Instructional Design

6 Things Instructional Systems Design has in Common with Internal Auditing

For three years I worked for The Institute of Internal Auditors (The IIA) as their manager of curriculum.  This opportunity has taught me more than I ever thought there was to know about internal auditing, and I have worked with some amazing subject matter experts who were eager to teach me throughout the iterative curriculum development process.  I made notes as I went along learning about internal audit and I realized that Instructional Systems Design (ISD) and internal auditing (IA) have more in common than either party may realize!  Having had the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest in the IA profession (if I do say so myself), I would like to share what I observed that we have in common.

As a point of clarification, for those unfamiliar, internal auditors are NOT the IRS!  When I told people I work for The IIA they backed up a bit and thought that I was an auditor for the IRS.  Yes, the IRS has auditors but not all auditors work for the IRS.  Just as most organizations have training and development departments, most organizations have internal audit departments.

Having spent a few years as an ISD working with internal auditors, I would like to share what I have realized we have in common.

1. Phases

Internal auditing and ISD both have a phased approach, and each believes that success is based on good planning before beginning the real work.  Instructional Systems Design (ISD) uses models like ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) for process and strategy for development.  Internal auditing (IA) begins with planning and then is comprised of field word, reporting, and follow up.

2. Objectives

Internal auditors state the objectives of the audit in the audit planning memo (with the scope and purpose).  These objectives are important because they tell the audit client that to expect – what the auditors will be doing and why.

Objectives are an important part of sound instructional design as well.  Learning objectives tell the learner what they can expect – what they will be able to do upon completion of the lesson/unit/course, etc.

The key difference, however, is the way in which the objectives for the two purposes are worded.  In one case the objectives are describing what the auditors will do and in the other the objectives are describing what the learner will be doing.

3. Standards and guidance

For internal auditors, there are vast amounts of standards and guidance provided to ensure they are auditing appropriately.  For instance, the International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) is one source for authoritative guidance for internal auditors.  It describes many things, including the Code of Ethics, how audits should be performed, and who does what.  There are also white papers, practice guides, frameworks, and books written by the “gurus” of IA.

Similarly, there are many sources for standards and guidance for ISD.  ADDIE is the instructional strategy standard practiced by most.  It is a framework.  Bloom’s Taxonomy and Kirkpatrick’s Four Level of Assessment are sources for standards and guidance as well and, just like any profession, there are white papers, practice guides, frameworks, and books written by the “gurus” of ISD.

4. Risks and controls

Internal auditors are charged with identifying risks (also known as opportunities) and identifying controls to mitigate/manage risks.  Risks and controls come in many forms for internal auditors as they work with their clients.

Risks and controls are present in ISD as well.  Scope creep is a primary risk to an ISD project.  If expectations of clients are not well-managed and documented then there is a risk of not meeting them, especially if they are not elicited in the analysis phase (or sometimes in the contracting/initiation phase).  In ISD, controls are put in place to mitigate/manage certain risks.  Project managers exist to keep the projects on track in terms of cost and delivery.  The analysis document serves as a “preventive control” (speaking the IA language, if I may) and the design document exists as a detective risk response. It serves as a blueprint to mitigate scope creep.  All questions as to why something is being done a certain way or why something is NOT being done should be answerable in the analysis and design docs.  And, if changes are made, then those docs must be updated.

5. Quality assurance

In IA, quality assurance is a necessary part of evaluating conformance with standards and assessing effectiveness of IA.  There are internal and external quality assurance processes.  Sometimes the auditors assess themselves and sometimes external auditors come in to assess the internal auditors.

In ISD, quality assurance is done through the lifetime of a project, in-progress and beyond.  Instructional design is most effective when there are quality assurance processes in place such as (a) iterative reviews of the in-progress deliverables, (b) version control, and (c) copy edit and other QA processes (i.e. beta testing of eLearning) before launch.

6. Reputation

I’m sure it’s no surprise when I tell you that internal audits (and the auditors associated with them) are usually dreaded.  We’ve all been there…an internal auditor quizzing us about processes and procedures, etc.  A greater understanding of the people who do this job and what their job is really about will help ease your worries when you face your next audit.  In a nutshell: you should only be worried or upset if you’re doing something wrong or risky.  I’m sure it it’s easy for internal auditors to feel undervalued of misunderstood…however, audits are not personal so give those guys and gals a break.  What auditors do isn’t easy and it shouldn’t be undervalued.

ISDs and their work are also often undervalued and misunderstood.  Often, when I tell people I design training (to simplify what I do) I hear “oh you do those really boring computer training programs??”  What a shame that training is so often perceived as boring!  What a shame that ISD gets a bad reputation to go along with that!  People who do not understand ISD typically think it’s easy and that “anyone can do it.”  I challenge those folks to a learning objective duel!  Let’s see how well you can write measurable, observable, outcome-based learning objectives that properly align with content, shall we??  “It’s easy,” right?

I hope that my auditor friends and colleagues have smiled just a little at my observations and comparisons…and I hope I effectively described everything about IA.  I would like to thank those IA SME who I have had the pleasure to work with over the years…you are amazing teachers and it has been a pleasure.


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