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Today's Instructional Designer

In the last several years, a great deal has changed in the training industry, including our work environment, our education, tools, and learners. As a result, instructional designers need to change in order to keep up. Back "in the day," we developed training materials primarily for traditional instructor-led classroom settings and "pushed" learning out to learners. Now with the Internet, hand-held technologies, and an ever-growing multitude of training development software tools, we need to figure out our new roles. At the same time, we need to continue to champion, and occasionally defend, the real "VALUE" of instructional design to organizations. In a recent edition of Learning Solutions e-magazine (a publication of The eLearning Guild), Reuben Tozman wrote on this topic. The quoted text below is from Tozman's article.

Let's face it, we cannot keep operating the way we did 10 years ago. We certainly can't ignore rapid e-learning, m-learning, wikis, blogs, podcasting, virtual worlds, social networking, and other knowledge dissemination methods and tools. Instead of being responsible only for "pushing" information to our learners, we need to understand all of the ways in which learners can now "pull" information for themselves. At the same time, we can't get so caught up in the excitement of new tools ourselves that we lose our focus on the true learning results we need to ensure for our learners. We need to make sure that people can access our learning programs whenever they need them, and these learning programs must still be properly structured "to deliver the most effective learning experience possible." The bottom line: we cannot lose focus on the merits of true instructional design, no matter what the development tool or delivery medium!

With so many "easy-to-use" authoring tools available today, instructional designers are often expected to do it all (design and development). And my experience is that many IDs enjoy this new-found variety in their roles. Tozman fears, however, that our value as designers will diminish if we allow this to happen. He states, "This is because an instructional designer is supposed to avoid having to stuff material into a predefined box."

I believe that if we are good at instructional design, we have a technical aptitude, and our jobs and workloads offer the time and opportunity for both design and development, why not? Some of our instructional designers, in fact, welcome the variety of switching from straight ID work to occasional development tasks. (I do not mean that these people also do programming or heavy Flash work. That is something left completely to our programmers and experienced Flash developers!) Tozman's concern, however, is "the expectation, and the standard, for the instructional designer to have those skills." I do agree with that statement.

As an instructional designer who owns and runs an instructional design (ILT and e-learning) business and who also employs instructional designers and course developers, I happen to place a high value on someone who can straddle the line. I would never expect an instructional designer to do programming or to build a high-end, Flash-based e-learning course him/herself from the bottom up. But it certainly is nice to have IDs who have enough skills and technical knowledge to take some of the basic (and templated) development work off the plates of the developers and programmers. Plus, it's nice to know that everyone can then speak the same language and collaborate and communicate more clearly and effectively. It is also extremely helpful for client relations and communication.

Tozman states, "The skill that an instructional designer the ability to systematically break down content so that it is applicable to learners and their learning styles. This is our value....Instructional designers merge a good understanding of psychology, learning theory, communication theory, and business acumen in order to be effective and valuable in their jobs." Tozman believes that to protect that value and those skills (not undermine them and water them down), IDs must keep their distance from technology. My counter-point is this: If IDs have an understanding of psychology, learning theory, communication theory, business acument - and much more, to be sure - aren't they even more effective and valuable in their jobs with some technical knowledge as well? I believe this to be the case.


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  • Jenna,

    I agree with you that ID's greatly enhance their value when they learn something about technology. Many e-Learning ID's I know are very good with the "Learning" but not so good with the "e", and that often makes them dependent on others or hinders their designs. To that end my company,, is building a new Free software, Flypaper, that makes it easier for ID's to produce quality courses and focus on the design rather than the technology. You still have to know a little bit about bandwidth, media formats, file types and other tech terms. But it's a great tool with very flexible templates that allows designers to either follow the template or create their own. Check it out and see if it helps your ID's better use new technology.

    By Blogger Kieran, at 1:24 PM EDT  

  • I agree Jenna,
    It is important to be up on technology. However, it is even more important to know how and when to best use technology. Just as we design instructional content to compliment the learning objective, the same treatment must be given to technology. I enjoy thinking of innovative and appropriate technological approaches for my clients that facilitate learning and aide in the transfer of knowledge. It is more than simply animating your PowerPoint slides, using audio when it simply reads straight off the screen, and LMS' that make development “easier.” When deciding to use technology, it is still important to remember that content is still king. Technology helps make learning efficient, effective, relevant, and FUN!

    By Blogger lmoreno, at 3:06 AM EST  

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