People employed as instructional designers come from wildly varied educational backgrounds. I’ve met writers, teachers, media specialists, psychologists, programmers and all types of subject matter experts who somehow have ended up designing web-based and instructor-led courses.
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Do Instructional Designers Need a Degree?
There is an ongoing debate within the 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 study, share, collaborate and discuss subjects related to learning experience design. Subjects like cognitive psychology, instructional theory, performance improvement, design thinking, user experience, visual communication, user interface design, mobile design, video production, writing and much more. That the person takes advantage of relevant tutorials, podcasts, conferences, associations 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 Ten 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.
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What qualities would you add to this list? Comment below.
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