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Instructional Design is dead. Long live Learning Design.

Instructional Design is dead. Long live Learning Design.

Hi, my name is Melissa Jones and I am no longer an Instructional Designer.

Don’t get me wrong; I do the same work that I’ve always done. I just don’t use the words “Instructional Design” to describe that work anymore. And it’s about time more of us educators did the same.

For a long time, I had “Instructional Design” as a skill on my resume, but never felt quite right about it. When I was a classroom teacher, I did so much more than design “instruction”. Sure, I created lesson plans. But I also taught those lessons 4 or 5 periods a day to kids who needed more from me than just kick-ass curriculum. They needed me to feed their brains, but also their hearts when they were hurting and sometimes, their bellies when there was no food at home. And later, when I transitioned to creating curriculum for national and international learning organizations, I found myself doing more, too. Things like building train-the-trainer content, marketing my curriculum and thinking about scale -- not just how many learners I could reach, but how my curriculum would play across cultures and communities. After a while, “Instructional Design” just didn’t capture it all.

The trouble started with the way IDs have been utilized across sectors. In school districts and non-profits, IDs tend to crank out curriculum at dizzying rates, but they rarely deliver it themselves. In big corporations (like the one I worked for), an ID role means you write compliance-training workshops  create interactive quizzes for e-learning courses. And in Higher Ed, IDs are rarely tapped by faculty to help create courses, even though they clearly have the expertise to do so.

I'm not the only one who is struggling with the limitations of ID. Some folks are trying to reclaim and redefine the term, to broaden it beyond the work of creating assessments and developing interactive quizzes for e-learning courses. The ID team at Arizona State University created a fun infographic a few years back, showing their “instructional design super powers” and telling the world that they're more than just lesson-planners-for-hire.

Meet the superhero IDs of Arizona State University. Who wouldn't want these folks at their side when building a course?!

Meet the superhero IDs of Arizona State University. Who wouldn't want these folks at their side when building a course?!

But for me, Instructional Design is not a fit for my work, no matter how you spin it. Instead, over the past year or so, I've felt much more affinity with folks like Peps McCrea and Andrew K. Miller, who are calling for a switch to the term Learning Designer. While it's a simple change in verbiage, it matters a lot.

 

Learning Designers:

  • Are architects of experiences. We build not just lessons and assessments, but full-blown, mind-exploding, life-changing, transformative experiences for learners.
  • Acknowledge that learning happens in multiple ways, not just through “instruction”. We design for learning that happens in the classroom and in the community, online and off, in groups and individually.
  • Put learners at the center of our work. We don't just design for objectives and outcomes, but instead to meet the needs of all of our diverse learners

Certainly, many IDs can and do do these things. But in making the choice to call myself a Learning Designer, I'm putting a stake in the ground and making a different choice.

What do you think? Is Instructional Design dead? Or is it being reincarnated into something...else?

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