During a recent webinar, a delegate asked for our opinion on the trend of instructional designers increasing their technical development skills; such as coding, graphic design, UX and UI. This question sparked huge debate here in the Omniplex office.
Instructional design dates as far back as WW2, when the military were screened and trained using ID principles. But, the learning world has come on a long way since the 1940s, and a large portion of learning is now digested online. So, how has this changed the role of an instructional designer?
What is the role of an instructional designer?
Our first step was to answer, 'what is an instructional designer?' Connie Malamed, the ‘eLearning Coach’ sums up the role of an instructional designer as:
An instructional designer is someone who ‘identifies the performance, skills, knowledge, information and attitude gaps of a target audience and creates, selects or suggests learning experiences that close this gap, based on instructional theory and best practices from the field’.
So, by that definition, why would an instructional designer need to increase their technical skills?
How can technical skills help?
Although the course you have in your head might be fantastic, if the software you are using cannot bring it to life, you’ll end up wasting your time. So, having an understanding of the limitations of your software means you're unlikely to have to rework storyboards.
In addition, our team agreed that an understanding of graphic design is also beneficial to an instructional designer. Although you probably wouldn't be involved in the practical side of graphic design; an understanding will prevent you storyboarding a course that is unachievable. Remember - this understanding should include the tools used by your team (e.g. Adobe Photoshop) and their personal skillset.
Putting the learner first
An instructional designer should suggest learning experiences that overcomes a gap in your learner’s knowledge. However, to do so, instructional designers need to understand the ability of the software to deliver this experience. In addition to this, they also have to think about the device the learning is being accessed on. For example, a drag and drop interaction might seem like the perfect way to test your learners understanding. But if your learners are completing the course on a smartphone, it could be quite tricky to complete - and annoy your learners rather than teach them.
Okay, so as an instructional designer you should always put the learner first – but you have to prioritise yourself sometimes too! Having some technical skills, or understanding of technical skills, will set you apart from the crowd. Karen Quinton, Head of Cursim – Omniplex’s learning design and development division, commented that she tries to recruit people who have a broader skillset that she can call on when she needs extra capacity, as well as the key skills needed for the role.
But does this mean that instructional designers should have technical skills?
After a long discussion we came to the conclusion that it is not a necessity for instructional designers to have technical skills. But, it is a huge plus to at least have an understanding of the technical elements of eLearning development.
And it seems that we aren't the only ones who feel this way. In the eLearning Industry's 'Top 10 In Demand Instructional Designer Skills', three out of ten were in relation to technical skills. And a similar post from the eLearning coach said that instructional designers must know the capabilities of eLearning development tools and software.
However, instructional designers should be lifelong learners, and be obsessed with learning everything. And although technical skills are beneficial, and will set you apart from the crowd, the most important skill for an instructional designer is to know and understand the principles of learning design.
Do you need to develop your instructional design skills?
Are you looking to develop eLearning courses that are easy to use, enjoyable to consume and enhance the performance of your learners? Then join our 2 day training course, held in our Harpenden, UK office. For more information, click here.