According to Purdue University (n.d), an Instructional Designer is a person who ensures that students learn efficiently by creating high quality learning materials that take into account their strengths and weaknesses. It is an interesting and promising field, so the question arises: How can one become Instructional Designer?


What is an Instructional Designer?

An Instructional Designer (ID) develops learning material for schools, organizations and businesses. While IDs are required to possess an extensive set of skills, the most important task is to carefully analyse how students learn and to choose the appropriate materials and methods that will most effectively help them improve or acquire new knowledge.

Design Thinking is essentially a problem-solving approach, crystalized in the field of design, which combines a user-centered perspective with rational and analytical research with the goal of creating innovative solutions” (Ellis, n.d)

What skills should one dispose to become an Instructional Designer?

The job of an ID includes a wide range of responsibilities spanning from contacting with the clients’ SMEs to choosing the necessary instructional and pedagogical approaches that would enable a particular group of learners to educationally flourish. Since instructional design touches and involves many fields due to its interdisciplinary nature, IDs are expected to have extensive skills and knowledge in various fields (Peck, 2020) like research, graphic design, video making, training, eLearning development and, of course, instructional design itself.

What are the steps that Instructional Designers follow to create learning material?

Instructional designers tend to have different responsibilities and workloads based on the organization they work at. This means that there is no clear path that one should adopt in order to achieve results. Thankfully there are some steps in the instruction process which are common in most design cases

Development steps

Meeting with the SMEs

At the beginning of the project, the team of IDs or a single ID, meets with the clients’ Subject Matters Experts (SMEs) and analyzes their needs and goals. At this stage, the learning/performance gap is identified. This gap is the main reason behind the whole training/learning process. Strong communication skills are the key here because they help IDs explain ideas and methods of design to the SMEs
Step 1: Meeting with the SMEs

Reasearch the audience

An ID is responsible for conducting research regarding the learners’ background knowledge and evaluate the results of this research. The audience’s profile has to be acknowledged, like their age, gender, ethnicity, religion and their previous knowledge about the topic of interest. This can happen in multiple ways. For example, IDs can ask the SMEs about this kind of information, check previous learning/training programs that may have happened in the past or even conduct some interviews with the future students

Content Creation

An ID is responsible for the construction of the content and activities based on the client’s demands and learning goals. The ID hierarchically categorizes learning objectives based on their importance as these are set by the meetings with SMEs. After that the ID determines the most sensible approach for the delivery of the content, based on the information collected thus far, which can vary from video-based learning to gamified techniques. There are various models, learning theories and techniques that one can use to motivate the learners and create a meaningful learning experiences but these are beyond the purpose of this article. Two of the most common learning theories are Constructivism and Behaviourism. To find out about these well-known theories, click here.

Review

At this step, the ID presents the first draft of content to the client and revises this content based on the feedback received. The client has to validate the strategical approaches before moving on to the next step. The content at this step can either be in digital or in printed format.

Content Development

After the content is finalized the ID cooperates with the eLearning developers for the development of the media that are going to support the learning content while, in some cases, develops the content by himself. The material that is given to the eLearning developer, called as “storyboard”, is transformed into digital format. The collaboration between IDs and eLearning developers is crucial since the product should offer a great user experience (UX) to the student as it affects the person’s emotions and attitudes about it. After that it is time to consult with the client again. The result of this step is called “prototype”, and should then be given to the client for further validation.
I have lately come across to a pretty useful app, available for both PC and Mobile phones, called Milanote. Milanote is an easy-to-use tool to organize your ideas and projects into visual boards or even your story boards. I have been using it for some time now, and it really helps me in creating and managing my storyboards.
It is crucial to consult the client before starting the complete development of the learning material to save time from potential last-minute changes which can cause headaches to both the ID and the eLearning developers. To find out more about Storyboarding please click What is a “Storyboard”? 

Quality Assurance

Although this step is important it is often neglected. The gold version of the product is published and its quality has to be checked. Interactions, typos, cross-platforming review, etc. are on the list. Last minute mistakes have to be identified at this step before the delivery of the final product and the beginning of the training process. Besides, cross-platform functionality has to be checked. It is vital for Instructional Designers to acquire familiarity with user experience (UX) to holistically comprehend learners’ interactions and responses to content when transmitted over a range of devices (Vaughan, 2016).

Training

Before the start of the training, the ID should thoroughly prepare the training material for the learners. Training can happen either in person or online and it is important for the training to be adapted according to the way of delivery. The ID also explores what techniques are optimal for the particular group of trainees in order to be able to engage them and for the training process to succeed. It is often noticed that some training programs may fail. To find out why some training programs fail you can click here.

Outcome evaluation

Evaluation is the final phase of instructional design implementation that ensures that the learning sessions have been competent in meeting the initial objectives. The ID should first interpret and evaluate the outcomes from the training program by examining the learners’ beliefs related to it. Then it is also mandatory to discuss with the client and the client’s SMEs at a later stage in order to discover if the whole training process led to an increase in performance/knowledge and if the performance/knowledge gap identified at the first step was filled as supposed to. To find out about Kirkpatrick’s Model of Evaluating Training Programs, you can click here.

Is this an easy road?

It is indeed true that IDs do receive a substantial amount of money when it comes to payment.  But keep in mind that as a rose has thorns, this job has its own flaws. Like any job that requires from the individual to get in touch with clients, organize groups of professionals in teams, assign them tasks and manage their workload, the job of an Instructional Designer is stressful too. A couple of issues need to be taken into consideration before starting a career in this field. Below are a few common issues an ID may face at some point:

Clients

In addition, some clients may be extremely demanding, asking you to develop extra material than the ones set, or adjust the final product beyond the agreed schedule. To avoid those issues, IDs set the project’s milestones clearly and agree with the client on the number and, most importantly, timing of revisions that will occur.

Adaptability

For example, in some cases, budget may be an issue, so a solution that once fit with a previous client may have to be changed accordingly. When there is an abundance of resources available, the process of developing solutions for the client may allow the ID to spend more time in the phase of analysing the client’s needs, reviewing older training programs that the client conducted, etc. On the other hand, if the budget is limited, solutions have to be found in order for the quality of the program to remain high and at the same time to stay in good terms with the stakeholder’s finances.

Background

Assuming that the individual who would like to become an ID has the necessary background, either in Computer Science or in Education, a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology or Pedagogical Studies may be needed in order to acquire the necessary knowledge regarding learning theories and instructional design processes that will allow him/her to create learning experiences that make training more effective, efficient and engaging. Also note that constant effort is needed to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the educational technology field, that is continuously evolving, which means that taking part in related conferences and joining communities of practice is mandatory for this purpose.

Types of Instructional Designers

IDs also tend to have different responsibilities and workloads based on the organization they work at.

For example IDs who work in educational institutes and organizations, spend much of their time into extensive meetings with SME’s in order to clearly understand their demands and needs. Then they transform the “raw material” which came from the meetings with SME’s into the right form by choosing the appropriate approaches for its development. Besides they keep in constant touch with the institution’s eLearning developers who are responsible for the material’s digitization. On the contrary  IDs who work in the corporate sector, besides writing the learning material, pretty much what their educational counterparts do as well, tend to spend less time in researching the clients’ needs, since their client is always the same,and spend the vast majority of their workload in developing eLearning courses themselves to meet the needs of the company’s employees. (Peck, 2020)

Conclusion

As educational institutions and employers have lately transitioned to remote learning and training environments, the need for Instructional Designers is more apparent than ever. We are currently witnessing an influx of Instructional Designers in the market since their profession and expertise is highly requested at the moment, but in order to shine and stand out, one must possess an ample variety of skills and knowledge in both the education and computer science fields.

References

Devlin, P. (2020). How to Become an Instructional Designer in 2020. Retrieved September 5, 2020 from https://www.devlinpeck.com/posts/how-to-become-instructional-designer

Ellis, C. (n.d). Instructional Design & Developer. Retrieved September 4, 2020 from https://www.cathellis.com

Purdue University (n.d). What is Instructional Design? Retrieved September 5, 2020 from https://online.purdue.edu/blog/education/what-is-instructional-design

Tucker, C. (2018) What does an instructional designer do? Retrieved September 5, 2020 from https://www.christytuckerlearning.com/what-does-an-instructional-designer-do/

Vaughan, S. (2016) 2016 Instructional Design Trends Compass: Experiences, Ecosystems, Evaluations. Oh My! Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/2016-instructional-design-trends-compass-experiences-ecosystems-evaluation-oh