Is Instructional Design Dead was recently published (in an edited format) in the Training Journal on 10th June 2016. So here’s the full post including my personal reflections (which weren’t in the original Training Journal article).
Judging by the amount of articles on the internet written by people who have worked, or are working in the field of learning and development in corporate organisations, you’d seem to think that instructional design is dead.
With all the talk of social and informal learning, the perception may be that those who have spent years designing and developing formal courses within organisations now have an outdated set of skills that are unlikely to serve them in this new future world of work.
But I’m not so sure.
Let me clarify.
I started out as a performance consultant from way back but as the field was relatively unknown 24 years ago (might I add, some people still don’t know what it is), I found myself in the world of corporate learning and development (or as it was known Training Development).
Rather than take a holistic performance approach to our work where we explore the gap between what is and what should be, and then design customised interventions to close the gap, our focus was to develop training programs instead.
So by default, I became an instructional designer and it was a role I didn’t mind doing especially when I knew there was an actual knowledge or skill gap that necessitated formal training to be developed. I enjoyed it because the role was actually quite creative.
I could BUILD something, I could CREATE something…a course, a program, a job aid.
Together with my business clients, we would lock ourselves in a meeting room for a day or two and brainstorm a high-level program plan. I would also go out into the business to talk to people at the coalface, see where they worked, how they worked and then incorporate my research and findings into the course I was building.
We would step through the process of what a participant would be expected to do and perform within workplace conditions, standards, and environment and then create a content plan that listed all the blend of tools, delivery methods, media and assessments that had to be created.
Many times, I was also involved in the marketing and promotion of the training program (thanks to my experience as a Public Relations officer in the Navy Reserve which came in handy here). Other times, I was involved in the planning and co-ordination of the training events.
As the years passed and with the advent of more learning tools and technologies, I had more choices to explore to incorporate more blended approach into my training programs. This excited me because my tool box was expanding. The options for delivery media and tools were growing. I didn’t feel compelled to use just the media I had always been using (eg. just Face-to-Face, just Captivate, just Articulate) but could instead, experiment to find the right tool for the problem we were solving. I was never loyal to one medium instead choosing to dabble in them all to see what was ‘best fit’ and many times it meant that I wasn’t an expert in these but willing to act as a learner/student/experimenter myself first.
Sometimes this experimentation and dabbling put considerable anxiety on my business clients who may not have been as open to my excitement using virtual, mobile or social technologies in the delivery because of their fear, uncertainty or skepticism of the ‘new’. There was also a heavy investment in time learning new skills and behaviours which business may not have been prepared to undertake and mistakenly thought that running workshops was not only the easiest option but the only option.
Instructional Designers Have Many Skills
However, when I put my mind to it, there are many instructional designers in our field of Learning and Development who have many and varied skills that are valuable to people and business outside corporate world. When I put my mind to it, this is what I learned as an instructional designer:
- Developing learning strategies
- Analysing and scoping client needs
- Identifying appropriate delivery strategies
- Designing and developing the training plan which included all material and assessments
- Creating courses (online, offline, synchronous, asynchronous)
- Delivering the material through a variety of methods and media (social, mobile, virtual – synchronous and asynchronous)
- Writing participant workbooks, job aides and checklists across different media (infographics, video, audio, text)
- Managing or co-ordinating the workshops, webinars, events and conferences
- Writing marketing and promotional material for the programs (articles, blog posts, presentation slides, white papers, case studies)
- Co-ordinating workshop registrations and attendance
- Creating attendance and evaluation surveys
- And so much more!
So where am I going with this?
Before we discount that we don’t need any more instructional designers, let’s look at their skills.
Instructional designers have one critical skill that we all need today – and that is they have the knack of making complex things simple.
Working with clients who are experts in their fields or niches, instructional designers are able to ‘pick their brains’ and break down the mess of information that’s in their heads to create a framework and a plan that would help communicate that knowledge to others.
Why is this important in today’s world?
In the last two years, I have been working as an independent consultant. One thing that was important for me to learn about was to reconnect with my local community so that I understood the broad nature of the different types of buisinesses out there and the work they did so that I could align my own services to theirs.
I needed to find a ‘fit’ of my skills of performance consulting with a market that needed them because I wasn’t entirely sure that corporate Learning and Development was my only market. (After all, in my opinion, L&D should be performance consultants to their internal business clients themselves).
As a “corporate refugee”, I realised that I spent my working years in the city removed from the daily hullaballoo of my local neighbourhood. I spent years working in the ivory towers of corporate centres with little – if any – connection to an ‘end customer’. Therefore, my perception of reality was distorted.
So when I left the corporate world, I needed to know more about the world I was working in and started to network with small and medium sized businesses in my local area. Initially, I had my doubts as to whether these businesses would indeed be a fit for my performance consultancy but they were asking for different things…
Businesses of all Sizes AND Solopreneurs Are All Building Content and Courses!
What struck me about these businesses are that they have all been started by someone who had some technical expertise in their field. That is, people with a LOT of knowledge in their heads.
These businesses are also facing pressures and change and looking to explore how to best use online and social media to get their expertise and messages out to the wider audience. Some are in different stages of business transitions.
As I spoke to many of them, they all wanted to learn more about using social networks and social media to promote their business and expertise through these transitions.
Similarly, many other “corporate refugees” who were now solopreneurs were doing the same thing. They were all looking at ways to ‘package’ their expertise and sell it as content whether that content was courses, webinars, e-books, podcasts and other educational programs and hopefully, in the process build a business or earn a living from it.
The questions they were asking me were less about my work as a performance consultant or even, social and collaborative learning (let’s face it, it was a personal blow to me as they weren’t interested in it); but more about how to create compelling content that they could package and sell as a product or service to their customers.
This was an eye opener for me because throughout my entire time my focus was to help my clients solve workforce capability problems through analysis and design of custom learning solutions; as well as enabling workforces to work, learn and collaborate together. Instead, I was being asked to help them build content and courses so that they could generate new revenue streams for their business.
This presented a dilemma for me because it was the same situation I had faced when I was in Training and Development inside the company. The only difference was that I was now outside working as an independent being asked to do the same things I was churning out for years!
This is when I realised that instructional design isn’t dead. Not yet. Certainly not in a world where many people are looking at the next step in their career such as looking at ways to bring more value to their customers through new products or services; or starting their own business or generating income from their books, courses or webinars. Instructional designers are well suited to be the content marketers for their organisations.
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