That’s kind of how everything works. It’s not possible to know everything about everything which is why specialization is more necessary than ever. There’s simply too much to know.
If you specialize then you can go deep on a single topic and truly perfect it. Otherwise, you’re spinning your wheels only touching the surface of many topics but never truly getting to know any of them well.
This is no different for instructional designers. Some generalists do a bit of everything but poorly to just enough to get by. Then some specialists can’t effectively help you well with everything but can with their specific expertise.
So, when it comes to training for employees, business partners and project managers may find themselves in a quandary, do they need an instructional design specialist or generalist? With so much at stake, it’s vital to get the right person for the job. The problem is a specialist isn’t always the right choice just like a generalist isn’t always the right choice.
But you have to make the right choice when it comes to this important decision.
Instructional designers play a critical role in helping organizations create successful training programs. To ensure your project has the highest success rate possible, it’s essential to understand the difference between an instructional design specialist and generalist. Then you also have to evaluate which works best for your organization’s and project’s needs.
The primary difference between an instructional design specialist and generalist lies in their scope of knowledge and skillsets. A specialist is focused on a particular area. The specialist could be an expert in specific industries, types of training (eLearning development, instructor-led training, etc.) or even training topics such as DEI, technology, compliance, etc. Whatever it is they specialize in, they have deep expertise in that particular area.
We at techstructional are specialists in technology training. We are generalists across training types, though. So, we develop technical training but we do that through eLearning, performance support, in-app help, and videos but just not any type of instructor-led training. So, we pretty much what we consider digital training.
Specialists have a great understanding of the unique nuances of their specialty and have years of practice to show for it. They have the skills necessary to create training content that is exactly what people need when they need it and in the right format for what needs to be learned.
On the other hand, a generalist is a jack of all trades and has a wide range of experience with different types of instructional design. They are versatile and can quickly move between different projects, but may not have the same level of knowledge and expertise in any specific area.
This blog post will dive into the benefits, drawbacks, and considerations to make when choosing between an instructional design specialist or generalist for your next training project. In addition, it will provide project managers, change managers, and company leaders with ways they can make an informed decision that aligns with organization and project goals.
What Does Each Type Of Instructional Designer Do?
Lots of things!
Just kidding. Except I’m not. Instructional designers wear many hats, and the job can change daily in some cases. I’ve been at it for more than 14 years at this point and what I did 14 years ago is very different than what I do now. In fact, what I do now is drastically different than what I did last year at this time.
So, let’s take a look at what a specialist and a generalist do and how it might differ.
What a Specialist Does
An instructional design specialist is knowledgeable in the design, development, and evaluation of learning materials, and has expertise in a particular subject, field, or even delivery type.
Instructional design specialists are highly sought after for their specific skill sets and can bring a lot of value to an organization’s training and development initiatives. You’ll find they’re responsible for creating effective learning experiences that align with the organization’s needs and goals but they’re good at one thing.
It’s common to see instructional design jobs looking for knowledge in a specific subject such as sales enablement. Or perhaps looking for someone who has worked in the auto industry or government. Then some jobs are looking for someone who has created a lot of instructor-led training (not us!).
Just like a generalist, they work closely with subject matter experts to understand the material and target audience deeply. With this understanding, they design training materials that effectively communicate the core concepts and have the potential to engage people in relevant learning content.
Instructional design specialists are also responsible for identifying gaps in existing training materials and suggesting changes that can improve the overall effectiveness of the program. Then there’s the part of the job that requires providing support and guidance to the organization in areas such as assessment, measurement, and evaluation.
Or perhaps they’re just acting as an instructional design consultant to help the business improve performance when a training expert is required. Perhaps a performance consultant deemed training as an ideal solution and they bring in an instructional designer who specializes in exactly what they need.
They ensure that the training materials are up-to-date and relevant and that the learning outcomes are being met. But all of that happens on a zoomed-in focused level where the instructional designer works regularly and is an expert.
What Does a Generalist Do?
An instructional design generalist works in a wide range of areas and has expertise in multiple fields of instructional design. Maybe they dabble in a little bit of digital training as well as instructor-led training. Or perhaps they’ve worked in the tech industry, automotive industry, government, etc. to know a bit about each one.
Unlike instructional design specialists, generalists have a broader knowledge of different types of instructional design and can easily transition their skillset to different projects. Instructional design generalists are responsible for conceptualizing, designing, and developing learning materials that meet the organization’s needs and goals.
This includes designing courses, modules, activities, classes, etc. that are effective at meeting required performance goals. Additionally, instructional design generalists are also responsible for selecting the most appropriate delivery methods for the content and ensuring that the content is up-to-date and relevant.
Just like a specialist, generalists may also provide support and guidance to the organization in areas such as assessment, measurement, and evaluation including for DEI, compliance, technology, or whatever else is needed. They collaborate closely with subject matter experts to ensure that the content is accurate and engaging.
So, not a lot varies between the two on a topical level except one goes deep and one goes wide.
Comparing Instructional Design Specialists and Generalists
When deciding between an instructional design specialist or generalist, it’s important to consider the scope of your project and the needs of your organization. Instructional design specialists have a deep understanding of a particular subject and can provide high-quality training materials for that particular subject.
They are highly knowledgeable in their field and have the potential to create effective, engaging, and relevant learning experiences if you need depth of skill for your training.
On the other hand, depth isn’t always necessary and a project may span across several realms. That may require a more broad knowledge which could be more important. Instructional design generalists have a wide range of knowledge and skill sets that can be applied to different types of projects.
A generalist would likely be more helpful at least consulting when a variety of different training types could be required. Or, perhaps it spans DEI and compliance or whatever other topics. In that case, a generalist could be more helpful at least from a consulting point of view.
Evaluating Your Project Goals Before Choosing
Before you decide between an instructional design specialist or generalist, it’s important to evaluate the goals and scope of your project.
It’s always helpful to consider the following questions:
- What specific areas need to be addressed?
- What type of content needs to be created?
- What is the timeline for the project?
- What is the budget for the project?
- Who needs to be trained?
- What type of environment are employees learning in?
Evaluating these questions can help you determine whether an instructional design specialist or generalist would be most suitable for your project. If your answers to these questions are relatively broad then you may want to look into a specialist. But, if your answers are very focused then a specialist could be the best option.
The Pros And Cons Of Each
Just like with everything there are pros and cons for both specialists as well as generalists. We’d love to say that specialists are the way to because we are specialists (technology + digital training). Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and it doesn’t benefit us to tell you specialists are better.
So, we’re going to tell it to you straight that there are positives and there are negatives. We might not be right for your project but if we are, we’ll tell you. If we’re not, we’ll also tell you because if we don’t then we might get ourselves into a sticky situation.
It’s time to take a deeper look into the pros and cons of each.
Pros and Cons of A Specialist
Working with an instructional design specialist can bring a lot of value to your organization’s training and development initiatives. But they may not add enough value when needed on a more broad scale.
Here are some of the pros and cons of working with an instructional design specialist:
- Knowledgeable in a particular subject or field.
- Can provide high-quality training materials within their expertise.
- Can design effective and engaging learning experiences.
- Can provide support and guidance in areas such as assessment and measurement within their expertise.
- Typically charge higher rates.
- May not be available to take on larger projects.
- May not be available to take on projects with a tight timeline.
While their cost may be higher, it may ultimately be worth it to end up with the most effective training possible that takes the least amount of time for employees to take it.
Pros and Cons of A Generalist
Working with an instructional design generalist can be beneficial for organizations that need to quickly create effective training materials across topics, industries, or training types.
Here are some of the pros and cons of working with an instructional design generalist:
- Versatile and can work on different types of projects.
- Can quickly move between different projects in different industries or areas of a company.
- Can provide support and guidance in areas such as assessment and measurement on broader topics and with broader requirements.
- Typically charge lower rates.
- May not have the same level of expertise as a specialist for essential parts of a project.
- May not be able to provide high-quality training materials of all types (eLearning, performance support, etc.)
- May not be able to create effective and engaging learning experiences for some requirements.
Just like anything, generalists have pros and cons but ultimately are no more or less better than a specialist. Project requirements and your organization’s needs will ultimately dictate which option you choose. It’s important to approach it neutrally, though. Being able to do this and analyze your requirements properly will help you make the best decision.
Making the Right Decision for Your Project’s Needs
Making the right decision between an instructional design specialist or generalist for your project will depend on your organization, the project’s needs, and goals. Evaluating the scope and timeline of your project, as well as the budget and target audience will help you determine which type of instructional designer is the best fit.
If your project requires expertise in a particular subject or field, then an instructional design specialist may be the best option. They can provide high-quality training materials and design effective and engaging learning experiences. On the other hand, if your project spans training types as well as topics then an instructional design generalist may be better suited for the task. They have a wide range of knowledge and skill sets that can span an entire project.
The decision might not always be crystal clear, though. What about this scenario? You’re a healthcare company that has new software rolling out to clinicians. The software is both clinical and technical so which route do you go? Do you need an instructional designer who specializes in medical training or technical training?
In this case, it’s a battle between the medical and the IT. Sometimes you have to provide a subject matter expert (SME) that can provide one side of things. The likely answer in this scenario is that you need a specialist in technical training and perhaps a SME that’s an expert on the system and an expert on the medical side of things.
You ultimately need to make the best decision for you depending on the level of expertise you already have in your organization. the likely best solution will be to hire someone who fills the gaps in skills or knowledge that your organization lacks.
Always keep in mind that instructional designers don’t need to be a subject matter expert. They shouldn’t be. But it’s a good idea to have an instructional designer who can add value where they’re most needed.
Final Considerations and Tips
When choosing between an instructional design specialist or generalist for your project, consider the following tips:
- Know your organization’s strengths and weaknesses so you can fill the gaps.
- Evaluate the scope and timeline of your project.
- Consider the budget and target audience.
- Think about the type of content that needs to be created or if you know.
- Research the experience and qualifications of the specialist or generalist.
- Make sure the generalist or specialist has exactly the right knowledge that will fill the gaps that your organization lacks.
These tips can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your organization and project goals. Making the right decision can either make or break your project.
The decision between an instructional design specialist or generalist for your project can be daunting. With the information from this post, you should be able to evaluate your needs properly. Once you know the scope and timeline of the project, as well as the budget and target audience, that will help you make a better decision.
Consider the pros and cons of working with an instructional design specialist or generalist. By following these guidelines and steps project managers, change managers, and company leaders can make an informed decision and choose wisely between an instructional design specialist or generalist for their training project.
If you’re still not sure what the right solution is for you, we’re always happy to help you along. If you come prepared with answers to some of the questions we proposed then we might be able to provide valuable guidance in less than 30 minutes.
So, schedule a free consultation and we’ll guide you the best we can. We have a relatively narrow specialty so we won’t necessarily be the right solution for you, but we’ll be able to at least point you in the right direction.