In a previous post, we discussed what it is instructional designers do: a “jack of all trades”, who can analyze, design, write, troubleshoot, communicate, create, and adapt. Instructional designers work in a variety of settings with diverse groups of learners across time and space. Regardless of where they work, IDs must all confront internal resistance, cope with external pressures, and overcome significant challenges to see their work come to fruition.
In an April 2016 report commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the consulting group Intentional Futures (iF) examined instructional designers in higher education: where they are from, what they do, what tools they use, and what barriers they face. The findings confirm our “jack of all trades” characterization: IDs must do a little bit of everything. iF created four broad categories to classify the work of instructional designers: train, support, manage, and design.
Design: design new or redevelop old courses, create instructional deliverables, quality assurance
Manage: project management, policy improvement and promotion, work across service areas
Train: technology training, instructional training, facilitate professional development
Support: learning management system (LMS) support, faculty consultation
In fact, one survey respondent in the iF study remarked that the best IDs “are ‘aces-of-many-trades’, with authentic experience and training in all aspects of the process” (p. 10).
Much of what IDs do is cross-categorical: they might be managing a large program development project that also requires their design and support skills. Though this report was written specifically with higher education in mind, we can imagine how these categories might be just as relevant for a corporate trainer working on a new elearning initiative with a tight deadline and limited budget.
IDs in higher education and IDs in the private sector must both deal with obstacles impeding successful learning and training initiatives. In the iF report, IDs identified major barriers to their work. With a bit of linguistic substitution, we could create a similar list for the corporate ID:
Image adapted from Intentional Futures (2016), Instructional Design in Higher Education (p. 15)
Whether on a college campus or in a corporate office, all IDs must have a certain set of skills that they can draw on to train, support, manage, and design. They must be able to handle organization-specific challenges that will undercut and jeopardize their best-laid plans. And, they must be able to quickly improvise and adapt in the face of such challenges to create and implement successful learning solutions.