What instructional designers do

What instructional designer do

You’re in the right place if you found this article because you’re wondering what instructional designers do. You’ve happened upon a topic that I am professionally passionate about. Instructional design is a structured and systematic approach to creating effective educational and training programs. It brings consistency to the process of training development. 

For years, I created training content in the nonprofit sector without knowing much about the “science” of adult learning. Instructional design is part of the science. 

The field of instructional design combines research-based best practices in learning theory. 

This also includes instructional strategies and assessment processes to create productive, efficient, and engaging learning experiences. 

What instructional designers do is cover the processes that ensure learners can learn, retain, and apply the data they acquire.

This incorporates analyzing learner needs, defining learning objectives, developing materials and activities to achieve these objectives, and evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction. 

Instructional designers play a crucial role in creating effective learning experiences by meticulously crafting learning objectives that guide the design and development of educational programs. Learning objectives are explicit statements that define what learners should know, understand, or be able to do after completing a learning activity. They provide a clear roadmap for both instructors and learners, ensuring that the instructional content aligns with desired outcomes.

To develop these objectives, instructional designers often start with a needs analysis to identify the gaps in knowledge, skills, or attitudes among the target audience. This process involves gathering data through surveys, interviews, and performance assessments to understand the specific needs and challenges faced by learners. Once the gaps are identified, the instructional designer translates these needs into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. For instance, if a needs analysis reveals that employees lack proficiency in using new software, the learning objectives might include mastering key software functionalities and applying them to daily tasks effectively.

In the context of Bloom’s Taxonomy, instructional designers ensure that learning objectives span various cognitive levels, from basic knowledge recall to higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

For example, in a corporate training program on cybersecurity, lower-level objectives might involve recalling essential security protocols, while higher-level objectives could include evaluating security risks in a simulated environment and developing comprehensive security plans. By aligning content and assessments with these objectives, instructional designers create cohesive and targeted learning experiences that effectively bridge the gap between current capabilities and desired competencies. Learn more here.

The ultimate goal of an instructional designer is to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes in a measurable and sustainable manner. 

Without the element of metrics, the training outcomes are questionable. 

By meticulously planning and structuring content, instructional designers ensure that learning experiences align with the desired outcomes and are relevant to the learner’s context.

What instructions designers do: Workplace Curricula

In workplace learning, instructional design plays a key role in enhancing employee performance and organizational efficiency. 

Companies invest in training programs to upskill their workforce. 

They want to ensure compliance with regulations and foster professional growth.

Instructional design ensures that these training programs are informative, practical, and applicable to employees’ daily tasks.

For instance, in a corporate setting, instructional designers like myself might create e-learning modules on software proficiency, develop role-playing scenarios for customer service training, or design workshops on leadership development. 

By tailoring content to meet specific job requirements and organizational goals, instructional design bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, thereby driving success. This also drives productivity because as learners are able to retain skill-building information, they can work more efficiently and effectively. 

What instructional designers do: Utilize various forms of technology

Moreover, instructional design in the workplace often involves leveraging technology to create flexible and accessible learning opportunities. 

This includes the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) to deliver and track training, multimedia tools to create engaging content, and virtual classrooms to facilitate remote learning. 

Instructional designers must stay abreast of technological advancements and learning trends to develop programs that are not only current but also scalable and adaptable to future needs. 

A training that is relevant in one year will need to be revised and updated as technology and workflow processes change. 

Making learning fun and motivating

Gamification, the process of adding play, competition, and progression to the task, is a tool instructional designers may utilize to motivate learners and provide fulfilling learning experiences. 

What instructional designers do is translate the training content into formats that engage the learner. 

Microlearning in instructional design provides small, easily digestible segments to enhance information absorption and retention.

Workplace learning, in my view, places far too little emphasis on learner retention.

This method shines in today’s fast-paced world where shorter attention spans demand quick, efficient access to valuable information.

What instructional designers do is deconstruct complex topics into manageable pieces.

Microlearning delivers focused learning experiences, such as those that are available on-demand, driving continuous education and professional development.

This is one reason I adore training archives for business learners.

Moreover, it caters to various learning styles and can be tailored to meet the distinct needs of individual learners, boosting engagement and making the learning process more flexible and adaptive.

Instructional Design in Workplace Training

An instructional designer plays a crucial role in crafting engaging, effective learning experiences by systematically designing, developing, and implementing educational and training programs.

Their work begins with a thorough analysis of the learning needs, which involves understanding the training goals, the characteristics of the learners, and the context in which the learning will occur.

What instructional designers do from here is to define clear and measurable learning objectives that guide the creation of content and assessments.

By using instructional theories and models, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, or Finks, we structure the learning experience in a way that promotes comprehension, retention, and application of knowledge.

We have to leverage several instructional strategies and multimedia tools, to create engaging and interactive learning materials that cater to different learning preferences and ways of learning.

In addition to designing the content, a very important part of what instructional designers do is to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning experience.

The best way to do this is to garner various forms of feedback from learners and facilitators.

A key indicator for me is measuring learning objectives against learner performance against the established objectives.

Another role for instructional designers is to collaborate with subject matter experts.

This is one of my favorite parts of my work because I learn so much. I also enjoy the collaborative element of this part of the work.

I learn what I need to know about the work to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the content.

What instructional designers often do is to partner with technical teams to implement the learning solutions in various formats, such as e-learning modules, virtual classrooms, or in-person workshops.

In my last role, I worked in an agile environment.

This was perfect because so much of what what instructional designers do is dynamic and iterative.

Designing instruction requires constant refinement and adaptation of learning materials to meet the evolving needs of the learners.

However, through meticulous and ongoing planning and continuous improvement, instructional designers, like me, ensure that the learning experiences we create are not only educational but also impactful and aligned with organizational goals.

Besides, I like to make them interactive, engaging and…well, fun, too.

Some Core Responsibilities of Instructional Designers

Needs Analysis

I wrote an entire blog post on questions for needs analysis.

Conducting a needs analysis is a critical first step in the instructional design process that involves systematically identifying and evaluating the learning needs of a target audience.

This process begins by gathering data from various sources, such as interviews with stakeholders, surveys of potential learners, and analysis of organizational performance metrics.

The goal is to pinpoint gaps between current performance and desired outcomes and to understand the underlying causes of these gaps.

What instructional designers do to is to analyze this data to identify specific areas where training or educational interventions are needed.

The key is to understand the learner needs to ensures that the instructional strategies and content developed are directly aligned.

Alignment is key and is directly correlated with the information received from SMEs.

Each of these link together to enhance the effectiveness and relevance of the training program.

The insights gained from a needs analysis provide a solid foundation for designing targeted and impactful learning experiences that address real-world challenges and drive performance improvement.

Identifying the learning needs and gaps.

Identifying learning needs and gaps involves a systematic approach to understanding the differences between current performance levels and desired outcomes.

There is often a huge gap here.

This process starts with collecting data through various methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observation.

I survey stakeholders, including employees, managers, and subject matter experts togather insights into the specific skills, knowledge, and competencies that are lacking.

This can be a time-consumign process, but you cannot rush it.

Analyzing performance data, like mid-year and end-of-year job evaluations, job descriptures and job requirements also highlights areas where employees may be struggling.

By triangulating these data sources, what instructional designers do is to accurately pinpoint the critical learning needs and gaps so they can be addressed.

How are they addressed? Through training programs, job aids and learning videos.

Examples of tools and methods used (surveys, interviews, data analysis).

Instructional designers employ a variety of tools and techniques to effectively identify learning needs and gaps.

Surveys are a primary tool used to collect quantitative and qualitative data from learners and stakeholders, offering insights into areas where knowledge and skills may be lacking.

These surveys can be distributed via online platforms such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, allowing for broad reach and efficient data collection.

At times, and depending on the project, any one of the following will be used: focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews provide deeper, qualitative insights that can reveal nuanced challenges and opportunities within the learning environment.

What instructional designers do from there is to examine the date they acquire and look at competencies, business goals and requirements. I use Excel for the most part, so I have friends who use Tableau.

Whatever you choose, these tools help in organizing, analyzing, and visualizing data to identify trends, patterns, and outliers in learner performance and feedback.

What instructional designers do is to integrate these insights with performance metrics and job analysis data, designers can create a comprehensive picture of the learning landscape.

This rigorous and mentally detailed analysis informs the development of the instructional strategies and materials that address specific learning gaps

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are clear, concise statements that define what learners are expected to achieve by the end of a training program or instructional session.

They are the foundation for all aspects of instructional design, guiding the development of content, activities, assessments, and evaluation methods.

I was creating learning objectives, although poorly constructed ones, without even knowing i was doing it.

Learning objectives are my target. In another post, I likened them to a dart board.

At any rate, what instructional designers do ith them is to identifying the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that learners need to acquire to perform effectively in their roles and chart the process of getting there.

The instructional designer works with experts and stakeholders to make sure the goals match the organization’s needs identified during the analysis.

Wht most instructional designers do is to use Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Blooms categorizes learning into cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains, designers create objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

These objectives not only provide a clear direction for the instructional design process but also help learners understand the purpose and expectations of the training, enhancing their engagement and motivation.

I prefer Finks for writing learning objectives. Here is an article that will explain it.

Maybe I’ll write a blog post about it one day.

Aligning training content with learning goals.

An instructional designer aligns the proposed or created content with learning goals. They ensuring that every piece of instructional material and activity directly supports the established learning objectives.

I often ask myself “how can I observe a learner performing this or meeting this objective?

This alignment begins links what the learners need to understand (to be able to “do) by the end of the course.

At this point, I select and organize content that is relevant and essential for achieving these goals. I need to focus on logic, organization and timing of content area.

I do not want the learners cognitive load to be to great. So, I pace my content carefully.

Each module or unit is designed to build upon the previous one, progressively developing the learners’ knowledge and skills.

Some strategies I use are interactive activities. Sometiems these are large group, small group or individual activities.

I also use real-world scenarios, case studies, and assessments, to reinforce the content and provide opportunities for practical application.

By continuously checking that the content and activities align with the learning objectives, my training content remains focused, pertinent which will ultimately lead to the successful achievement of the learning goals.

It really is a science and a balance.

Content Creation and Development

Content creation and development are part of the role of instructional designers.

What instructional design do to creat content is to develop interesting and meaningful learning materials, including interactive modules, quizzes, and multimedia presentations.

Each of these support educational objectives and ensure a practical learning experience for all audiences.

The types of materials instructional designers use are, e-learning modules, learner manuals, and guides and more.

These materials are crafted to enhance the learning experience. I want a well-rounded training experience for the learners.

This often means teaching similar concepts in different ways.

What instructional designers do is to employ multimedia elements such as videos, interactive simulations, and quizzes to keep the audience actively involved with the training content.

Tools for curricula development

Additionally, I like to create infographics, charts, and diagrams to visually represent complex concepts, making them easier to understand.

Much of my work, as an instruction designer with e-learning skills is to create virtual modules and upload them into a learning management systems (LMS).

I love LMS work because it helps me to deliver and track the progress of e-learning courses.

Learners like learning in this platform because they can access the materials anytime and anywhere.

Instructional Designers and Training

I’ve spent over 30 years of my life as a trainer.

This is why as an instructional designer, I find it very easy to facilitate learning by planning, designing, and assessing educational experiences.

I know how adults learn, so crafting these modules comes easily to me and helps me support the facilitators who will deliver the training.

Many instructional designers, like me, create e-learner modules often in Articulate 360 or some other e-learning platform.

The content must be engaging, interactive, and tailored to the needs of the learners. After all they are in a computer system without an actual facilitator. What instructional designers do is to ensure they are not “lost” in the learning process nor bored silly by it.

Evaluation – where the rubber meets the road

Instructional designers evaluate learning programs by considering a range of factors.

They start by analyzing learner needs and objectives and aligning the program’s goals with desired outcomes.

Next, they assess the instructional materials and methods, ensuring they are suited to the target audience’s learning styles and preferences. They also evaluate the clarity and accessibility of the content, making sure it is understandable and inclusive.

To measure the program’s impact, instructional designers gather and analyze data from assessments, quizzes, and feedback surveys. They look for indicators of learner progress and satisfaction, as well as areas where participants may struggle. Additionally, they observe the overall engagement levels during the learning activities to identify which elements are most effective.

Finally, instructional designers make data-driven adjustments to improve the program.

Remember, I said much of what instructional designers do is an iterative process? Evaluation of training programs is the same.

It involves refining content, incorporating new technologies, and updating methodologies to keep the learning experience relevant and impactful. By continuously evaluating and fine-tuning, we can ensure that learning programs meet are of the highest high quality.

How do instructional designers evaluate training?

The golden standard to evaluating progress, for me, are periodic checks on an employee’s progress, ensuring that learning objectives are ultimately being met.

This level three effort means I can see what is really translating into practice.

Feedback, both formative (incremental) and summative (post-training), plays a crucial role in guiding and improving performance as well.

Formative feedback provides ongoing insights during the learning process, helping learners to identify areas for improvement and adjust their approaches accordingly. Summative feedback, on the other hand, evaluates overall performance at the end of a training period or project, offering a comprehensive view of the learner’s achievements and areas that may need further development.

In addition to these traditional methods, incorporating peer reviews and self-assessments can offer a more rounded evaluation.

Peer reviews encourage collaborative learning and provide different perspectives, while self-assessments foster reflective practices, enabling learners to take ownership of their growth.

The ideal peers are SMEs, managers, and “boots on the ground” learners.

Combining these diverse approaches creates a robust framework for evaluating performance and supporting continuous learning and professional development in the workplace.

Utilizing the Kirkpatrick method

Kirkpatrick is a method used to evaluate training program.s

How does Kirkpatrick evaluate workplace training programs? It employs a comprehensive framework with four distinct levels of evaluation.

The first level, Reaction, assesses how participants respond to the training. This involves gathering feedback to determine if the training was engaging, relevant, and well-received. Good information, but not of much value on it’s on.

The second level, Learning, measures the extent to which learners have acquired the intended knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This can be evaluated through tests, quizzes, or practical demonstrations.

The third level, Behavior, examines how well participants apply what they have learned when they return to their jobs. This often requires on-the-job observations, interviews (ideal for weekly check-in conversations), or performance assessments to determine whether workplace behavior has changed.

The fourth level, Results, examines the final outcomes of the training. This includes measurable improvements in areas such as productivity, quality, sales, or customer satisfaction. Here is where the training program’s ROI (return on investment) is measured.

By considering all four levels, Kirkpatrick’s model provides a thorough revelation of the effectiveness and impact of workplace training programs.

How caninstructional designers track and report on learner progress effectiveness?

There are several ways, but here are a few

  1. Learning Management Systems (LMS)

  2. Surveys and Feedback Forms

  3. Course Completion Rates

  4. Advanced-Data Analytics

  5. Learning Pathways and Competency Mapping: Mapping learning pathways and competencies helps to align your instructional content with desired outcomes. Tracking progress through these pathways ensures learners are meeting key milestones.

The skills I leverage as an instructional designer

Typical educational paths (degrees in Education, Instructional Design, etc.) can lead individuals toward careers in teaching, curriculum development, or educational administration.

My undergraduate degree is in Humanities while my graduate degree is focused in education. My emphasis is Education and Humarn resources. My graduate degree encompasses a wide range of subjects. This includes: instructional design, pedagogy, educational psychology, technology in education, and assessment strategies.

In addition to traditional classroom teaching roles, these skills can land you in corporate training, educational consulting, or e-learning design.

With the rise of online education, instructional designers are in high demand to create engaging and effective digital learning experiences.

Moreover, advanced degrees in education, such as a Master’s or Doctorate, can open doors to higher education positions, research roles, and leadership positions within school districts or educational organizations.

Continuing professional development through workshops, certifications, and specialized training ensures that educators remain current with the latest educational trends and methodologies.

That is it. Now you know precisely what instructional designers do and the way the work unfolds using a systemic method.

About The Author

Teri C.

I'm a Missouri training consultant specializing in teambuilidng and overall personal effectiveness.

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