Putting The ‘Design’ Into Instructional Design

One of the greatest takeaways for me, I have found, is how empowering it can be to realize the significant impact each of us can have as designers when we take on the central instructional design challenge: Create an environment and an experience in which the learners will gain some knowledge or skill more effectively and efficiently than they could without the instruction.

Unfortunately, many organizations completely overlook that aspect of designing instruction—especially when the instruction is intended for online delivery. I find that in many cases instructional design has been diminished to simply word processing and formatting existing documents or presentations into a web-compatible format. I worked with a remarkably limited instructional designer in a Welsh university. Her idea of an ‘activity’ was to give the learners another Word document or another PDF to read. (Yes, her idea of giving the learners a break from reading was to – give them something more to read.) Or, that enriched media e-learning is little more than an elaborate decoration that doesn’t change the experience in any central way. That interactivity rarely rises above the useless task of repetition of presented information.

Design has to tear the content apart and restructure it with the learner and the capabilities of the delivery mechanism in mind. Design can’t be a cookbook solution. Different content domains will require different instructional approaches. Different delivery environments will create unique challenges and opportunities for the learner to interact with the content and challenges at hand. To the mediocre designer with only a hammer, everything is a nail.