Do Instructional Designers Really Need Technology Skills?June 5, 2007
Let’s not forget that many of us instructional designers don’t have any technical skills whatsoever — nor do we need them! I’ve got no HTML skills, can’t use Dreamweaver, don’t do Flash, can hardly crop an image in Photoshop. Nevertheless, I’ve been an instructional designer for years. That stuff I leave to the programmers and graphic designers. It’s important to speak the language, but I don’t know the tools.
From her comment, I believe that she works in an environment where the instructional design and the production side are split into different groups. (Cammy, please correct me if I’m wrong on that.) She does the design (probably the AD or ADD of the ADDIE process) and passes it off to Flash programmers and graphic designers for the actual implementation. That is similar to what I did for my first instructional design job, although we still had to enter everything into our LMS using basic HTML, and it was easier with a bit of Dreamweaver. My current job is much more technical because we’re a small team with no production group; if I want interactions in my courses, I have to create them myself.
When I was looking for jobs last year (in two job searches), it seemed to me that most of the jobs required more than just Microsoft Office. Cammy got me wondering though–maybe that’s just in the Chicago area, or maybe the recruiters only contacted me about more technical jobs because they were harder to fill. Maybe my current job is the exception, and Cammy’s situation is more typical. So, I decided to do a little informal research. I went to Monster and pulled up the first 20 jobs with “instructional designer” in the title, then tallied up what technology skills they requested. (Obviously, this is much too small a sample size to be really statistically significant. Consider it a snapshot of what’s out there right now.)
This shows the number of job listings on Monster which requested or required skills in these applications. Applications like Illustrator that were only listed once aren’t included in the chart. Cammy is right that Microsoft Office is more requested than anything else, but of the 20 jobs I saw, only 1 listed only Microsoft Office. 7 of the 20 didn’t list any specific development technology, although 2 of those required SAP knowledge. (They were looking for business analysts with content expertise in SAP who could also do some training development, with a focus on the content rather than the design.)
12 of the 20 listings–60%–specifically required software beyond Microsoft Office. My guess is that at least some of the 7 openings which didn’t list any technology skills requirements (besides SAP) actually do have some.
I will absolutely agree with Cammy that there are some instructional designers who don’t have any technology skills, and I’m sure that many of them are fabulous at what they do. Is it possible to get a job like hers where you don’t need any skills beyond Office? Sure. But your choices will be much more limited, and you’ll be a much less marketable candidate. Focus on your instructional design, because that is the core of what you do, but every time you improve your technology skills, you open up more opportunities for yourself.
Being able to pick up software and technology quickly is also a major skill. During my brief contract at Accenture, I did primarily use Word and PowerPoint. I did QA checks for some activities created with Captivate or other tools, but I didn’t create any of them myself. However, I was mostly working on a project for proprietary applications for one of Accenture’s clients. If I hadn’t been able to quickly pick up the applications on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to do my job adequately.
Everything I’m doing for my current job is something I have learned on my own. I’m learning CSS, improving my Photoshop and Captivate skills, playing with Flash and Fireworks a bit, started this blog, created a wiki for our team, got into Second Life a bit–and this is what I’ve learned since I started last November.
I love it; I love learning all the time and pushing myself. (Well, maybe I haven’t loved every minute of the last few weeks fighting with Captivate…but overall it’s a lot of fun.) Being able to learn all the time is one of the best aspects of being an instructional designer. And yes, I do believe that learning technology is an integral part of what I do.
So what about the rest of you out there? Has your experience been more like Cammy’s or more like mine? Or is there another possibility I haven’t talked about yet?
Update: Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.