Monday, September 28, 2009

What’s the Difference: Learning Designer vs. Instructional Designer?

Someone got to my blog the other day by searching on “what’s the difference between learning designers and instructional designers?”

Good question.

In my last job, I was the Manager of Instructional Design.  Now I’m the VP of Learning Design.

Did I make the leap because I work for the UK mothership – and that’s what they call it across the pond?

Are we – as in the collective we of the eLearning ‘industry’ – making a conscious shift away from Instructional Designer since no one on the outside knows what that means?

Is Learning Designer more descriptive?  Is it more all encompassing?  Am I now thinking about learning solutions – all the myriad ways to help someone actually learn – not just how to feed someone up with a little instructional tidbit?

Is this a general trend or just me?

What do you think??


ellen said...

you convinced me "we" were learning designers months ago.

Mahdi Gharavi said...

Since "I'm an instructional designer" is almost always met with blank stares, I just fall back on elaborating with "eLearning developer." Either that does the trick, or they lose the desire to find out more.

But every time I have to settle, it bugs me. What I do spans a broader scope. I hadn't heard "learning designer" used as a title before (chalk it up to being so new to the field) but it seems much more fitting since it's broader than "instructional designer." Moving into the "eLearning 2.0" space, it can be argued that more "learning" takes place than "instruction," especially when the approach blurs into the sphere of social or informal learning.

Now to just get a reprint on my business cards.

eQuixotic said...

Ah, the ever-changing world of corporate mumbo jumbo. The more it evolves the sillier it gets.

I work in the Learning & Education department. How's that for absurd redundancy? Because learning and education are exactly?

That said, I personally like the vibe of Learning Designer more than Instructional Designer.

Steve said...

I'm not sure Learning Design is something that can actually be done if one pays attention to the mechanics of our language:)


1. Dietician
2. Eating Designer

Just seems like semantic silliness. I think that it's important to change our perspective a bit.

Learning is something that learners do. It's not something that can be designed, packaged, or managed.

The learning *experience* can be designed, the learning *campaign* can be strategically mapped. But learning is a desired outcome.

These are valid titles, based on my understanding of language:

Education Specialist
Learning Experience Designer
Performance Technologist

Part of our evolution as an industry should be in establishing clearer roles and putting some of these ancient arguments to bed.

Learning designer doesn't jive with me. But Instructional designer doesn't either. Instructional what? Instructional Stuff Designer, Instructional Solution Designer. Let's state that in a sentence. I design instructional. I design learning doesn't work any better. Would you say I design eating if you were a dietician?

Kristen Cromer said...

Great question! I've seen "Learning Designer" popping up more frequently these days.
I've always preferred "Learning Experience Designer" inspired by a previous title I held as "User Experience Designer"
An "experience" sounds more wholistic and impactful.
"Instruction" to me sounds one-directional, like we are delivering or handing something to someone.

Taruna Goel said...

Interesting post...I have liked to call myself a Learning and Development Consultant/Specialist. I agree that in today's scenario - 'Instructional Designer' completely misses the point! I agree with some comments posted here and consider learning as an 'experience' too. But even so, I consider my role and responsibilities to start much before the learning has to be designed. I feel my role as an L&D consultant begins with the analysis of whether a training intervention is what I really need to solve the performance problem at hand.

Anonymous said...

The title I use depends on my audience. I use "Learning Designer" when the people I'm talking to aren't in the same field. I tend to use Instructional Designer or eLearning Specialist within the "learning community". I'm also a developer (occasionally) and a PM. That's why my business cards & email signature just include our department name "Learning Content". There are two many variables to permanently put it in print :-)

Anonymous said...

So well put, sflowers! I couldn't agree more. I call myself an e-learning developer.
I see myself as developing an environment for e-learning.
But it's not a sexy title, though it does seem to meet with understanding when I explain what I do.
However, ultimately I am a tutor. I am a tutor using the web as my class. I am trying to put together exciting, enriched learning experiences for students who choose to learn via the web rather than face-to-face in the class.
So - to follow sflower's thread - I should, as a tutor, no more say that I am a classroom developer than I should say I am an e-learning developer.
Maybe I should just stick with 'I'm a lecturer and tutor using class and the web in which to teach"???

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, I was redefining the "Instructional Design" function that I head at a “Learning Services” organization in India. One of the first things we did was to change designations that started with Instructional (like Instructional Designer, Senior Instructional Designer) or ended with Instructional Design (such as Manager and Specialists in Instructional Design) to those that used Learning Design. This did meet with raised eyebrows and some flak and I think some folks still relapsed occasionally to the more comfortable ID rather than LD. With time, folks realized that it did fit the bill of what we wanted to be as a group - since the world was and is rapidly moving from just instruction - telling you what to do - to more inclusive learning experiences!

Arthur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arthur said...

I tell people that I write instructional materials. Seems to work.

Janet Clarey said...

Which one has the higher pay scale?

Unknown said...

I am gravitating towards what Jay Cross termed the "Learnscape Architect." OK, its a bit much and definitely very foreign to most. And I cannot honestly say I have used it exclusively but usually in tandum with ID (which by the way still gets the blank stares that Mahdi mentioned). The reason I prefer Learnscape Architect is that it really does align better to what I am doing/trying to do - create, modify, enhance, the entire organizations efforts to grow employee knowledge and skills through formal, informal, Web 2.0, etc. On a final note, ID is understandable to many ...but the LD acronym takes me back to my Spec. Education teaching days ..."Learning Disabled" Yikes.

Glen Cochrane said...

Instruction is transmissive. My shampoo bottle has instructions on it. There's not much need for me to think, question or soak in dialog when I wash my hair. Learning is student centered and puts the responsibility more on the student and encourages learner autonomy.

Unknown said...

Interesting question, especially posted the same day I received a newsletter from my alma mater including a section soliciting feedback on what to rename the program that currently teaches "instructional design," as we know it.

The program is currently called Educational Technology.

Proposed options:
1) Learning Design and Technology
2) Learning, Design, and Technology
3) leave as is; Educational Technology

I'm happy they're considering the change because the blank stare you get when you tell someone you're an instructional designer is bad enough, but when you have to try to explain the connection between a degree in educational technology and being ID, that's even worse.

My take on the whole thing: a title's a title. I doubt very seriously that calling yourself a Learning Designer is likely to attract any fewer blank stares.

Unknown said...

I started with ID, then Sr. ID, then Learning Consultant to Sr. Learning Consultant, on to Lead Learning Strategist then now that I'm on my own, I kind of like Learning Architect or Grand PooBah. If I'm dealing with tech folks, architect seems to bring some clarity, but as other's have said, when the glazed look emerges I just say, "elearning, you know?" The relief is immediate--even tho I rarely do elearning anymore.

Cammy Bean said...

My business card doesn't even have a job title -- that way I can customize my description for my audience.

To Steve's point -- yes, yes. Learning is something the learner does. But I think it's resonating more with the ID crowd as a description of what they help facilitate.

Language is a fluid thing. Maybe it's ok to turn this on its head?

If I called myself a Learning Experience Designer, I think I might snort while saying that out loud.

Unknown said...

Agree. Learning Experience Designer might be just the ticket in Redmond or Silicon Valley, but not sure it would "play" in Augusta, Maine. Context is key...and then there's the snorting thing.

Anonymous said...

We need to go out and try e learning as a form of alternative education.

Steve said...

Ha! I see what you're saying about the syllable overload - the title doesn't roll off the tongue very well.

My trouble with the titles Instructional Designer and Learning Designer is that it doesn't always describe what the individual in a role actually does. The titles lack specificity and I get the feeling that combined with great marketing from tool vendors, ID in many orgs has been watered down to 80% assembler, 2% strategy, 18% whatever else is required. This is a sad use of a potentially powerful resource (not to mention an expensive use.)

Perhaps a higher level title with role specification would help. I still don't like 'designer' in the title. For one, design implies specific and can mean a lot of things (I've seen many ID's that dabble in PhotoShop - it's a design tool - sigh.)

At the extreme end of the scale there are some very real problems that tend to crop up where there are herds of IDs. The specialties within this group include:

Charge Code Demolition (making resources disappear)
Gossip Yodeler / Cackler (ensuring high human noise levels are maintained)
Copy-Paster (moving letters and words from one place to another)
Processbot (unable to synthesize solutions - but can color by numbers without fail)

There are plenty of folks out there that don't, or can't, contribute quality to the field. For the other half, maybe these could serve as better top level position descriptions:

Learning Technologist (Skills and Knowledge Specialist)
Learning Scientist (if you're packing the Ed D / Ph D)
Performance Technologist (System Development - higher level focus than LT)

And these for specialty segmentation:

Experience Design
Contextual Narrative (I want to know who the good storytellers are)
Performance Support
Skill Strategy

... I'm sure there are some great specialty descriptors that would be far better than these. Point here is that I would love to know (and think there would be benefit to the individual to know) what specific talents an ID is packing.

Specialization tags may help the field focus energy where it needs to go. Then again, I could be wrong:)

Robert Kennedy III said...

Yeah, so there are always these words that we come up to describe what we do. Some "sound" better than others I suppose. A few years back someone told me that they were a building maintenance engineer. Funny, that's the same job that we used to call a janitor. Not that the term JANITOR sounds demeaning in any way. Anyway, learning designer vs instructional designer? Hmmm, I suppose if I broke it down and chose to chat about the focus I could come up with a nice perspective. How about this, the term "instructional" seems to focus more on the teacher while the term "learning" seems to focus more on the student. Therefore, a "learning designer" has made the transition from design modules that seek to mimic what a teacher would do and focus now on learner engagement and interaction. How's that for a definition or perspective, Cammy?

Tex Brieger said...

Not sure! Great point though.
Do we have more control over the instruction? Can't we craft the instruction more than learning? Not sure.

I have a hard time describing ID to others. Maybe it would be more accurate say learning designer.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Wow Cammy - a lot of reaction here! Kia ora!

Personally I think it's semantics.

The name that goes with the job doesn't mean as much as what's in the job description. The job description doesn't mean as much as what is actually expected from the employee. What is actually expected from the employee doesn't mean as much as what the employee is capable of doing under the environment given to work in. And so it goes on.

I've held down several jobs in IT. The only one that lived up to the name of the position in every respect was 'Computer Training Officer'. All I ever did in that job was train people how to use computers - and that was exactly what was expected of me by everyone, including the people I trained.

Catchya later

Cammy Bean said...

I know it's all semantics! And I agree it's actually about what you do that makes the difference, etc. And yet...we all get hung up on this thing that we call ourselves.

What I'm wondering is if the "industry" is making a semantic shift to learning designer and away from instructional designer? Kristen says she's been seeing "learning designer" popping up more frequently. Anyone else seeing a trend?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Cammy!

Thanks for responding.

In education (not instructional designing) the onus has been slowly moving towards the teacher to be responsible for 'learning'. I wondered about this when I noticed that the language that was being used by authorities moved from 'teaching' to 'learning'. Recently, I wrote a post about this.

I have a hunch that in your profession there is a similar shift. The responsibility for learning, however, is wrongly shifted to the teacher (or instructional designer). What IS the responsibility of the teacher (and instructional designer - and I use this term in the way that you and I recognise its use) is delivery.

I noticed the shifting away from terms like 'delivering teaching' and 'delivering instruction', but that's what teachers (and instructional designers) should be doing. By their actions they give access for learning to happen. Once that's being done correctly (and this is design and pedagogy I'm referring to here) the onus for learning lies squarely with the learner.

So how can any teacher OR instructional designer be responsible for learning? I say they can't be held responsible for that, and the semantics needs to change (back) to reflect their true responsibilities. Teachers and instructional designers are responsible for delivering access means towards learning BY THE LEARNER.


Catchya later

Dick Carlson said...

While I still think of myself as an "Instructional Designer" I have to agree that most people outside the discipline don't have a clue.

So my latest batch of business cards say "Chief Knowledge Farmer". Really gets the conversation started.

Unknown said...

The unit I work for recently shifted from Instructional Design and Development to Learning Design, although the Instructional Designers stayed IDs. My specific subgroup went from Instructional Technology to Educational Technology. I am comfortable with Educational Technology. It fits, though its hard to say ET.

If I had a choice, I would prefer something cool like "Digital Ignorance Slayer"

Cammy Bean said...

Just don't go dissin' anyone!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Cammy.

Hmm. I'm not sure who you are referring to here. Your comment does not have enough information for me to interpret it unequivocally. Mea culpa.

Catchya later

Cammy Bean said...

Yeah, Ken. It was an inane comment that really didn't make the leap from my brain to a blog comment page.

I was referring to the title "Digital Information Slayer" -- DIS.

To "dis" someone means to show them disrespect. Don't go dissin' me for that one!