Learn and Lead

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Instructional Designer Competencies

My article Death of the Instructional Designer sparked off some interesting debate and provided some good points. In case you missed it, do view the comments posted for the article. The poll also showed that most readers believe that instructional designers do add value to content development projects.

Tom Crawford makes some interesting points in Is Instructional Design Dead. He also lists some competencies he believes an instructional designer should have.

Vaughan Waller argues that good instructional design is a crucial component of a successful learning program and always will be. I really liked this article.

Learning Circuits big question of Nov 2006 asks if ISD / ADDIE / HPT are relevant in a world of rapid elearning, faster time-to-performance, and informal learning?

Tom Werner calls for better design of the use of emerging technologies for learning.

Brett Bixler provides a long list of instructional designer required competencies and prerequisite skills.

I believe the traditional instructional designer needs to evolve. They need to have the following skills / knowledge:

  • Ability to learn and understand content. While instructional design is content agnostic, it is imperative that the instructional designer understands enough content to have meaningful discussion with subject matter experts and other stakeholders.
  • Interviewing skills and note taking skills.
  • Ability to assimilate and chunk information.
  • Writing correctly, clearly and concisely.
  • Ability to collaborate with specialists in different areas (graphics, media, software engineering).
  • Ability to write stories, dialogues, scenarios, narration scripts.
  • Articulate proposed approach to stakeholders.
  • Being creative, thinking out of the box.
  • Of course, they must understand basic instructional design principles (this is the foundation), write correct objectives, structure the content etc. etc.
  • Understand technology and tools used in creating a course. While there are specialists in various functions, it is imperative that the instructional designer also understands these tools, their basic features, limitations and what it takes to build the designs they are proposing.

Viewing different courses, sites helps you stay up to date. It is also a good idea to attend a few eLearning courses to get the audience experience.


Manish Mohan said...

Interestingly soon after posting this, I discovered that Google Trends shows over the last four years search volume for "Instructional Design" has been steadily going down, while news reference volume is slightly on the upswing.

Suresh Rajan said...

The death knell of the instructional designer has been sounded and it sure has an ominous ring. As an instructional designer by profession, it set me into a vortex of existential thinking ;-) I actually gave it some serious thought and it is exciting to be able to crystallize my thoughts and share with interested folks. "Crystallize" is not quite the right word. My thoughts are still formative and fluid and loud:
All around us we see practices or professions evolving, chiefly driven by evolving discoveries, research, technology and so forth. What is the trend? Let us consider the profession of an engineer- the most technology-dependent profession. The core tools of an engineer have evolved at breathtaking speed over the last century. Automation is probably about to reach its limits with developments in robotics and AI. So does that mean the engineer is dead? We don't normally think that way. Why? Because, though the tools have become better and better, engineers will still be involved in putting their minds to designing the machines that are later actually assembled by robots. The principles of Newtonian thermodynamics to quantum mechanics, or genetics are still brought to bear upon their work. They are the people who understand these fundamentals and can manipulate them and apply them to solve problems. They create the blueprint, the prototype machine, the petridish cultures, and once they pass through some basic tests, automation takes over for volumes. I daresay that analogies might be drawn with other professions. And yes, with the instructional designer. Rapid development tools and automation will continue to evolve and make the ID's work less and less tedious. These tools provide vast arrays of templates,and ready-to-use functionalities based on ID principles (I presume - and that's another role for ID- product design!)- these serve to compress the development cycle - through automation (for example converting a slideshow into a WBT)and by virtue of providing a set of pre-designed functionalities and layouts that need not be created anew. But who determines which features and templates to use? which is the most appropriate for a given audience or learning outcome? who decides what needs to be tweaked and how (customization is another feature bandied about by vendors). Enter the ID. It is the ID who still needs to analyze, design, and write. The design determines what templates and functionalities to use. The robots do the assembling. Another reason I find the ID's death argument specious is that even if the profession does not survive as an independent role, someone still would need to do all this work. For example, even if a SME takes on the responsibility of writing the course, she still needs the core conceptual tools and models (that we set so much store by). In other words, the ID must survive in the SME's soul. These transmigrations ;-) would be chiefly driven by cost concerns. Companies would want a self-sufficient jack-of-all trades instead of complex multi-functional teams.

Having affirmed the survival of ID, i should say that, like any other profession, IDs must change with the times and acquire new tools and competencies, besides the core ones that are vital. I tried to broadly categorize the skills an ID must possess:
1. Analytical and envisioning skills- to understand the problems from various perspectives (training, technology, people, management etc.)and then articulating the high-level vision
2. Solutioning/Designing- This is where the core skills are applied. Knowledge of fundamental principles of learning - taking into account the current research
4. Implementing- Besides excellent communication and writing skills-Expertise in at least a few industry-leading tools for development (my suggestions: DreamWeaver, Flash, Captivate); Expertise in using at least one graphics tool such as Photoshop or Flash; knowledge of LMS and LCMSs- how they work, feature set; Expertise in standards AICC, SCORM;

5.Subject matter- now that's a tricky area. Besides having interviewing/information extraction skills, should the ID be an expert in the subject matter of the program? But i'll need to ruminate a bit more- will post my thoughts on this later.

Manish Mohan said...

Thanks Suresh. That is a great analogy and a great way to put things in perspective.

I look forward to your next post here.

Cathy Moore said...

Manish, thanks for pulling together all these opinions. I agree with your list of skills and with Tom Werner's suggestion that instructional design isn't the only kind of design that matters when we're trying to help people learn.

It seems like instructional designers in the US are often too narrowly specialized. We would benefit from learning about visual design, user experience design, and clear, creative writing in particular.

Two years ago, I did a quick, unscientific survey of the requirements of several American instructional design programs. None of them appeared to require any study of how to write clearly or, for example, how syntax and writing style affect learners' understanding and motivation. If this is true, it seems like a terrible oversight.

Suresh Rajan said...

To expand a bit on the subject matter knowledge of IDs- It is only fair to assume that you should be well-versed with what you are writing, especially when people's lives and livelihoods depended on it. But consider this: Most training development projects are short-cycle and rapid development type of projects, with increasing demand for shrinking the learning curve. In the event, learning about concepts from various domains, let alone mastering them, and picking up and assimilating a whole new body of knowledge every 8-10 weeks sounds like a tall order. Instead, IDs should specialize in a domain or two (such as- for IT domains- hardware and networking or ERP apps {i don't know what to club this with} or programming languages and APIs etc.). This way, resource managers will be able to better manage the skill issues and IDs will provide genuine value.
In summary, the ID should be a veritable factotum in the training development department, having a thorough hold on core ID skills and anciallary competencies such as tool usage, as well as specialization to some degree in a couple of domains.

One skill or knowledge area I had missed out was the knowledge of human-computer interface design- crucial for technology-based training development.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Manish

You've more or less said it here. The overlap between subject (expert) and ID can be diffuse, and it should be, when successful things are likely to happen.

Catchya later

EJ said...

Great post! Nowadays, knowing basic teaching principles is no longer enough. corporate learning solutions providers and educators need to learn to incorporate new tools such as social media into their courses.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

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