I want to apologize. I write about instructional design (ID) all the time but I’ve never stopped to explain what Instructional Designers really do. There are numerous definitions for it and many of them are somewhat wordy and technical. So, here’s my personal definition instead:

Instructional design is the art/science of making things make sense.

That’s it in a nutshell. Every aspect of ID is intended to make learning experiences as effective as possible. That’s true whether someone is designing a job aid, an online course, or an instructor-led training session.
With that said, there’s a lot packed into that nutshell. Some of this overlaps a bit, but I think it gets the idea across:

• Learning and instructional theories
• Needs analysis/root cause analysis
• Problem solving
• How memory works
• Motivation techniques
• How to include context
• Writing
• Creativity
• Basic visual design
• Formatting consistency
• Ability to see the big picture
• Ability to see details
• Technology awareness
• User experience (UX) awareness

Many instructional designers also help build eLearning courses, so they also need programming or rapid content authoring tool skills. Others take on the role of project manager, which requires lots of organization, time management, and people skills.

To keep it brief, here’s the gist of what an instructional designer often does when they’re brought onto a project. (Please note that there can be variation depending on a number of factors).

They’re told, “Hey, we have this project.” Then they find out who it’s for and what it’s about. Then they gather, or are given, the information that needs to be included. At this point, it’s a matter of learning everything they can so they can explain it to others through the training materials. If they don’t already know something about the topic they need to start from scratch. It involves a lot of question asking. It’s also important for them to ask about the learners and dig to find the best possible solution.

Then they come up with different ideas for how the training could be structured and delivered. An idea is chosen. The instructional designer then drafts whatever is needed: job aids, video scripts, eLearning storyboards, facilitator guides, etc. They go back and forth through several rounds of review and revision with the subject matter experts (SMEs) to make sure everything is accurate. Once the revised documents are approved, the project moves into the production phase.

Some instructional designers bow out around this point. Others help with production. Those who are also project managers are in from start to finish.

Once production is over, however, it’s best practice to make sure any changes that had to take place during production are accounted for in the documentation. That way the documents and the finished product match. Instructional designers can also conduct an evaluation after training’s roll-out. This focuses on whether the learners benefited from the training and how well it was received.

There are definitely a lot of parts to instructional design. As far as I’m concerned though, the goal is simple. Make things make sense.


If you’d like to learn about custom course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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