What is instructional design?
You’ve heard of instructional design. Perhaps you’re wondering, what do instructional designers do? The goal of instructional design is to facilitate learning. We interpret this as helping people transfer new knowledge and skills so they can apply it to previously un-encountered situations. Instructional designers use a process that identifies the performance gaps of a target audience. Then we create or selects learning experiences that close this gap. The best instructional designers use evidence-based learning theories and best practices from the field.
As a range of resources are increasingly available for learning, instructional designers are now able to offer different types of blended learning experiences rather than only individual courses. See A Look into the Future below for more on this.
What is the instructional design process?
Start with Analysis and Design
Although the approaches people use to design and develop online instructional events vary widely, the common denominator is that the process is systematic (but flexible) and iterative. In the workplace, the process often starts with a performance problem. We then analyze the audience and the context to identify the cause of the problem and whether training will be a solution. If so, we define the requirements and specifications. The process typically goes through a design and prototyping phase to communicate and/or test out one’s ideas.
Proceed to Development and Production
Following this, comes some sort of development, such as writing storyboards, test items, manuals, discussion questions, etc. In eLearning, there is a production phase that involves creating multimedia and programming running lessons with an authoring tool. Prior to going live with any course, good designers and developers follow a Quality Assurance process. They also use a continuous evaluation process to assess the effectiveness of a learning experience.
The Learning Experience
Generally, the instructional design process results in a set of one or more learning events or experiences. Design and development are more of an iterative than a linear process. For more detail on this process, see A Framework for Developing Online Learning and Best Practices for Blended Learning.
Design Thinking Methods
The standard instructional design process can be enriched by including Design Thinking methods. Design Thinking provides ways to generate innovative solutions. In many environments, instructional designers need to be creative on demand. Design Thinking methods can help.
What does an instructional designer do?
The tasks that an eLearning designer conducts are so varied that it would be difficult to list them all. Instead, I’d like to list the Instructional Design competencies identified by the IBSPI (International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction). These competencies are brief and obviously do not include everything, but it will give you a sense of what instructional designers might do. Not every instructional designer performs all of these tasks, as some are for those who are more advanced in their career.
- Communicate effectively in visual, oral and written form.
- Apply current research and theory to the practice of instructional design.
- Update and improve one’s knowledge, skills and attitudes pertaining to instructional design and related fields.
- Apply fundamental research skills to instructional design projects.
- Identify and resolve ethical and legal implications of design in the workplace.
Planning and Analysis
- Conduct a needs assessment.
- Design a curriculum or program.
- Select and use a variety of techniques for determining instructional content.
- Identify and describe target population characteristics.
- Analyze the characteristics of the environment.
- Analyze the characteristics of existing and emerging technologies and their use in an instructional environment.
- Reflect upon the elements of a situation before finalizing design solutions and strategies.
Design and Development
- Select, modify, or create a design and development model appropriate for a given project.
- Select and use a variety of techniques to define and sequence the instructional content and strategies.
- Select or modify existing instructional materials.
- Develop instructional materials.
- Design instruction that reflects an understanding of the diversity of learners and groups of learners.
- Evaluate and assess instruction and its impact.
Implementation and Management
- Plan and manage instructional design projects.
- Promote collaboration, partnerships and relationships among the participants in a design project.
- Apply business skills to managing instructional design.
- Design instructional management systems.
- Provide for the effective implementation of instructional products and programs.
A Look into the Future
As organizations accept alternative forms of learning in the workplace, the role of some instructional designers is changing. In addition to creating the structured types of courses described above, instructional designers will be asked to enable learning by creating supportive environments. This might include managing an online community, promoting collaboration and discussion through social technologies, curating content, and teaching experts how to generate and share their own content.
Some practitioners currently think that the label, instructional designer, is too narrow a title. They prefer the term learning experience designer. Instructional designers who keep up with the rapid pace of change have an exciting career to look forward to. See more about Learning Experience Design (LXD).
If you’re interested in learning the skills needed to design learning experiences, see my membership community, Mastering Instructional Design. You’ll find self-paced and live virtual courses, a vibrant community, bimonthly video calls and an instructional design toolkit with job aids.
If you want to find out more about a career in instructional design, download my quick read eBook below.