Monday, February 04, 2008

The Big Question: Instructional Design as a Spectrum

The Learning Circuits Big Question this month: Instructional Design - If, When and How Much?

My response here is not so much an answer to this question, but rather, further musings on this endless topic that I've been rambling on about of late.

Shades of Instructional Design

What if we leave the labels aside for a moment. What if we say that everyone who creates instruction is an instructional designer.

Different tools; different projects; different expertise. Some instructional designers are trained in ID; some are subject matter experts who've been assigned a training project or see a training need.

Of course, there may be and there are many variations in the quality of instruction that result.

But one could argue that some SMEs may and do have a natural flair for the art of instructional design (Rupa's post on ID as art; Donald Clark's post).

Some instructional designers, with a Master's Degree and all, may have no natural flair and may design poor instruction.

Many instructional designers find their way into this job rather randomly. Look at our survey results. Look at my own path to instructional design.

I'm wondering if we should be talking about tiers of instructional design. Of course, this is all semantics, and maybe it doesn't matter. But maybe it does.

Some instructional designers:
  • Design self-paced eLearning. PowerPoints on steroids.
  • Create complex simulations and games.
  • Work with 3D tools like Second Life.
  • Use web 2.0 technologies to design collaborative, just-in-time training experiences.
  • Look at organizations' structures and define strategy.
  • Craft distance learning events for college credit that pull together elements of both asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences.
  • Create online learning experiences for use in K-12 classrooms.
We're all still instructional designers. But the shades are many.

I pick purple. What color are you?
Photo: chalk by frumbert


Reuben Tozman said...

Hi Cammy,

If you were to build yourself a table out of four pieces of 2 x 4 and a flat wood surface does that make you a carpenter? Are you even practicing carpentry? What about medicine? Does taking an Advil or making yourself a homemade splint make you a doctor? Is there nothing to be said for 'intent'? Does the end justify the means? There are good doctors and bad doctors for sure. But we still label those with the proper training a 'Doctor' even if they suck :).

Definitely blazing orange today!

Cammy Bean said...

Yes, I think you are practicing carpentry in that case.

As to the medical doctor -- you may not be a doctor, but you might be a nurse practitioner, an EMT, a nurse's aid, a good Samaritan, a firefighter, a midwife, a homeopath, a parent. The intent to heal is still there.

There's the old joke about medical school, "What do you call someone who's last in his class at medical school? Doctor."

My point is, that maybe the title "instructional designer" needs to be expanded upon. There are different types of IDs with different skills required.

Is what I do as an ID the equivalent of what you do? Probably not. Are we both IDs? Maybe. But maybe there should be qualifiers -- or adds on to the title to more clearly distinguish what it is that each of us do...

I don't have the benefit (or the baggage) of formal education in Instructional Design. What I do have is 13+ years of experience in the field, plus a lot of self-directed energy to learn more.

Today I'm feeling more like a hazy purple.

Cammy Bean said...

The question (particularly in the realm of the medical example) has to do with scope. As a licensed massage therapist, it is not in my scope to prescribe or even advise someone to take Advil. But I could say, "what's worked for me in the past in that situation is..."

Perhaps it is a question of scope for IDs?

Reuben Tozman said...

I'm wondering if in the carpentry example if a master carpenter would agree with you? I would agree that you are to some degree doing carpentry work...whether you would be practicing carpentry, I wonder. Again, I go back to intent. The question isn't necessarily for me about formal education versus experience. Two roads same destination.

I am going to agree that we ought to take some time and define the skills of an ID, but in my view its to limit the expansion of what we're considering ID. If you water down the trade and expand it then you're diluting the real value of an ID. This is the argument I make in my paper that using a rapid development tool to create training does not make you an ID. There's nothing in that action itself that speaks ID. But if you talk about what sorts of instructional approaches you took to building the course and your able to describe your intent and your rationale, then you just might be an ID ;) The fact that we employ our skills differently in different places doesn't take away from the fact that an ID to be valuable they must be able to create a learning situation based on intent and proper rationale.

Off to a stinkin' sales meeting :)

Cammy Bean said...

I'm sure a master carpenter wouldn't think so highly of the table I were to make should I take on such a project. But I'm sure there are plenty of self-educated carpenters who could do fine work.

I agree with you about the intent. And I think we're coming towards the same point from different directions.

But I wonder out loud here -- if I'm a SME and I happen to use the tools in a creative way to create useful instruction without knowing all the detailed terminology, etc. and the theory behind why I did what -- I've still created good instruction. Right? Intuition might go a long way. Some of the best teachers don't have pedagogical backgrounds.

That isn't to say that we shouldn't be supplying those SMEs with useful resources and instruction on creating good instruction (Clive's 30-minute masters program). And this is where I see an obvious role for the "real" instructional designers -- that of consultant to those SMEs.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a helpful analogy here would be interior design.

Many people undertake decorating/renovating their homes--some individuals or organizations hire interior designers to use their expertise to do it for them. People who decorate their own homes might arrive at a very 'professional' looking result, but like your example of an SME doing their own instructional design, the individual who decorates/renovates their own home both benefits and suffers from their own intimate knowledge of the 'subject matter'.

The question here, IMO, is whether that person will be able to replicate those results for projects that do not involve their own area of expertise. As well, as is a pretty well-discuss issue in ID, people who are intimately knowledgeable about a certain subject often lack the ability to 'step-out' of it enough to not end up conveying the content as 'obvious'. (They might also not be aware of how to translate a course from the classroom to other media, for example.)

Again, with the interior design analogy. If you decorate/renovate your own home you may very well arrive at satisfactory results---but this would not make you an interior designer. If you then wanted to move on to working on other peoples homes you would probably want to get a bit more into the techniques of the trade (whether through formal or informal learning). As Reuben said, it relates to intention, and I would add... a track record of experience.

(Hi Reuben :-) )

Alex O.