Despite rumors to the contrary, Instructional Design is not dead.
You may have noticed the many articles and blog posts stating that instructional design is dead, and by extension, so is the role of Instructional Designer.
I even saw this tweet the other day (in part)…”When will instructional designers get their heads out of their asses and understand that their roles are dying out.”
First – rude.
Second – wrong.
The role of the instructional designer has never been more alive and exciting. As with any role in an organization, from CEO to Marketing to HR, job roles are evolving. I don’t think Mark Zuckerburg is ready to say his job as CEO is dying.
Where I would like us to focus is on the word evolve. I find that speaking in absolutes gets us in trouble. You’ve seen the headlines: “Classroom training is dead!” or “The LMS Killer”. Dead means gone. Now, I realize sensational headlines get clicks. That being said, it’s all hyperbole. Classroom training isn’t going anywhere soon, nor is your LMS. They aren’t dying, they are evolving (or should be…)
Instructional Design is exciting and alive!
In the past, all instructional designers did was design “sage on the stage” classroom and compliance training. Create a few PowerPoint decks and if we’re feeling frisky, a participant workbook. Now, the range has opened. A progressive instructional designer is one who is looking at blended approaches and how they can be incorporated to enhance traditional models. They are looking at microlearning and video creation as means of learning retention. They are discovering how a dedicated YouTube channel can reinforce lessons and support just-in-time learning. Even if you are only creating training for classrooms – there is a variety of ways to blend or flip your classrooms to make them more effective, engaging and further embed learning.
Dynamic instructional designers are learning about how to take data and create powerful infographics. They are taking SME experts, recording them and creating organizational podcasts or “radio stations”. They are gathering informed end-users and helping them create user-generated content that can then be curated, reviewed, organized and made accessible to the masses.
Yes, it is an exciting time to be an instructional designer.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of e-learning. (Which also has its own litany of “e-learning is dead” headlines.) E-learning needs to move beyond point and click PowerPoints. Rapid development tools can create thought-provoking simulations, problem-solving, challenges, branching logic, games and gamification. The smart, curious and ever evolving instructional designer understands this is the path to travel and they are active in online communities to learn more and do better.
It’s time for progressive instructional designers everywhere, to take a stand and say, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Don’t let people writing “click bait“, paint you and what you do into a corner. What you do for a living DOES MATTER. It matters a lot. Yours may be a position of invisibility, people do not know it exists until something doesn’t work or a need has been recognized and requires a solution. When there is a need to write clear training for new software, who do they go to? Hopefully you.
Here’s the challenge for every instructional Designer
It’s time to get you out of the shadows. You have to opt-in and take yourself out of the dark corners of the business. This means as an active instructional designer, you need to be actively engaged in your business. Do you know the pain points? Do you know what keeps leadership awake at night? Then, step out of the box. Try new and interesting approaches to solve those pain points. For example: Don’t assume people don’t want podcasts. Go to YouTube, find out how to produce them and just do it. Discover interesting people to interview and share their wisdom. Create short video’s, develop learning nuggets to drop into weekly emails, create content that is undeniably interesting, helpful and relevant. People didn’t know they wanted a device that held 10,000 songs either…until Steve Jobs told them they did. Be Steve!
We are artists!
So, no – the life of the instructional designer is not in its declining years, settling in for retirement and on the porch whittling sticks. No. It’s vibrant, it’s colorful, it’s challenging, it’s fun! Just like any other piece of art, we create pieces for people – not for us. People write because they have a story that needs to get out, they paint because a scene moves them. We create because we want to help people be better. To help people do their jobs and to be the best versions of themselves. It’s just that your art form isn’t done with paint brushes or modeling clay, your main tools are your mind and your imagination.
In general, when helping people be the best they can be, we have one very important skill set. Turning the complex into the simple. Turning fat courses into job aids. Turning unusable manuals into usable performance support tools. It is an art form and with any art form, it takes practice and constant knowledge building to stay on top of the progress and improvements.
You think Picasso was a success at first? Nope. Not at all. He struggled, he suffered, he hardly sold anything. But, he kept going, kept trying, kept evolving his style. As time progressed so did his work. As time and technology progresses, your art will evolve too, but only if you show an interest in evolving. You have to opt-in. This means joining a community (try your local ATD chapter), join an online community (It doesn’t get any better than the Articulate community, even if you’re not an articulate user.) follow the back-channels of conferences or save up and attend one conference a year (tax deductible!).
Don’t wait! Opt-in!
Are you bored with what you are doing? Are you thinking that you need to take your skills to the next level? If you are waiting for your employer to pay for your professional development…you might be waiting a very long time. You have a responsibility to be active in your own development. You know what happens to people who do not invest time and resources into their skills? Yep. They become expendable and obsolete.
But that’s not you. You are a rebel. You take pride in your work. You learn new things. You read. You practice. You play with technology, you are insanely curious, because if you don’t learn – you will be left behind. It’s not easy. Anything worth doing isn’t. It’s when we are the most uncomfortable is when we are learning.
I’ll say it again, it is up to you to opt-in and learn new methods and techniques that are complex and difficult (and fun). Yes, we could accept the status-quo, but just as health providers who take the Hippocratic Oath to “Do no harm.”, our oath should be “End-Users First”. Not learners, trainee’s, or participants. End-users. The people who will end up using what you create.
So, let’s all agree…Instructional Design is at a critical and exciting point. Now is the time to learn and move and forward. To be leaders in our field. To stamp out traditional status quo. Instructional design is not dead, it’s an art form just coming to life.
Are you ready?
In the comment section below – SHARE! What new things are you learning to take your skills to the next level?
March Book Giveaway!
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again! As a learning professional, if you only have one book on your bookshelf it needs to be this one! Design for How People Learn, by Julie Dirksen. This book is a work of art! Covering current cognitive science combined with solid learning techniques. Don’t let this book collect dust. It’s a must own, and a must use!
March Book Giveaway: Level up! “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen
Neil Von Heupt says
Hey Shannon! I think if your instructional designer is dead, that may be a good thing. Either they’ve died from the embarrassment of producing click-next page turners, or their end users have killed them! Either way, the profession, organisations and end users are better off without them. I’m not advocating IDocide generally though. There is some great work being done by people who (as you suggest) are listening to their organisations and users, asking good questions, pushing beyond initial requests and designing like artists.
Shannon Tipton says
Hi Neil – I’m with you.
Although, I’d amend your comment to say, “If your old school instructional designer disappeared that would be a good thing”. A great ID person understands the relationship between content, context, and user experience. They aren’t creating “training (or learning)” they are creating experiences that encourage learning or deeper thought, where appropriate and pushes back when it’s not. They know that classrooms are NOT the place for learning, that learning happens when the information is used in context to the job. They understand that training is hardly ever the answer and when it is, it MUST be connected to a holistic organizational solution. There are times when a video will do the trick, times an infographic tells the story needed, and times when a good checklist is all that will ever be needed.
A GREAT ID knows the difference, and what’s more, is able to communicate the differences. Those who are happy with creating page turners or boring classrooms are being allowed to exist by the organization – and subsequently, then, that’s what the organization deserves.
Instructional Design Software says
Excellent post. I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work!
Ben Battaglia says
Shannon, thanks for these thoughts. I love the idea of “stamping out the traditional status quo” of e-learning. I work at Lessonly, and we’re trying to do this in the corporate training space. I’ve found that too often, businesses are content with “point and click PowerPoints” because learning/training isn’t a priority for their team. So in order for industrial designers to deliver the most value, those at the top of organizations have to realize the tremendous value that a posture of “end-users first” will bring to their organization. It’s not just a feel-good experience—there are performance and ROI opportunities as well!
Shannon Tipton says
Hi Ben – I agree! I think there is enough blame to go around. Instructional designers create “point and click” elearning because that is what the business demands. However, the business demands “point and click” elearning because it doesn’t know better. It’s a vicious circle that many do not have the strength to break out of. We can do better simply by asserting our subject matter expertise. (Which we don’t, and it’s a mystery to me why not.) So here’s to stamping out training status-quo!
Julie Dirksen says
Hey Shannon — not sure if I ever thanked you for the lovely shoutout for the book! Really appreciate it 🙂
Shannon Tipton says
My pleasure Julie. It’s my favorite book! Totally EPIC thinking within the pages! 😀
I’m not sure I totally agree. It seems that ID has been hijacked by the business/corporate world over the past several years. For some reason, hiring managers and recruiters seem to believe that skills in E-learning authoring tools = competency in ID principles. Lately many job postings not only require skills in ID but also skills in graphic design and multimedia design/development, Flash/HTML programming, all of the E-Learning authoring tools, LMS admin, and project management, etc. The “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” mantra has been a huge disservice for the ID profession. I recently raised my concerns about the ID profession to one of my graduate professors and for some reason she has chosen to ignore me completely. I am quite jaded and uncertain about the direction of ID over the next several years.
Shannon Tipton says
Greg – Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is the reasons you express above that make me look at instructional design in a different way. My message here is that ID is changing and that is exciting. There is a multitude of options. People aren’t just ID anymore, or if they are the role of ID has taken on some nuances.
I’m leery of hiring requirements that ask for the unicorn. Not everyone is a master at everything, and yes that is a disserve to the profession as a whole – not just ID professionals. That being said, I believe this is a chance for the ID field (or the people within it) to rebrand themselves. Specializing in ID for video, e-learning, blended, flipped and/or micro. Each a different way to deliver training/learning to the masses but require “a certain set of skills” (to quote Liam Neeson). My advice to is to branch out. Learn more about how people learn in relation to video, informal learning or social learning. This will add to your list of skills and are directly applicable to traditional ID.
Look at traditional ID in this way – every position from CEO to order taker at McDonald’s has had to shift the way they do the job. ID professionals are no different, it’s time to evolve – which is what makes everything cool again. Looking at how technology can be applied to ID is interesting stuff, and makes you more marketable. I’m dismayed that your professor choose to ignore the question rather than to help you wrap your brain around how the profession is evolving and hopefully my comment here helps you.
Julie Marciel-Rozzi says
I’m in higher education, and I’m struck by a couple of things. The best instructors I work with are those who keep an eye on what’s happening in L&D and those who keep evolving in their practice. The same goes for me, I create faculty training and strive to bring into it, the best of what L & D is doing now. The “end-users first” mindset benefits faculty, students and staff and is crucial to the course re-design process.
I’m glad to hear ID isn’t dead, just evolving, keeps me on my toes.
Shannon Tipton says
Keeps me on my toes too! Being a little off-balance is good for us all. Thanks for the comment Julie!
William Ryan says
I agree especially with the idea that we are evolving. We need to focus on more performance (Competency) based solutions and move assessment strategies to become more integral to learning progression rather than content retrieval. Aligning with our business partners is also a key to moving us into the mainstream conversations – learning and using) their metrics targeting their community of learners with focused content using our curation skills) is key to long term success. Thanks for post! – bill
Shannon Tipton says
Hi Bill – Thank you for your comment. You are spot on! A bit back, I wrote a post “CSI Learning Needs Investigation” which addressed this specifically. We need to move to being business partners across the organization, this means learning the language of business and how it aligns with needs of the end-user. If we are working on a program that doesn’t impact a business result, I would question why we are working on the project to begin with…we are on the same page! #LetsDoThis!