People employed as instructional designers come from wildly varied educational backgrounds. I’ve met writers, teachers, media specialists, psychologists and programmers who somehow have ended up designing web-based and instructor-led courses.
For the past several years, blogger Cammy Bean has had an open survey asking her instructional design readership whether they have a degree in instructional design. Although the survey doesn’t use a scientific sampling method (basically, whoever happens upon the survey can respond), the results cannot be ignored.
The survey results are no longer available, but in 2009, these were the results:
- ~ 60% do not have a degree
- ~ 38% have a graduate degree in Instructional Design
- ~ 1% responded that they have an Instructional Design degree (level is unspecified)
Do Instructional Designers Need a Degree?
There is an ongoing debate within the US instructional design community as to whether a degree is needed to be most effective in this field. Sure, having a solid foundation in learning theory and cognitive science enables the designer to adapt learning strategies to varied audiences and content. On the other hand, there are degreed instructional designers who create poor learning products.
Perhaps what is most important is that the instructional designer is a self-didact. That the designer is motivated to read cognitive psychology, instructional design and eLearning textbooks, trade books, journals and blogs. That the person takes advantage of tutorials, podcasts and certification programs. That he or she can learn something in a completely different field and transfer this knowledge to instructional design. As professionals in a learning field, we should be able to get the knowledge needed to fill in our gaps as well as to grow and expand.
Top 10 List
So, what does it take to be an effective and innovative designer of online courses? Having been in the field for 20 years, I have managed, mentored, learned from, watched and analyzed the skills of many instructional designers. As a result, I have distilled the qualities, knowledge and skills I think the ideal instructional designer should possess or develop into a Top 10 List. This list focuses on instructional design for eLearning.
The successful instructional designer should:
- Conceptually and intuitively understand how people learn.
- Know how to connect with an audience on an emotional level.
- Be capable of imagining oneself as the learner/audience member.
- Be obsessed with learning everything.
- Brainstorm creative treatments and innovative instructional strategies.
- Visualize instructional graphics, the user interface, interactions and the finished product.
- Write effective copy, instructional text, audio scripts and video scripts.
- Meld minds with Subject Matter Experts and team members.
- Know the capabilities of eLearning development tools and software.
- Understand related fields—usability and experience design, information design, communications and new technologies.
What qualities would you add to this list? Comment below.
12 Lesson eCourse on Breaking Into Instructional Design
If you’re interested in learning more about a career in instructional design, grab my free eCourse at Breaking into Instructional Design. You’ll get two lessons a week explaining what instructional designers do, whether you need a degree, the best places to network online and in person, and instructional design books to read.