Instructional Designers And Their Role In eLearning
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Learn All About Instructional Designers And Their Role In eLearning

"Instructional Design" or "Instructional Designer" (ID) was not a common term in the early '90s. However, with the blooming of technology, this term is gaining popularity. Many people, especially those who are not from the field of eLearning, may wonder what is Instructional Design? Why does an Instructional Designer (some may call it a learning designer) exist? What is the main scope of an Instructional Designer? Well, I would say an Instructional Designer is the backbone of good quality learning materials. They are the learning architects who craft the learning content and present it in a pedagogically sound manner. They stand from the point-of-view of a learner when designing the learning content.

The Role Of An Instructional Designer

It is not difficult to see that some learning materials are presented with fancy media and interactive elements and hence some may think that Instructional Designers should have extensive media skills, excellent writing skills as well as graphic designing skills. How true is that? Well, in some workplaces, the ID just focuses on ensuring the flow of the learning content and the development of the storyboard; while in other workplaces, the ID has to be involved in the media and graphic designing tasks. Despite these tasks, the ID is considered as the soul of creating effective learning materials.

In light of the emerging eLearning industry, many higher education institutions still do not set up an educational technology unit that caters to the learning materials that they have produced. Most of the time, the lecturers do the part of designing the curriculum as well as creating their teaching materials for the students. However, the effectiveness of the teaching materials from the perspective of a lecturer may not be aligned with the point-of-view of a learner. Have you ever experienced or faced some difficulties and challenges in understanding some lecturers when you were a student? That’s the gap between the lecturer’s perspective and the learner’s perspective. The ID is there to mend and minimize the gap. In other words, without proper Instructional Design, the teaching materials may not be as effective as what the lecturers may believe them to be. Poorly-designed materials may not be able to help the lecturer achieve the desired learning outcomes. Hence, this is where the role of an Instructional Designer comes in.

At the beginning stage of content development, the Instructional Designer analyzes the content materials and, in some cases, the ID will also need to conduct a learning needs analysis so that more of the learner’s gap, targeted audience’s background, and why there’s a need of learning can be better understood. By having enough information about these key points, the ID can then only provide consultation and suggest the best learning approach to a Subject Matter Expert.

Once the selected approach is agreed upon, the ID will develop a storyboard of how the learning content will be presented as instructional-based learning material. It could be short reading material, interactive courseware, bite-sized learning content, a short animation video, etc. In this part, the Instructional Design strategy will be used when the ID is developing the storyboard. In the development process, the ID works closely with a Subject Matter Expert in designing, developing and organizing educationally sound-instructional materials.

What Skills Should An ID Have?

At this stage, some people may ask, "What if the ID does not have strong graphic design skills?" Although not every ID must have graphic design skills, at least they must have a good sense of art. People get easily attracted to something unique and beautiful, and this is so for the learner. If your content is presented with a good graphic style, it helps you to retain the attention of your learners.

Many Subject Matter Experts, such as lecturers, may argue that Instructional Designers are not experts in their profession. In fact, they question the very existence of Instructional Designers. Nevertheless, the SME is the course assessor who will work hand-in-hand with the ID throughout the development process. The SME is the one who verifies the learning content and gives the green light to the final output of the content development.

As a newbie in eLearning and who is willing to become an Instructional Designer, what skills should you have? Does the ID need to possess media skills and knowledge such as coding skills, video editing skills, multimedia skills, authoring tool skills, and graphic design skills? A quick search has been done on such a posting on a random job site. Some companies are expecting the ID to possess excellent writing skills while some require programming skills. It depends on how a team in an institution or company goes about it. The skills required vary. From my point-of-view, an ID should not just know about Instructional Design, but also have good storyboarding skills, and it would be also good to have some basic designing skills. Most importantly, an ID should be able to adapt quickly to changes in educational technology, especially with authoring tools, and be able to keep up with the pace of the revolution.

In short, in eLearning, the role of an Instructional Designer is to organize information and plan learning materials that transform complex and unorganized information into professionally written, clear, interactive and effective multimedia instructional material or courseware.

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