If you don’t know what instructional design is then you’re not alone. I’m an instructional designer and there was a time when I didn’t even know what it was. It’s not like a teacher, police officer, or firefighter which everyone knows and kids want to be. Well, maybe everything but a teacher.
Could you imagine if I went into my kid’s classroom and said I was an instructional designer? I bet there’d be a lot of puzzled faces.
That’s understandable which is why you’re here, so don’t feel like you’re alone. I found out what it was around 2007 or so when a teacher I had in college mentioned that his degree was in instructional design.
Cool! You learn something new every day. I didn’t know it was going to become my career someday.
Instructional design is just that, the process of designing instruction. Of course, that’s a simplified definition of it because at its root it’s very complex and based on a lot of science of learning.
So let’s take a deeper look at what instructional design is.
What is Instructional Design?
Instructional design is such a broad role that it’s impossible to sum enough of it up by saying it’s the process of designing instruction. I’ll focus on some of the broad ways instructional design plays a role in learning in this section. However, the rest of this article will focus on instructional design in corporate learning.
Instructional design is the formal process behind creating content that helps people learn. Those people could be any one of the following or more.
- Kids at school using books, guides, courses, learning aid, etc.
- Students in college using courses, doing activities, etc.
- Adults learning a trade who might take a course or go through in-person training.
- Adults once they’re in the workplace learn things in lots of different ways including coaching, courses, training sessions, etc.
- Adults learning to navigate something complex in their life such as retirement, choosing healthcare, etc.
Here’s how it breaks down in the educational world vs. the workplace from a creation to delivery point of view.
Instructional designers create the content that teachers use to teach in schools. In the workplace, instructional designers create the content that trainers use to train employees.
In both places, instructional design also means creating content that’s consumed directly by students or employees without someone delivering that content at all. That could be job aids, courses, quick reference guides, books, etc.
There’s a big difference between creating instructional material for children, college adults, and workplace adults. In instructional design, there are generalists and specialists in instructional design too since it’s such a broad role.
But everyone creates instruction, right? Isn’t YouTube and TikTok full of it?
Yes. Someone who knows a lot about a subject can technically design instruction and often does. That’s perfectly fine but instructional designers are trained in a way that makes it more effective and valuable to their audience than simply throwing together what you know.
That’s why it’s essential for an instructional designer to use a proven process. If they don’t then it essentially becomes a subject matter expert (SME) throwing together what they know except the instructional designer does the throwing together part.
The focus on instructional design is effective and valuable. If the instruction isn’t effective then it’s useless. If there’s no value to students or employees then it’s useless.
Instructional designers can also put together a larger curriculum that combines a lot of information from different SMEs to onboard employees or teach a larger topic that’s beyond the scope of any single person.
Every role in an organization is unique and creating learning paths is also another job that instructional designers excel at.
You shouldn’t find an instructional designer that simply puts together something from the SME. It involves analyzing the learning needs of the audience, creating performance objectives, selecting and/or creating appropriate materials, and evaluating the efficacy of training.
When implemented correctly, instructional design helps organizations optimize their training programs and empower employees to perform better and better their careers.
Benefits of Instructional Design for Corporate Learning
Instructional design has many advantages when it comes to corporate learning, especially when organizations are faced with tight budgets and limited training time. With scale, instructional designers can save an organization thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By having a cohesive instructional path for new hires, instructional design reduces employee turnover. When employees feel invested in, cared for, and like they matter in an organization, great things happen and the company makes more money.
We told a story about an employee who had little to no training and what happens in their journey. With good training and instructional design behind that training, organizations save money, employees, time, and more.
Subject matter experts know how to do their job but they know it too well. Instructional designers benefit organizations because they can take the expertise of an SME on a topic and create learning content that effectively helps all employees the maximum benefit from that top-performing subject matter expert.
Now instead of one person having the knowledge and performing top-notch, everyone can effectively share that expertise, and the organization will perform better.
Instructional design help analyze the needs of the employees and create instructional objectives that are tailored to these needs. That means employees are provided with instruction that is tailored to their needs to help them reach their full potential.
Ultimately instructional design save an organization money by helping create cost-effective, efficient, and effective instructional materials. That’s why you see large companies with a lot of instructional designers. They have reached the point where they can invest in things that help them make more money and perform better.
One of our main purposes and goals is to bring quality instructional designers and instructional material to companies that don’t have the resources to hire instructional designers or need to scale their resources faster.
We know the benefits of instructional design and want to make those same benefits available to all organizations no matter the size.
By creating instruction and training materials that are effective and efficient, organizations save on training costs and ensure employees are engaged and motivated not only to learn but to perform better in their job.
One last benefit that instructional designers bring to corporate learning. They ensure training is of high quality and is aligned with the goals of the organization.
If training doesn’t align with the organization then it becomes a burden, not a benefit.
How Instructional Design Makes Corporate Learning More Effective
Business is all about making an effective plan and executing it successfully. It takes planning and a good strategy, though.
Instructional design is the same way.
By using all the knowledge, techniques, and skills in the instructional design toolbox, instructional designers create a strategy that plays into the bigger strategy of the organization.
From the people who do the actual work up to the CEO there needs to be business alignment. Instructional designers know this and work towards that alignment on every project. That means instructional design is the perfect role that connects what employees do up to the business goals.
In this diagram, the flow goes downward from the business goals to the department goals (IT in this example) to the project goals which instructional design connects to the training goals.
When instructional design is done right, training goes from an ineffective time suck to an effective and efficient use of time. That means with the right plan training can be both cost-effective and efficient.
Imagine all of this AND it aligns with the goals of the organization too!
Instructional designers are always looking for ways to make training more relevant to employees. That could be through scenarios, interactions, or just gold ol’ storytellin’.
Here are some of the methods that instructional design has to make corporate learning more effective.
- Needs Analysis: training can’t be effective without knowing your audience.
- Goal Alignment: if training isn’t 100% aligned with the goals of the department and organization then it may as well not exist.
- Scenarios: a realistic scenario that employees can connect with is extremely valuable for learning a job.
- Evaluation: it’s impossible to put training out there and expect it to work the first time. It’s more helpful to regularly evaluate and iterate to improve. That means it could be helpful to combine instructional design with agile.
All the strategies instructional designers have up their sleeve helps employees perform at their job better. Performance is what it’s all about after all.
Common Tools and Techniques Used in Instructional Design
Beyond the strategies, skills, and such there are a lot of actual tools that instructional designers can use to make training better. Of course, the success is never in the tool but they’re still essential at making training come to life.
Just like tools can’t make a project successful, they also can’t hurt a project unless there’s a complete disregard for the content being trained and the audience. I mean, what if you designed an eLearning course for construction workers who have no access to a computer?
And nope, PowerPoint isn’t going to get nailed for being a horrible tool. It’s a tool just like anything else and can be used just as effectively or poorly as any other tool.
Here are some of the tools that you’ll commonly find used when designing instruction sometimes by an instructional designer or sometimes by an eLearning developer.
- Microsoft Word
- Microsoft PowerPoint
- Adobe Photoshop
- Articulate Rise
- Articulate Storyline
- Adobe Captivate
- TechSmith Camtasia
- TechSmith Snagit
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Character Animator
- Adobe After Effects
- Adobe Premier Pro
- Adobe Audition
- iSpring Suite
The list could go on into eternity. For every instructional designer and every project, there’s a unique set of tools that can be used. It all comes down to creating video, audio, images, simulations, animations, and more.
I must reemphasize that successful projects don’t come from the tool, though. Success comes from a range of skills and knowledge such as problem-solving, cognitive load theory, successful scaffolding, spaced learning, and so on.
There are endless learning theories that need to be known and accounted for when designing training. It could be Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, and then many different ways of evaluating training including the LTEM model (learning-transfer evaluation model).
All the endless techniques and research help instructional designers to create instructional materials that are effective, efficient, and engaging.
The Role of Technology in Instructional Design
Technology plays an important role in instructional design especially with more employees working remotely or being geographically distributed. Instructional designers use a range of technologies such as authoring tools, virtual classrooms, learning management systems, and mobile learning platforms to create and deliver instructional materials.
These technologies help instructional designers create training that can be delivered however best fits each project. Part of instructional design is making sure the right technology is used for the training needed so it’s engaging, effective, and efficient.
Then there’s also the technology that enables data analysis and artificial intelligence that can be used to analyze training effectiveness. Technology plays an essential role in the success of instructional design.
Now you know what instructional design is in-depth. I also covered the benefits it offers to corporate learning, how it makes the magic happen, as well as common tools, techniques, and the role of technology.
That’s a lot of information about something you previously knew nothing (or very little) about.
Instructional design is important for organizations to work more efficiently and be more successful. It provides endless advantages for organizations. Instructional design plays an important role in connecting what employees learn and do to business goals.
With all the complexities of instructional design, it still always boils down to creating instruction and training materials that are cost-effective, efficient, and effective. Oh, and it should all tie back to business needs and goals.
It’s all about improving employees’ work environment, helping them do their job better, and ultimate help organizations perform better.
If you want to help your employees perform their job better, we’re here to help. Schedule a free consultation and let’s talk about how professional instruction design can help your next project succeed.