We offered this month’s ASTD’s Big Question: Instructional Design – If, When and How Much? to our ID team to initiate a discussion around this topic, and to understand how relevant is Instructional Design today. This lead to some very interesting discussion – here are consolidated views –
An ideal instructional designer is like your favourite teacher back in school. You still remember what he/she taught as he/she taught not only from the book but through innovative techniques like presenting a historical period through a film that refers to that period or a poem through a poetry writing session. In my view, though an SME has a complete grasp of the content he/she is not the best person to decide how the content should be taught. Just like all scholars don’t make good teachers similarly an SME and an instructional designer’s roles are very different. In a deadline-driven environment, we often apply the same instructional strategy for different courses, but the fact remains that each course is an independent entity. Each organisation or institution’s needs are different. There might be some traits similar to a specific type of course, however that doesn’t dispense off with the necessity of a design phase. Depending on the requirements of an e-learning course it is for the instructional designer or Analyst to decide if, when and how much of instructional design is needed. Rapid e-learning tools can not replace instructional design, it is never the end, it is merely the means to reach a particular end, and is like any other software application.
Definitely, there are a few corporate courses that can be developed using rapid e-learning tools without any involvement of the instructional designer after the design phase. However, in these cases too, the instructional designer needs to analyse the content and decide whether a ‘templatised’ approach – that is common to all e-learning tools – is best suited for these e-learning programs. Writing skills and being able to use rapid e-learning tools are useful qualities in an instructional designer, but these abilities do not define the role. What an instructional designer should be equipped with is a thorough understanding of educational theories, an insight into how the human mind works in different age groups, an awareness of what enables retention and what kind of content requires what kind of treatment. He/she should be aware about communication theories, psychometrics as well as knowledge of how best to use the different multimedia elements available in e-learning programs.
An instructional designer should also be aware of usability and accessibility theories. Whether an ID strategy has been successful or not can be decided through an analysis of the audience reception. The analysis should include how the end user received the training and how much of the content he/she could retain and apply to his/her work. Like the design phase, usability testing and audience reception too is often ignored while creating e-learning solutions. With the audience reception reports the instructional designer can‘re-view’ the instructional strategy and decide how successful it was.
The role of the instructional designer in both corporate and academic programs remains the same – to design creative an effective strategies or solutions. I believe good teaching whether it’s in the classroom or through e-learning programs is “one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre”. Knowledge of the subject, writing skills, rapid e-learning tools are all a part of the preparation an instructional designer might undertake, but the strategy and presentation of content is the real stage for the instructional designer and how well he/she performs there determines the success of an e-learning program.
(By Ms. Bidisha Sinha Roy & Ms. Shruti Gupta, who are Lead Instructional Designer and Project Manager, respectively, at G-Cube)