I wear many hats, but out of all of them, the one that seems to cause the most perplexed looks is that of “instructional designer.” Wikipedia defines instructional design as “the practice of systematically designing, developing and delivering instructional products and experiences, both digital and physical, in a consistent and reliable fashion towards an efficient, effective, appealing, engaging and inspiring acquisition of knowledge. The process consists broadly of determining the state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some “intervention” to assist in the transition. The outcome of this instruction may be directly observable and scientifically measured or completely hidden and assumed.”1
Clear as mud, right? On its most basic level, instructional design is about learning. It’s meeting the learning needs of the student and the teaching needs of the educator/trainer (K-12, university, vocational, industry). Anyone who works in education will realize that there are as many ways to meet learning needs as there are instructional designers. Probably more.
For example, in my regular job, I may create crosswalks, align standards, develop and organize online course pages, build curriculum and interactive content to match learning objectives, evaluate whether content meets learning objectives, and assist with instructional technology.
I also do contract or freelance work with education and industry. I have analyzed instructional needs, created crosswalks, developed curriculum content to meet standards, revised existing content to be current and clear, and generated assessments and teacher guides. While I don’t get to do as much with digital curriculum as I would like with contract work, every job or assignment is a new challenge that I enjoy.
Have you heard of any of these terms? Instructional technology. EdTech. Instructional Systems Design. Curriculum design. LX (learning experience) design. According to Instructional Design Central, these terms are often used interchangeably with “instructional design,” supporting my theory that the responsibilities of instructional designers can range far and wide.
Some people question the need for instructional designers. Teachers teach and students learn, right? Technically, that is correct. However, if we’ve learned anything about education in the past hundred years or so, it’s that people learn in different ways. And memorization may get a student through a test, but will he or she retain anything?
We also now live in the digital age. Information is received and processed differently than it was 50 years ago. Even the structure and delivery of the content can be different. This has led to Common Core Standards in education and left industry struggling to find the best ways to train employees.
Whether the learner is a fourth grader, college student, vocational student, employee, or lifelong learner, it’s necessary to pay attention to the design and delivery of learning content so that everyone can benefit. Isn’t that what learning is all about?
1Wikipedia contributors, “Instructional design,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Instructional_design&oldid=868723953 (accessed November 17, 2018).