Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) in Instructional Design

When creating something for a client – be it an interactive scenario, a visual design concept, or even a course outline – we have learned that it’s always best to prepare something for them to react to. Why? Many people find it difficult to clearly articulate their vision when you ask them what they want but find it very easy to point out what they like and don’t like about something. For this reason, I always encourage our team to prepare for client meetings with prototypes or mock-ups to walk clients through, allowing us to assess their reactions and adapt accordingly. 

It’s an approach that saves us time by providing that starting point and opening a conversation. The final product may look nothing like our starting point, but the resulting discussion prompts ideas and starts the iteration process.

Of course, asking for creative ideas and suggestions quickly to provide that starting point brings with it a whole other set of challenges. I’m not sure about you – but for me, putting a deadline on creativity results in anxiety and self-doubt. Writers block sets in and I struggle to produce anything.


Enter generative artificial intelligence, or GenAI. Artificial intelligence has been around for several years (how do you think Netflix produces those recommendations?), but it has exploded in the last year. Using tools like ChatGPT along with thoughtful prompting, we can generate our own starting points from which we can build and bring ideas to clients.

Here’s an example. We were asked to include an interactive scenario within a course that allowed the learner to practice asking the right questions when client cues are presented. I prompted ChatGPT with:

“Create a scenario where a new consultant, Mario, meets with a new client, Lizzy, to discuss an issue with invoicing. During the conversation, Lizzy shares a different problem that Mario should ask more questions about. Limit the interaction to approximately 200 words.

Chat GPT’s response:

Is this usable for a client discussion? Not in the slightest! Additional details are required to add context, along with descriptive colour to add interest. BUT it provides inspiration that can be expanded upon to create a branching scenario professionals use to practice looking for client cues and following up on them.

It is so much easier to iterate and improve once you have a starting point – and I’m firmly in the camp of using GenAI to inspire, not create. With ChatGPT and the right prompts, you can get inspiration for:

  • Scenarios
  • Character personas
  • Activities

The list goes on. And that’s just on the instructional design side. Our development team has identified many use cases for GenAI – but we’ll leave that for a different post.

Fair Warning:

As helpful as AI can be, there are also limitations that make it unsuitable for certain instructional design tasks. Here are a few:

  • Privacy and Confidentiality: Large language models often leverage user input to “learn” and improve. This means that what you input may appear as output for someone else in the future. For this reason, you should never enter confidential information into a public GenAI tool.
  • Research: GenAI tools generate convincing results, but they may prove to be factually incorrect, or even unrelated to what was originally prompted. These types of results are called ‘hallucinations’, and result from a variety of factors like poor training data, or difficulty interpreting natural language. Certain search engines are incorporating GenAI into their search process; however, you should always make a habit of validating sources and confirming. Going back to my roots as an auditor, “trust, but verify” should be common practice if your search engine uses GenAI.

Despite these limitations, I believe there is more to come from GenAI that will only improve what we can offer our clients. I would love to hear what you have experienced – share in the comments below!

At Smartfirm, we have over twenty years of experience in delivering award-winning eLearning courses. We’d love to hear what your training need is and work with you to develop the right solution for your employees. And we may even use AI to help start that conversation!

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