Does Instructional Design Still Mean the Same in 2017?

One night last week, I was super hungry and wanted to taste the new burger pizza from Dominos. I added to the cart a burger pizza, my favorite garlic bread sticks, two cheesy dips, a choco-lava cake, and a soft drink. However, I couldn’t place the order for some reason. I reached out to the pizza outlet over the phone to find out what was happening. The guy on the other side checked the items in the cart and said it was not eligible for an order yet since there was no pizza included, which was mandatory. I tried convincing him saying that as it was, the bill was higher than what a single pizza could have cost, which is also considered a valid order. He said it was against the company policy and I had no choice but to go with a small pizza to make it a legitimate order.

This reminded me of the conversations I sometimes have with my clients. Being an instructional designer, I often get requests to perform tasks such as designing templates for a course, creating the graphics, syncing the audio, and developing the course using authoring tools. However, I still don’t see the pizza in the order, which is instructional design, my core offering.

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The above picture is no exaggeration. The roles and responsibilities of instructional designers have changed drastically in recent times. While there are some who say it’s good to expand your skills, there are others who argue this is taking away the focus from the core principles of instructional design.

Look at the job postings below.

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Show these job descriptions to someone who is new to the domain and ask, “What do you think instructional design is all about?”. What would be the response? Graphic Designing? Programming? Authoring Tools Expert? Content Writing?

Nearly eight years ago, I had been for an interview in an e-learning firm that was run by someone my uncle knew. I had no clue as to what was the post I was applying for; neither did my uncle tell me. All he said was, “They are looking for graduates. Go with your résumé and mention my name.” Well, I did. Even the HR guy did not bother to tell me what the job I had applied for was. He asked me to sit down for an English language competency test.

Possessing good language skills is not the only criterion to become an ID

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Having good language skills will help one become a good instructional designer (ID) because the choice of words used in the content will have a direct impact on the learning process. However, just because one is good at writing, he/she cannot consider himself/herself to be qualified for an ID position. If one does not know how to use his/her language skills to help the learner understand the content in a better way, it will only look like a textbook with better writing.

Content Writing and Instructional Design are not the same

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In instructional design, it’s all about the learners. The learners are not there to just read and know the content that instructional designers present but to use it at some point in time in their lives and improve their efficiencies. This application-based knowledge transfer is the key difference between content writing and instructional design. Once one fills this skill gap in his/her profile, one should be eligible to pursue a career in ID.

Did Rapid Authoring Tools ruin the day for IDs?

I remember my initial days as an instructional designer where I had to develop storyboards in a word document with detailed instructions to the designers/developers (D2). However, after looking at the developed product and going back and forth with the Dmultiple times for explaining what it was supposed to look like, my colleagues used to say, “Wish I’d known how to use these tools; then I need not have had to depend on anyone.” Back then there used to be around three to four designers working on a module developed by one instructional designer. Like a superhero, the ID used to fly to each designer and contribute to the development of the learning product!

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Nowadays the scenario has changed. With the upsurge of rapid authoring tools, instructional designers constitute an all-in-one package. I am not saying that authoring tools are bad. Authoring tools are the most ID-friendly software ever developed. They have changed the e-learning development process forever. However, in some cases, instead of the knowledge of the principles of instructional design, the knowledge of these tools has become the primary criterion for hiring an ID. And the result? A beautiful-looking e-learning program with tons of interactivity but the least impact on the learners.

Knowing the tools isn’t good enough

I have some good friends who are experts in authoring tools and have tried to move to being a full-fledged instructional designer. However, it didn’t work for most of them. The reason behind this is some of them were used to following the instructions given in the storyboard to develop the courses but haven’t really tried to understand the logic behind those instructions, which is the crux of instructional designing. But the ones that went one step further to understand how these instructions impact learner experience did become very good instructional designers.

All I wanted to say is Instructional Designers should have their priorities right. Knowledge of latest technology in learning definitely looks good on your profile and helps you develop better courses. But it is of no value as long as it doesn’t align with the instructional design principles on which the learning program has to be built.

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