Is Instructional Designer the Right Title?

Via a post I found through Workplace Learning Today, Rob Wilkins asked whether “instructional designer” is really an accurate title for what we do. He suggests that “information and instruction architect” might be a better description, especially as we move to more learner control, personal learning environments, and Web 2.0 tools. I agree with at least some of what he’s saying; instructional designer does carry some connotations of formal, instructor-led learning.

Wilkins focuses on the “designer” part of the title in his post. He says that designer implies “that an outcome, as a result of receiving the instruction, will be achieved,” but that an architect builds without knowing exactly how a structure will be used. It’s an interesting analogy, but I’m not sure I quite agree.

To me, if there’s an issue with the title “instructional designer,” it’s with the instructional part rather than the designer half. “Instructional” is the word to me that implies formal learning: a teacher or trainer in front of a classroom or a self-paced tutorial where learners must follow the software leads.

Of course, most of what I’m doing for my job is very much formal training. Graduate courses still have quite a bit of formality, even online. However, when I’m designing courses with Web 2.0 tools that (hopefully) help people build their personal learning environments, it’s not quite the traditional course. I’ve had some great success with student-led blog discussions and wiki galleries of peer work and feedback. Our facilitators definitely do more coaching and mentoring than direct instruction. I do try to design courses where students can be empowered to direct their own learning, at least within some framework.

At least as far as my own work is concerned, I think it’s always focused on learning but not always direct instruction. Does that mean that “learning designer” or something similar would be a better description?

Like Wilkins, I’m not sure. What do you think? Is your job more about learning or instruction? Are you an architect, a designer, or something else?

4 thoughts on “Is Instructional Designer the Right Title?

  1. I think the term instructional designer came out of distinguishing who creates the instructional structure, and who helps to scaffold the students through the structure. My understanding of instructional designer is somewhere between the two definitions you present. Clearly, there are some “instructional designers” who are nothing more than programmers for instructional technology. Likewise, there are instructional designs that are only a vehicle to standardize instruction and really do not have much learning design as much as content that a learner can access.

    A good instructional designer creates for the instructor, and student (without that there is no “instructional”). However, I do like learning architect as a label. Architect conveys a solid structure within which learners can fill in the walls. It is the planning along with the structure for learning. Designer, for me, is just a planner without any follow-up or control over what a learner will or will not do. I feel “Instructional Designers” do more than plan, they also do follow-up, revisions, testing (the structure), interaction with clients, programmers, instructors, and sometimes even the students themselves.

    BTW, the group I am working with for my dissertation had a difference of opinion between the terms learning objects and learning content. Do you see these terms as different? The same? How? (I am having a problem seeing how this is creating misunderstanding between the two groups).

  2. Perhaps part of the problem is that “instructional designer” covers a such a wide range of responsibilities. Learning architect was the other title I was thinking about, and I like you’re explanation of the metaphor. We do certainly do follow through the whole process rather than just planning at the beginning.

    Learning object implies something concrete with definite edges and boundaries to me. Maybe it’s because I associate the phrase with reusable learning objects, but just the word “object” itself seems that way too. Learning content seems more general and more vague; the boundaries of content could be more fluid than for a learning object.

  3. Hi Christy,

    Sorry for not getting back soomer but life is hectic and my masters is challenging me along with a merger in my organisation.

    You make some great points and truth be known I am not wedded to any term but it does ask as to consider the “social constructs” that contribute to learning and whther it “can” be designed or whether it happens in spite of the design.

    Personally some of my best learning has currently come as a result of being in a community of interest that merely meets to discuss topics of mutual and controversial ineterest.

    Now it could be said that the design is in the construct of who is invited and what they contribute but I am not sure this is design. I think we architect the situation and what unfolds is learning that is individual and assessed by the individual. Some might say that this is Post modernism at it’s best (see radical theory).

    I just know there is a shift in my thinking and it may be some time before I am in a place that stakes a stand one way or another.

    Cheers!

  4. Hi Rob,

    No worries on the delay in response; I’ve been in the middle of moving myself and have been neglecting my blog.

    The language we use does matter, and any word or phrase we choose can influence how we approach what we do and what we expect to accomplish. We should have these conversations and keep talking about who we are and why we do what we do.

    I like the idea of creating the situation where learning occurs. I’m not sure if “architect” implies that automatically to the general population without an explanation. Of course, I’m not sure I have a better option either.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about our language for talking about learning, whether learning grows or is built and looking at different metaphors of learning. “Architect” reinforces the metaphor of “learning as building.” What would our title be if we used growing as our metaphor? Learning Cultivator? Hmmm…

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