teaching material?

Leah 38:12
So I don’t work in higher ed as much. So I can’t give like a ton of detail on that. But I will say this course that we were working on, there was an instructional designer from that college that collaborated with us when we had questions. And her job was to help faculty members design their online courses or design like the online component of their courses. And I have met other instructional designers who are in house at universities. So I do think at least from that small sample size, it does seem like some are bringing in support for faculty, I think, especially with COVID, where everything went online, and we realized how much help faculty needed to develop effective online courses, as we talked about, like you can’t just take in person activities and just kind of like dump them on Zoom and call it good. So it does seem like universities are bringing that in. I do see resources that are, you know, directed towards higher ed professionals about, you know, making effective courses. I just got a new book, I swear I wish I could just like sit around all day and do professional development. But I just got a new book that’s called The Guide to Digital Accessibility. So accessibility is a place where I’m trying to do a lot of professional development, so that when I’m working with clients, I can make strong recommendations about how to make courses more accessible. But there’s a bunch of examples in the digital accessibility book that talk about a higher ed setting. And I know that offices of Disability Services and accessibility they have a strong presence at universities. So I do think it is something that people are thinking about how to make better courses and how to make them a better fit for all different kinds of learners. One of the instructional design podcasts that I really enjoy is called Lecture Breakers. And I wouldn’t say it’s just instructional design, but it’s teaching in general. So it’s called Lecture Breakers. And I mean, she has fantastic guests come on and talk about creating engaging both in person but online classes in the higher ed setting. So I think if people are interested in that, that’s a great podcast. So I do, I do think it’s coming. But I think a lot of it’s like faculty dependent, you know, how much knowledge or time or resources, you know, someone can put into making a better online course, at the university level.

Sujani 40:40
Yeah. No, that- that’s good to hear. And I think that’s a good podcast resource for any of our listeners who are professors or teaching courses in higher ed. So for any of our listeners who are thinking, Leah, you have a pretty cool job, how do I do what you do, you can take the last few minutes here, and maybe you just tell us a little bit about, you know, how you got into this work.

Leah 41:04
So I started focusing on this in a more official way, a couple of years ago, somewhere around your 15 of doing public health. So I always tell people, and I know you have people at all different stages of career who listen, that it’s okay to change what you’re doing. In grad school, I thought I was going to be a college health educator for my whole career, because that was what I was interested in. And obviously, at what I’m doing now is totally different. So feel free to pivot based on your interests. That’s my first thing I’ll put out there. You know, when I started doing consulting, I was very much like a generalist, I was doing all kinds of different things. And then if you listened to our previous podcast, I was doing some coaching, where I was helping other public health professionals who were interested in consulting. And a couple of things happened. One, is that I missed doing the work on the ground in public health. So I was doing more coaching with people, which is wonderful. But I wasn’t doing the public health work myself. And so I really missed that. I also had been hired to work on a couple of elearning projects, even when I was more of a generalist. So for example, an online university hired me to help put together modules for an undergrad program in public health. So I was helping both with design as well as subject matter expertise on the health education modules. And I just loved it. I also was putting together my own course on consulting, and also I loved it. And so I thought, this is actually pre COVID whenever they went online, so that was just kind of serendipitous the way it all turned out. But I decided that I really was interested in this and I wanted to go in this direction. I had also done a lot of training and technical assistance and things like that over the course of my career. So I had done some instructional design and training anyway, and also enjoyed it. So what I decided, because I think one of the things that can be kind of overwhelming now is there’s a lot of different ways that you can do professional development. You know, there’s like programs you can pay for both from private organizations or individuals or academic institutions. There’s free courses online and webinars, I decided that I wanted some formal academic training for lots of reasons, you know, accountability. For myself, having deadlines. The program I chose at the University of Washington was cohort based. And I really liked the idea of going through the program with other people. I also felt like in public health clients, they do care about your credentials, I think some fields care more or less about credentials, I felt, I wanted to be able to show people that I had some formal training, and that it was like a certificate program that was nine months. It wasn’t like a weekend course that I took, you know, I wanted to have something more substantial. So I completed this program through the University of Washington, which was wonderful. I started, you know, signing up for listservs, from professional organizations that focused more on instructional design, and learning development. So the learning guild, for example, now that I do this work, I have an online conference subscription through them as a membership, which is fantastic. And so I follow a lot of their events for professional development, I changed who I follow on LinkedIn, to integrate a lot of instructional design and learning designers so that I could see the new research that’s coming out being on top of what people are talking about, like on the day to day I changed the podcasts that I’m listening to from more generalist to, you know, integrating instructional design and I still, you know, try to keep up with my public health interests, but I did scale some things back to make room for these new areas of interest. And so, really, all those things together have helped me you know, develop the expertise that I have that now I share with clients in a variety of ways.

Sujani 45:04
Yeah, like, truly just immersing yourself into the field so that you can just absorb as much as you can from all the experts. And then you kind of like carve out your own specialty. Do you still have the newsletter, Leah? Or is there another place that people can follow along kind of the work that you’re doing?

Leah 45:23
At this point, I would love to resuscitate my blog. This is on my list. I’m actually looking at my whiteboard. And I have when my kids go back to school in this fall, and I have more childcare, that’s one of the first things on my list. I’d like to do like a monthly blog, I don’t have the newsletter, since I stopped doing the coaching for consultants, I think the best place for people to follow me right now is on LinkedIn. That’s where I, you know, try to post you know, some of the interesting instructional design, public health reading, I’m doing some tips and tricks, things that are going on in the field, interesting discussions, timely discussions about instructional design. So I think LinkedIn is the best place for people to follow. And, you know, kind of keep up with what I’m talking about.

Sujani 46:08
Okay. And I guess the eventual blog will be the same. So we’ll make sure to link that out. But we’re scheduling to release this in mid September, early October. That’s your deadline, Leah, to get your blog up and going.

Leah 46:20
Well, my kids go back September 6. So hopefully, there will be a new blog and time. So yeah.

Sujani 46:26
Excellent. Thank you so much, Leah. This has been so wonderful. It’s always wonderful to talk to you and just to you know, hear what you’ve been up to. And, and I’m sure we’ll have you back on the podcast, and you might be one of my very few repeat guests. So we’ll have to keep that up.

Leah 46:42
That would be wonderful. I would love that.

Sujani 46:46
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more, or want to join the club, you can visit our page at And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career Club.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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