Becoming an Instructional Designer - What does it take?

Becoming an Instructional Designer
Summary: In today's consumer-driven economy, few fields of specialization are well defined and clearly remarked. That's because "specialists" today need to continually evolve in order to meet the changing demands of their professions. As they morph their skill sets to fulfill new and emerging customer requirements, the body of knowledge of their professions evolve too. This article is the first in a series about breaking into Instructional Design. Check it out and learn the top Instructional Design competencies needed to become a successful Instructional Designer.

The Top Instructional Design Competencies To Become A Successful Instructional Designer

Instructional Design is one such profession that has been evolving at a much faster pace than many other emerging digital-economy professions. Historically, an Instructional Designer supported the creation of, or participated in the selection of appropriate instructional materials. These creations or selections were subject to specific processes, and involved the use of time-honored educational psychology principles, that resulted in the end deliverable. For instance, the instructional designer could:

  • develop digital content for an online employee indoctrination program
  • create User or Operational manuals for a piece of heavy equipment
  • produce decision-trees that 911 operators would use to triage an emergency call
  • assist with producing supplementary course materials (e.g. Quizzes, Self-Evaluation questions etc.) for an IT Certification course.

As is apparent, the depth and breadth of ID-related activities is staggering, and the evolution of new-media and emerging tools and technologies makes the field even more challenging - more so than many related/similar professions. And that's why breaking into the profession requires some creativity. So, let’s take a look at some of the competencies needed to make it in the ID world.

Instructional Design Competencies

Like all modern-day professions, Instructional Designers must possess a core set of competencies in order to break into the field.

The Foundations

Having the following key competencies is a must if one desires to make ID their profession:

  • Communication
    Which stems from being able to effectively "speak" through written, oral and graphical/visual media
  • Staying current
    As evidenced by the ability to quickly learn and adopt newer ID tools, technologies and concepts as soon as they surface
  • Probing mindset
    Which refers to the innate ability to understand new and complex concepts, while being open to researching and learning about them

Supporting Instructional Design Competencies

Successful Instructional Designers need to be conversant in the methodologies of their chosen profession. For professionals that have a strong set of core competencies, acquiring or polishing the following additional traits will go a long way to make a successful career out of ID:

  • Planning and Analyzing
    Successful ID projects never start with development. Designers must have the ability to take a step back and plan and analyze what's needed of them. This means deciding:

    • What the content is
    • Who the content is for
    • How it must be delivered, and
    • What tools and technologies are best suited to get the job done.
  • Designing and Developing
    Equipped with the plan and the analysis, the Instructional Designer should be competent enough to put together the necessary content using appropriate technologies, tools, techniques and strategies.
  • Implementing and Managing
    A well designed instructional package is only as good as how well its implementation/roll-out is managed. Key competencies for this role include collaboration, communication, scheduling and prioritizing, conflict management and people management.

Success will ultimately hinge on creating the right environment for developing and receiving/consuming the content. The Instructional Designer should therefore master the skills of working across teams and using tools such as social media to engage Trainers, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and learners.

While the ability to promote a sense of "wanting to succeed" amongst all stakeholders is crucial, so too is the ability to recognize that training might not necessarily be the answer to the challenges faced by the stakeholder group.

In my next blog post about Becoming an Instructional Designer, I will cover areas of expertise and credentials that most companies are looking for, so stay tuned!

Last but not least, to learn about Instructional Design for eLearning, you are more than welcome to check the Instructional Design for ELearning: Essential guide to creating successful eLearning courses book.