Instructional designers – the times they are achanging.

Before the internet explosion and during the birth of CBT and e-learning roles were much easier to define. I worked in several e-learning development teams that consisted of

Researcher, Programmer/Author, graphic design, technical person, intstructional designer

over time the roles began to blur, the number of people required for each skill changed, programmers learnt photoshop and graphic designers learnt HTML and basic code and this led to much more flexibility, a good thing!

So has the same thing happened in Instructional design, its a term that I still hear but I’m not sure that I know what it means any more. Social media, interactive media, CD-Rom, web, podcasts, sim, games are just a few of the learning technologies that we are working with – I’ve not even mentioned iPhone! Maybe the job title is the same but the role and skills that are required have changed substantially. The instructional designer role is now much of an interactive designer, applying their thoughts, ideas and skills to a range of interactive media. At Real Projects we’ve thrown another set of skills in by using games designers on e-learning projects who bring a whole raft of new ideas and skills including Game Theory..

I’m never comfortable with the idea of keeping people firmly in their role, agile development and the rapid pace of technological changes means that was as well as being an expert in your field you need to have an understanding of what is happening in all the other development areas. Its no use putting forward a design that won’t work technically or isn’t making use of the amazing new technology that is out there. Check out PaperVision for an example. In our office we regularly exchange websites, articles and videos that we’ve seen to others in the team and everyday we seem to find something new.

What next for the instructional designer? I think they still have a vital role to play but the composition of what’s needed is going to change. They are going to need to be able to work on a range of media taking a little bit from game design, graphic design, instructional design and learning design. They could be the members of your team that actually being everything together.

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Instructional designers – the times they are achanging.

6 Responses

  1. Hmm..

    ‘over time the roles began to blur, the number of people required for each skill changed, programmers learnt photoshop and graphic designers learnt HTML and basic code and this led to much more flexibility, a good thing!’

    While I agree that too much specialization is not healthy. I’m not sure that the divergence and dillution of the work team specialty has been a good thing for the industry.

    News flash, most programmers that try to be graphic artists (visual designers) suck at it. This also goes for most, not all, visual designers that attempt to program and instructional designers that attempt to dabble in either direction. The result in larger shops are a top heavy number of generalists that aren’t good at any one thing but can meet mediocrity at just about any of the activities required to finish a product. Meanwhile all of the characteristics of the product that could have been great, weren’t. Affinities matter, talent is non-transferrable, and focus pays off in spades.

    Somewhere along the way we lost our grasp on the concept of design. In a world of ‘activities’ and the false belief that anyone can do it well, the outputs have suffered horribly.

    If ISD’s are to survive they must do two things:

    1. Learn what design is, what it means, and how to do it. Design IS NOT about the designer, many (most) ISD’s i’ve worked with have a fairly me-centric view. Design IS problem solving for the end-goal and is USUALLY for real people.

    2. Stop trying to do everything else. An ISD resource should be leveraged almost full time doing learning strategy, validation, evaluation. Not all of the other things that lie below that pay band.

    Steve August 18, 2009 at 12:02 pm #
  2. May I gently suggest that instructional designers should also learn to write and check their spelling and grammar ? (There is no such word as “learnt.” It’s learned.)
    I think good writing for elearning is a skill most IDs should have too.

    Good post and thanks.

    Cate Poole August 18, 2009 at 1:47 pm #
  3. Thanks for the feedback Cate.

    We’ll try and take a bit more time to read over the blog posts in the future! šŸ™‚ I think learnt is more common in British English than American.

    admin August 18, 2009 at 2:05 pm #
  4. “Iā€™m never comfortable with the idea of keeping people firmly in their role”

    Are you the owner of the company by any chance? Sound like the same old ‘more for less’ to me?! šŸ™‚

    yoyo August 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm #
  5. “programmers learnt photoshop and graphic designers learnt HTML and basic code and this led to much more flexibility, a good thing!” – it also lead to good programmers doing bad graphic design, and good designers doing bad programming šŸ˜‰ Jack of all trades, master of none.

    Ian August 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm #
  6. Interesting post. These are the things an ID should be able to do or know and aren’t they enough?

    Analytical skills – needs, tasks, processes, business requirements.
    Knowledge of how people learn and the ability to apply it to design an effective solution.
    Problem solving and lateral thinking abilities.
    Being able to put yourself in the learners’ shoes.
    Research skills – being able to get on top of a subject and its audience quickly.
    Writing skills – ability to write and present in different styles for different audiences and applications.
    Knowledge of and ability to use different instructional strategies to achieve objectives – tutorials, games, simulations, questions/tests (and feedback), situation simulation, mazes and so on.
    Understanding of the opportunities and constraints presented by the technical specification – you can’t do ID without knowing this.

    Nice to haves are these, but many IDs don’t have these skills:
    Graphics
    Video production/direction
    Project management

    What we have now is very similar to the mid 80s, when WYSIWYG authoring systems, like the rapid systems of today, were quite popular. IDs not only wrote scripts, but also developed them and did graphics. The packages then got more sophisticated in the 90s so coding was needed for systems like TenCORE, but very few IDs could do that elegantly). We’re now in the era of rapid solutions… a bit like the 80s.

    Rob Alton August 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

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