You may have heard of the term instructional design or even met an instructional designer – but did you leave scratching your head? What exactly do they do?
The term and job title are used loosely, and refers to the digitising of educational content or the use of popular e-learning authoring tools, such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. While some assume that it has something to do with loading content onto a learning management system such as Moodle or Blackboard, that’s not all an instructional designer does.
While these are all useful tools that may be used by an instructional designer, they are still only tools which are only as good as the person using them. Anyone can learn to use Microsoft Powerpoint, but there is a big difference between a slick, good-looking presentation and one that isn’t quite as well designed.
According to instructionaldesign.org, instructional design is defined as:
“The process by which instruction is improved through the analysis of learning needs and systematic development of learning experiences. Instructional designers often use technology and multimedia as tools to enhance instruction.”
In other words, it is a means of satisfying learning needs through the use of various tools and methodologies.
The ADDIE model
You can’t talk about instructional design without mentioning the ADDIE model, which means:
The ADDIE model is the generic process used by instructional designers and developers. The five phases are a good guideline and starting off point when you’re designing a new instructional material.
Let’s take a look at what the instructional design process might look like.
The first step towards satisfying an educational need is to gain an understanding of it. This is usually done through some kind of educational needs analysis. We can do this by asking questions like, “what are the characteristics of the learners?”, “what is the desired behaviour change?” and, “what learning theory should be considered?”
The next two steps would be design and development. Armed with the information derived from the analysis step, the design can start taking shape. The instructional designer would need to gain an understanding of the content and, based on a set of learning outcomes or desired behavioural changes, create a storyboard that would be used as a blueprint for the development step. This involves designing anything from learning interactions to graphics, videos and even games, depending on the scope of the project.
Once a storyboard is complete, development of each individual piece takes place. This would include the creation of graphics, building interactive elements, writing video scripts, video editing and animation. The scope of development is often dictated by a combination of needs and allocated budget, although there is some flexibility here. For example, a need for video may be identified. While a live action video may be ideal, the cost could end up being prohibitive. In this case an animated video using an animation authoring tool such as Powtoon or GoAnimate can be used instead. This would bring down the cost significantly while still satisfying the need for a video. Another example would be voice over. Hiring a professional voice over artist and a sound booth with the necessary equipment can be quite expensive. While not quite as good, text to speech can be used instead.
Once all elements have been developed, it is time to bring them all together in the implementation phase. This involves publishing content from working files to the versions that will be usable by the intended user. For a video, this would be the .mp4 or .avi files that can be viewed in most video players. For a game, this may be a .html5 package that can be run in any modern web browser. All these elements may be packaged together and loaded onto a learning management system as a full course, complete with statistics tracking and grading.
The last step is one that actually permeates through the entire instructional design process – evaluation. The whole point of instructional design is to fulfill an educational need or facilitate a behaviour change. We need a way to measure that, which is done through evaluation. Formative evaluations are built in throughout a module or course, with a summative evaluation usually coming up at the end.
The implementation of ADDIE varies among instructional designers where most use some variation of it and some eschewing the methodology entirely in favour of something like SSADM (Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology) or Agile. While there does seem to be a movement away from the ADDIE model, with many exploring and experimenting with these other methodologies, it has long been the traditional approach to instructional design.
The next time you speak to an instructional designer, you should have a better understanding of what it is that he/she does and the value that good instructional design is able to bring to learning and development. It’s not just using a fancy tool but, rather, a very careful learning needs analysis followed by an effort to best meet that need in the most effective way.