Rebuttal: Why Bother with Instructional Design?

In my last post I stated instructional design didn’t matter for instructor-led training because trainers do what they want and learners don’t know what they’ve missed if instructors omit content. In case it wasn’t obvious, that post was intended to provoke thought and not be taken literally. Good instructional design is essential to any successful training program, online or in-person.

Part of what I’ve recognized over the years is that instructional designers have to give up any attachments they have to a course. Once you hand it off to the next person, be it an instructor in a classroom or a learner online, you have no control over how much of your work will be used, much less appreciated. The key is planning on people not following your design. I think the best instructional design is completely transparent to the learners. I’ve never heard a learner say “Wow, the instructional design in that class was great!” I have heard them say “that was the best training I’ve had”. Again, good instructional design is transparent to learners.

Instructional Design turns various pieces of knowledge and information into something meaningful. It accounts for learner differences and technology differences. It’s how learners get from nothing to being able to do their job. The amount of design necessary depends entirely on the content and delivery method, but someone needs to think about the hows and whys of the learning or training process.

In a classroom, training is probably a pretty linear process. It’s also (hopefully) a dynamic process where the instructor challenges students and has high expectations. In an online course it may be a collection of short tutorials that include a mix of media and activities that can be done in short bursts as needed or taken as a comprehensive course over several sessions. The instructional designer decides what to include and what to leave out, and how learners progress through the content for optimal benefit. Even if you’re designing a short software tutorial on a single task, there is still some level of instructional design required.

I feel instructional design is under valued in today’s world of rapid eLearning. I also think good instructional designers are needed to tie all the new technologies together and make them meaningful to learners. Instructional design, when done right, is the most important part of the training process.


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