Instructional design… so what is it that you do?

“What do you do?” I’m asked.

“I am an Instructional Designer (ID)”, I murmur, patiently anticipating the inevitable part 2 of the question.

Part 2 is usually one of the following: “Err… what does that exactly mean?”, “Instruction what?”, or worse “Industrial designer?”

Over time, I have invented half a dozen responses to the all-too-familiar question of what an ID like me actually does. Depending on the situation and who my ‘target audience’ is, I tailor my response. Here is my bunch of oft-used answers.

  1. I make e-Learning.

This is the most common one-liner I dish out. Although e-learning is only a part of my job profile, it’s the quickest and easiest way to describe my work to most people. With everyone downloading apps (educational or otherwise), most people have  an awareness of all things digital. It’s not an authentic reply, but it’s one that gets the conversation moving.

  1. I support teachers and trainers.

This response is for people of the old school, who may be digitally un-savvy.  They are more likely to understand my work if I explain it in terms of the teaching profession. So with them, I rarely drop terms like e-learning or m-learning. Instead, my explanation of ID revolves around traditional courseware.

  1. Just as a film director directs all the aspects of film-making, I direct all the aspects of creating a true learning experience.

This is an answer for the idealistic intern, the young college student, the graphic artist next door, and anyone who may easily open up to the excitement that lies in an ID’s world. This was also the very same answer that got me first interested in ID. When ID is compared with filmmaking, one can easily grasp the multifariousness, the chaos and the delight of this job.

  1. I make apps like your favourite KinderSpell.

This one is for kids. When a child asks me what I do, I begin by saying that I help make textbooks. Then, I quickly redeem myself by saying that I also design learning apps. And if I want to be really popular with the kids, I could tell them I can help make computer games and television programmes too, the educational ones of course.

  1. I write storyboards for K-12 and corporate training.

Well, as you may have guessed, this one is for those in the know. It usually puts to rest any suspicions another ID may have, that I am actually a content writer, a technical writer, or even an online tutor masquerading as an ID. This is not to say an ID cannot be all of these. In fact, my last answer will clear any such notions.

  1. I play the roles of a content writer, a technical writer, an editor, a graphic designer, a voice-over artist, a multimedia developer, a proposal writer, an SME, a teacher, a student, a project manager and even an entrepreneur.

This is my answer to myself.  There are not too many jobs out there, where one could be collaborating, analyzing, learning, teaching, designing, creating, and making business decisions all in a day’s work. It is the multiple facets of ID that makes an ID’s job challenging and extremely fulfilling. Don’t all of you IDs out there agree with me?

I am curious to know if any of you reading this post have also been using similar responses. Also, if any of you have other answers to share, please do so by posting your comments below.

This post was first published in the STC ID blog.

2 thoughts on “Instructional design… so what is it that you do?

  1. Hi there,
    Your article found me at the right time and it’s almost like a calling. I have been looking to get into the field of ID for a while now. I am an educator with a focus on psychology and special education. And I have, what one might call, a “creative itch”. For as long as I can remember, colours and art have motivated me. So much so that the way I look at a situation or even handle a challenge is from a dynamic perspective. But the one thing that has stayed true though and through is the kind of satisfaction I get from working with children, making content for them and immersing myself in their imagination. Which is why I am seeking your advice. What’s a good route to get into ID and/or curriculum design for someone like me. I don’t have the knowledge of graphic design, will that inhibit me from finding opportunities? I want to work and grow in a creative team, so what kind of jobs and companies can I look at?
    Would really appreciate your response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Esha,
      Let me start by saying, to succeed as an ID, all you really need is a desire to learn and an understanding of how people learn. Very few IDs start out as IDs. Most of us become IDs somewhere in the middle of our careers when we slowly realise that ID is what we want to do.
      I would suggest that you start learning everything you can about instructional design: from books and blogs. Then, if you feel the need, you can enrol in an online course. Once you are knowledgeable, opportunities will come to you. There is no dearth of jobs: corporate eLearning, skills training, higher ed, K-12, etc.
      So for now, just focus on learning as much as you can about instructional design.
      Happy learning!


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