The Importance of Being an Instructional Designer

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Typically, all eLearning courses consist of three components; the content, the visual elements, and the technology that powers the eLearning course to work seamlessly across devices. The eLearning industry has undergone several transformations in the last two decades. The changes have been swifter in the second half of the last decade.This is in tandem with the growth of the smartphone and the easy accessibility of robust and inexpensive Android smartphones that have made the smartphone ubiquitous and an integral part of our lives.

In this blog post, we examine how the role of Instructional Designers has evolved and the qualities that are needed to succeed as an instructional designer in a highly competitive industry.

Here’s an infographic that we created way back in 2015 that examines the history of Instructional Design.

History of instructional Design

It’s No Longer Just MS-Word and PowerPoint

Yes, just being able to type out words in a Microsoft Word document or PowerPoint template is no longer sufficient.  In addition to this, Instructional Designers also need to familiarize themselves with authoring tools that help create eLearning content with ease.

Tools like Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, and Lectora Inspire, and the open-source favorite Adapt, are changing the way organizations are creating eLearning. Hence to remain relevant in the job-market, it is important for Instructional Designers to learn to use these course authoring tools as well. We published a post that teaches you to use Adobe Spark to create functional eLearning courses with ease.

[bctt tweet=”The ability to translate thoughts and ideas into words is the key quality that Instructional Designers need.” username=””]

You look at any freelancing job forum or in specialist eLearning jobs websites; you will see the demand for trained Storyline developers. Currently a number of companies operate with a separate ID/Content Team and a team of ‘Storyline Experts’ who translate ID storyboards into immersive eLearning.

It is but normal for organizations to give preference to Instructional Designers who are proficient in using a course-authoring tool and they are suitably paid more than an Instructional Designers who does not know how to use course-authoring tools, commensurate with their experience.

Here’s a video from Dr. Joel Gardner that offers a lucid explanation of what Instructional Designers do as part of their job-role.

Going Beyond Content

Currently the most trending term in the eLearning industry is ‘Learning Experience’. It has two aspects to it – the platform on which the learning is delivered and the actual ‘experience’ of learning. As Instructional Designers how would you approach the course that you have been tasked to design? Ask yourself, how you would like to learn the content that you are creating? Place yourself in the learners’ shoes.

Ideally, as an Instructional Designer you need to be asking the following questions:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What will they learn from this course?
  • How can I make the course interesting enough and also not dumb down the facts?
  • How will the course benefit them?
  • What content strategy can I use to improve the efficacy of learning?
  • If I was the learner would I complete this course as it has been envisaged?
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Once clarity is attained about the target audience and when you perceive yourself learning the course, it becomes easier to create content. Remember, you are not just creating a set of slides that will be animated to create a video course! You are creating a ‘learning experience’ – so stay focused on the task at hand and look beyond writing, by visualizing the course in your mind.

The illustration below typically describes how eLearning projects are executed:

Instructional Design

Reference e-Learning Uncovered

The designations may vary and based on the severity of the project and deadline more staff may work on the project to complete it faster. The illustration above gives a broad overview of how the eLearning project kicks in from the content analysis/pre-tasking, followed by storyboard creation, reviews, online development, review and QA-testing, and delivery.

The Storyboard Remains Sacred

[bctt tweet=”Similarly, for the success of an eLearning project, the instructional design storyboard plays a key role and it is the most powerful tool for the Instructional Designer to craft magic.” via=”no”]

Bound scripts and screenplays play a key role in the making of a movie. Similarly, for the success of an eLearning project, the instructional design storyboard plays a key role and it is the most powerful tool for the Instructional Designer to craft magic.This is where all the ideas and instructions for the graphic designer and programmer go into. Keep your storyboard clean and updated.

If multiple team-members are working one composite storyboard, versioning and naming conventions should be strictly followed to ensure that there’s just one correct file, instead of multiple documents floating around.

Instructional Design

Given above is a basic storyboard template that covers the key elements that go into creating content for an eLearning program. Each organization has its own version of a storyboard template customized for its requirements. Whichever format of storyboard is used, it is essential to ensure that the final output of the course matches what’s approved and cleared in the storyboard when it’s dispatched for design and development.

ATD – Attention to Detail

Mother Teresa is believed to have said the following – “We can do no great things, only small things with great care.” As Instructional Designers it is quite important to ensure that the storyboard that’s crafted has minimal mistakes. Reviewers exist to add value to the original content and guide Trainee Instructional Designers to write effectively. If style guides and standards are followed for a specific client/project, ensure that the storyboard adheres to the guidelines. ‘Attention to Detail’ is a quality that will serve instructional designers. Lesser the work for the reviewer, the better are your chances for a promotion.

Stay Grounded with the Visual Elements

[bctt tweet=”One of the most common causes of conflict between ‘Content’ and ‘Design’ teams is ‘Visualization’.” via=”no”]

One of the most common causes of conflict between ‘Content’ and ‘Design’ teams is ‘Visualization’. The Instructional Designer would have written the storyboard with visual elements to be displayed in a specific order. When the frames are created, the output differs.

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There are no two ways to explain this, remember the graphic designer’s forte is creating visual elements, not analyzing language and syntax. Hence it becomes extremely important for the Instructional Designer to present the instructions for the Graphic Designer in a simple language. Wherever possible, provide reference images of illustration/icons/visual elements that you would like to be featured.

Most importantly, talk to members from different teams. Do not remain in silos, speak enough, explain in person, it simplifies the work-flow, and the final output gets delivered faster. Remember, every project is supposed to fit into a budget. Do not end up demanding visual elements that increase development efforts and overshoot the actual time and budget allocated for the project.

Instructional Design and Graphic Design – A Winning Partnership

Conflicts between the Instructional Designer and Graphic Designer arise when the GD does not fully understand what the Instructional Designer intends to convey. In other instances, the GD just blindly follows instructions in terms of ‘copy and paste’.

Then it is the ID who is at fault to have used erroneous text or an incorrect statistic.  Typically, the GD only starts design work once all the content has been vetted and approved by the Senior ID-Reviewer. It is not the GD’s role to vet the content in the storyboard shared by the ID. It is the ID and the ID-Reviewer’s job to ensure that the storyboard that is forwarded for development/design does not have any errors.

But like every possible axiom of Murphy’s Law, if something must go wrong, it will go wrong. This is wherein the Quality Team plays a major role in going through each frame of the course, checking the navigation buttons and functions, and ensuring that everything is working as designed. Not very different from an automobile manufacturing unit – the ‘Quality Team’ has the final say, before we can deliver anything to the client.

Take Pride in your Work

Instructional Designers help individuals learn with the content that they create. Hence, they are no lesser than teachers who help students. Be proud of what you are doing, keep your eyes and ears open, familiarize yourself with relevant news from the world of learning technology and stay humble.

Professional certifications are greatly valued in a competitive industry. If you have completed a program in Instructional Design or Technical Writing from a reputed institution, or from the numerous online course aggregators, you stand at an advantage. It is also important to remember that all these certifications are pointless, unless you have actual work experience, which demonstrates your capabilities in Instructional Design.

Learning Resources for Instructional Designers

Today, there are lots of opportunities for graduates who are looking to start a career in Instructional Design. The eLearning industry is constantly on the lookout for both freshers and seasoned professionals to work as instructional designers. Be it recognized master’s or certificate programs, several universities in the US offer dedicated online and regular programs that help individuals achieve professional competence in Learning Technology and Learning Design.

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We look at some premier programs for those looking to create a successful career in Instructional Design and eLearning content development.

Key Qualities to Succeed

Here are some of the points that we believe will make you succeed as an Instructional Designer:

  • Read a lot – gain ideas and note them down
  • Look at eLearning courses from various providers and acquire insights
  • Learn to use popular course-authoring tools
  • Invest in your own learning and sign up for courses in areas like Writing, Gamification, and Design Thinking.
  • Be a good listener and observe what others are doing and saying. Follow subject matter experts on social platforms, build, and grow your own network.
  • Stay humble and grounded, remember, you always have the option to be kind.

Sound Bite

Here’s what one of our senior Instructional Designers, Nithya Kalyani K.  says about the evolution of the role of the Instructional Designer over time.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] In 2005, I shifted from Advertising to eLearning. I joined a leading eLearning firm as an Instructional Designer. As an ID, I learned two important things: to skim-read content and to ask questions. The expectations from an ID were simple: mastery over language, aptitude and proven ability to consume different types of content, and present content in a simple manner for the often-astute and well-informed audience. IDs usually came from a Humanities background. The team usually had teachers and doctorates as IDs who eventually got trained in ID concepts. Then Engineering and Science graduates started their journeys as IDs. Nowadays, I see Statisticians and even Project Managers conveniently taking up the role of an Instructional Designer.

After spending over a decade in the eLearning industry, I can say that though the basic expectations from an ID remain the same, the nuances of the job role have certainly evolved. Powerful digital technologies and modern learning strategies are being used to develop content. The growth of authoring tools enables faster development of eLearning modules. These are exciting times for those working as instructional designers. We can play around with content with greater confidence.With Artificial Intelligence and Data Science making an entry into the eLearning industry, the ride is just going to get more thrilling.  [/pullquote]

At Origin, we have a team of highly qualified Instructional Designers who have worked across diverse eLearning projects. We also offer staffing support for eLearning projects and can partner with you to meet your eLearning needs. Write to us at for more information.

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