My Instructional Designer Dilemma and My Attempt to Elucidate

The Instructional Designer Dilemma – My Attempt to Elucidate

In May 2002 I decided I wanted to become an instructional designer to help faculty develop online learning. I still have the job ad in a folder neatly tucked away with a copy of my application for a position I was much unqualified for. It required a Masters degree and I wasn’t even finished with my AAS. But – it was my first encounter with the job titled “Instructional Designer” and it sparked a fire in me, a passion – to become one. The dream hasn’t died – but I now have a dilemma:

Now nine years after I first saw the job positing I have degrees out my ears: AA, AAS, BAAS, and a MS. Indeed, my journey isn’t even complete: Today I am working on my Ph.D. with a degree plan as carefully chosen as all my previous degree plans: targeting my areas of interest: web design, graphic design, and instructional design. After nine years I have evidence from 6 credit hours that I took instructional design courses (admittedly with another 6 hours in the works). An unwise choice in my undergraduate courses leads me to not be able to get a certificate in Instructional Design at UNT, also therefore was I unable to get a my Masters Degree in Instructional Design: I took one course I wanted to take in my Bachelor’s instead of saving it for my Master!

Meanwhile, what is an instructional designer anyway? In short, he or she is a person who designs and develops effective, efficient, and memorable learning. He or she is sometimes, a teacher or instructor as well, teaching courses or provides training. But not always. Using technology tools and proven learning theories the instructional designer, however, almost always helps develop learning modules, courses, or training for others.

Today something happened that cast a big shadow over my dream. The event made me much at unease and I stopped to wonder if the instructional design paradigm has perhaps shifted while I, in my mad dash to reach into the field, had been studying. Had it perhaps eluded me that I was in fact running a dead race? Perhaps we not need instructional designers in higher education anymore?

Faculty is very competent today in technology, much more so than ten years ago. They use the computers daily for email, online discussion boards, learning management systems, graphics, video, and all kinds of web2.0 tools. They carry cell phones that allow them access to the Internet, social media, and resources. For work they log into complicated systems to manage students, check their pay stub, update their website, go through mandated annual training etc. etc. Training is more than ever available online and faculty is asked to train themselves and to design their own courses, sometimes in collaboration with their students as they progress through semesters.

So tell me – do we need instructional designers in higher education? If you are an educator reading this, please leave a comment and say if you think there is still a need for instructional designers within higher education helping teachers create effective, efficient, and memorable learning. Or is it a position we can do without?


4 responses to “My Instructional Designer Dilemma and My Attempt to Elucidate

  1. Unfortunately we have come to a point where I think that the need for an instructional designer has been not eliminated but added to the job description of the instructor. I think what is expected now is that you are in the education environment at an instructional level so that ideally you are able to create what is needed along with teaching the design you have created; although that being said, how then national standards are set if the instructors are able to create whatever they seem fit? It may come down to that issue to keep instructional designers in their jobs.

  2. Hello Jenny,

    I am going insane trying to find actual instruction itself that was actually created with an actual ID model (particularly the Dick and Carey model). That’s how I found your site. I’m in an ID class, and I need to create an entire instructional design using the Dick and Carey model. I’d like to create an instructional design intended for 7th graders. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any concrete examples of actual instruction created this way. (I know they have to exist.) I think I’m going crazy here, but I want to find even a unit that was designed this way. For example, a social studies unit on the history of Rome that was created with an ID model would be of help to me. Any example would help. I’m stuck because everything I find seems to be research about ID models, but I’m finding no real examples of instruction created with these models themselves. I’m new to ID, but I don’t understand why I can’t find concrete examples of actual instruction. I’d appreciate any advice or examples you might be able to provide.

    With regard to your question, I do think ID is much needed in higher ed. I see many classes and even degree programs that lack a much needed focus.

  3. Hi Jenny,

    I came across your blog while checking out your annotated bibliography on digital storytelling and discovered you’re aiming to be an instructional designer.

    Yes, I think post-secondary education needs instructional designers though the trends may prevent some faculties and faculty members from admitting to that fact. I work as an instructional designer and educational technologist at the University of Victoria in Canada, specifically with distance education programs. I can’t speak for your region but expansion in distance education in Canada at both the post-secondary and K-12 levels has lead to openings for instructional designers. Many of these positions do not explicitly identify as ‘instructional design’, but that is the skill frequently sought when classroom teachers are being asked to go online.

    A varied skill set, an ability to absorb new technology quickly and a knack for communicating with instructors are what I’ve seen leading to success in these ID and quasi-ID positions. If you despair of finding an ‘Instructional Designer’ titled position, look for something where you serve as the interpreter for technology in a distance setting, you’ll get ID experience even if you aren’t credited as such immediately. Lastly I’d suggest becoming familiar with the outer boundaries of instructional design and technology (ie. Jim Groom, Alan Levin, Stephen Downes). You won’t find immediate need to implement some of the things they’ve developed, but you will have a wider range of possibilities at your fingertips when instructors and program directors start asking “what if…”. At least this is what has kept me hopping in the field here.

    Good luck, the ID positions are out there – just camouflaged and hiding in the shade.


  4. Keith – thank you so much for your encouraging words and reading suggestions. I will definitely take a look at the names mentioned in your post. I also very much value the time you took to reply so succinctly and I have, since I wrote this post, returned to believe that there is indeed still a need for Instructional Designers – be those positions camouflaged or not as you here mentioned. I appreciate your confirmation of this as well.
    Sincerely –Jenny

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