You may have read dire predictions that instructional design is dead. The eLearning Guild just published a report titled “Is instructional design a dying art?” One of the guild’s recent surveys asked participants if ID is a dying field. Is it really?
No, It’s Not Dying; It’s Evolving
Instructional design is not dead or dying. That’s clickbait. This is a perennial hand wringing exercise. Marc Rosenberg wrote about it in 2004, and even 13 years ago he mentioned that this pops up every few years.
Instructional design isn’t dying; it’s evolving. Instructional design previously evolved from only classroom training to classroom plus online training. Now the field continues to evolve and expand. In fact, in the Guild report mentioned above, all 13 industry thought leaders agreed that instructional design is changing rather than dying.
As the field evolves, the name may change from instructional design to learning design, learning experience design or something else. I now call myself a “learning design consultant” rather than instructional designer. Regardless of the name, the core skills of instructional design will continue to be valuable and needed in the workplace.
Fragmentation and Diversification
I think instructional design will continue to fragment and diversify. Formal training isn’t disappearing; workers have too many skills they need and switch careers too often. In fact, I think ongoing formal training may even increase. Formal training will be accompanied by more informal training and performance support.
We will continue to have more potential skills than any single person can learn, so we will work more often in teams with specialists in particular skills.
New Technology and More Options
New technologies will give IDs new options. New technology often won’t completely replace old technology, but old and new will exist side-by-side. Sometimes how we use older technology will change. When TV became prevalent, radio didn’t disappear, but we listen in our cars now. Physical books haven’t vanished due to ebooks, but how we buy them has changed. Our future will likely include computers, mobile, AR, and VR. VR will be fantastic in certain situations, but it’s not going to be the right solution for every learning need.
Karl Kapp has noted that new technology is one reason the job outlook for instructional designers is still good.
One reason for the concern about instructional design dying is that it has been trending down on Google for a number of years. The trend has mostly flattened out, but it is much lower than it was in 2004. Brent Schlenker observed this trend in 2016.
If you compare instructional design and learning design (the red line), you’ll see that learning design is now searched more often than instructional design. Learning design has also trended down, but not quite as far as instructional design.
While instructional design and learning design have trended down, elearning is trending up. I don’t believe the interest in online learning overall is likely to diminish, although it will evolve. Traditional self-paced elearning may decrease, but not all online learning.
I see a fairly rosy future for instructional designers and learning designers, especially those who focus on lifelong learning and reflective practice. We will have to evolve to continue to be successful, but that need to constantly learn is part of what makes this field so rewarding. We will have to give up some of our old ways, but we can learn to change and be amazing.
“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
—Trina Paulus, Hope for the Flowers
What do you think? Is instructional design doomed, or will we survive in a changed form?