In the past few months, I’ve been asked by a number of different people what an instructional designer does and how to get into the field. I love instructional design because it is a field where I am constantly learning and I have a great variety in what I do. I use so many different skills—writing, web design, graphics, collaboration, planning, plus of course how people learn.
Since this question has come up more than once, I thought it would be useful to collect all the information I have emailed people privately and post it here. This will be a series of posts over the week or so. I have about five pages of emails to revise for this format, so it’s waaay too long to put into one post.
So without further ado, here’s the first installation:
What does an instructional designer do?: Design and develop learning experiences
I’m emphasizing “experiences” here deliberately, even though that isn’t always how others would describe the job. I think one of the crucial things instructional designers can (and should!) do is make sure that students have opportunities to actively practice what they are learning.
If all you’re doing is dumping content into PowerPoint slides or text to read, you don’t need an instructional designer. The Subject Matter Expert or whoever knows the content can just write it, and the students will be passive recipients of that content. What the instructional designer adds to the process is the experiences of learning and practicing; IDs know how people learn and have ideas on how to help them learn better. If you are looking for engaging learning activities or ways to make practice closer to real life skills, that’s when an ID is who you need.
How do we do that?
- Work with Subject Matter Experts to identify what students need to learn
- Develop objectives and ensure content matches those objectives
- Revise and rewrite content to shape it for learning needs
- Structure content and activities for student learning
- Create media to support learning (e.g., visual aids for face-to-face, various multimedia for e-learning and online)
- Develop assessments (note that this does not only mean tests)
- Adapt instructional materials created for one format to another format (usually this is adapting materials from face-to-face to e-learning)
Note: I don’t consider this to be a completely comprehensive description by any stretch of the imagination. This is intended to just be an overview. If you think I missed any major points, please add a comment. I’d love to hear some feedback!
Other Posts in this Series
- What Does an Instructional Designer Do? (Current post)
- Getting Into Instructional Design
- Instructional Design Skills
- Technology Skills
- Professional Organizations and Career Options
- Is instructional design the right career?
Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers.
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