Monday, August 16, 2010

Instructional Design is Not Dying

Instructional Design has been on mind lately. Having just finished reflecting on my first year experiences as a blogger and as a member of the web 2.0 learning community, I realize that a lot of my focus over the last year has been on informal learning topics. I started this blog as a way to explore web 2.0 tools, partly to educate myself, and partly to contribute and share what I could with others about my experiences as I attempt to integrate these technologies into workplace learning. This got me thinking about how little of my explorations have been focused on instructional design for formal learning. Then I read this blog post Is Instructional Design Dying? over at the eLearning Authority this morning which compelled me to write this tonight.

I’ve been working in learning & development roles for a number of years. First and foremost I consider myself to be an instructional designer. And while I admit that I no longer spend as much of my time involved in rigorous design these days, it informs everything that I do. Yes, we are in the non-linear age of elearning programs and informal learning but does that mean we should abandon systems thinking? Just because we develop elearning rapidly, it doesn’t mean we have to do it poorly. Don’t we still need to analyze tasks and learner behavior to know what needs to go into a rapid elearning course? And even though we may not be able to prescribe the path our learners take as they pursue their learning goals through informal means, can’t we still be thoughtful and creative about what we place in their path?

Like many who are using rapid elearning tools today, early in my career my approach to instructional design was based on intuition. Trial and error was my course development process. I remember my excitement when I first encountered the Dick & Carey model. It allowed me to be more deliberate in my approach to design and my results were consistently better.

Some people criticize the Dick & Carey model for being too rigid and inflexible for learning in today’s world. To those people I would say, “It’s a model.” It is a representation of our reality, but it is not our reality. It is up to us as learning professionals to bring insight, flexibility, and creativity to the design process.

A few years ago, I gave away my copy of The Systematic Design of Instruction - a great reference book on how to apply the Dick & Carey model - to a new staff member in my department who was just beginning her career as a course developer. Earlier this year, I bought a new copy for myself because even though things are changing, it is still important to my work.  But if I come across another enthusiastic novice course developer, I just might give this copy away too.


  1. Mike, as an instructional designer myself I have come to the defense of our profession as of late. E-learning has grown in popularity due to its long-term cost savings. My suspicion is the rise in popularity has been due to the economy and a given company's need to reduce operating costs.

    Rapid e-learning tools, in my opinion, have given a false impression that anybody can develop training. Tools like Captivate or Articulate are great, they are merely tools in the hands of unskilled and uneducated trainers. Just because you show somebody how to do a job doesn't necessarily mean they have been trained.

    People forget that there is a science behind training and development. That's where instructional designers come in. What I have been advocating as of late is for instructional designers to do a better job at demonstrating their value. These days they have to work from the context of whether or not their actions generate revenue for a company / client or save money and reduce costs.

  2. Justin,

    You are on the money when you describe the type of conversations Instructional Designers need to have with business leaders.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Online collaborating and teaching can work, If you have trust and the right tools.
    I recently tried - good app for uploading documents and working on them in real-time.
    Most file types are supported and it needs no installation. - andy

  4. I think the thing that gives rise to the idea that anyone can produce e learning as well as an instructional designer is that, for the most part, instructional designers churn out stuff that is boring and doesn't meet organizational goals, so why invest in one? It seems to me that the field either attracts people with little imagination or somehow removes it.

  5. In response to the comment from Anonymous above, I would have to agree that there is a lot of ineffective elearning out there, but a lot of it is being produced by people who aren't true instructional designers. Take a look at this previous blog entry It describes the background and experiences a good designer should bring to the table.


  6. Flowcharts, references to others works, semantics, and theories are helpful. But those aside, what is conspicuously absent are any stories pertaining to real life daily examples of training gone right (best practices), or even training gone wrong scenarios as learning tools. Less theory and more real life everyday experiences. As a business person, I implore you to show real life examples..... PLEASE!

  7. Anonymous,

    Like many business leaders and learning professionals, it sounds like you have experienced many of the frustrations associated with amateur or half-hearted course development. Since this is a personal blog, for competitive reasons, I cannot share specific work done by my team members on behalf of my company. But there are many good examples that are freely available. Check out these links for starters: