Instructional design is the process by which learning experiences are developed and delivered. According to Instructional Design Central, these learning experiences include online courses, instructional manuals, mobile and video tutorials, simulations, and assessments. Indeed, instructional designers are considered the ‘architects’ of the learning experience.
However, there is no certainty that instructional design principles are applied in the creation of every online course available today. Udemy offers over 150,000 courses by over 57,000 instructors, most of whom do not have formal instructional design experience. Further, Udemy claims that 80 percent of the Fortune 100 uses its service for employee upskilling—so does instructional design even matter in the big picture?
The answer is Yes. Though applying academic-based instructional design principles to the creation of a series of short online courses might seem akin to wearing a tuxedo to a baseball game, companies will be better off in the end if they adhere to tried and true instructional design.
Let’s have a look at the importance of instructional design principles to an organization seeking to develop courses for its employees, and build a world-class learning culture in the process.
1. It’s a unifying starting point.
With so many different courses requested, for various skill levels and learning styles, an L&D team needs a good place to begin the process of course development. The A in ADDIE represents the Analysis phase, and this is perhaps the most crucial part.
The Analysis phase requires that the team consider:
- Whether a similar course has been built in the past, and if so, whether that course simply needs a refresh or needs to be re-built from scratch
- The education, background, skill level, preferences, and typical learning style for the target learner (the “buyer persona” in marketing terms)
- How the course will be delivered
- What design and development resources are available to build the learning experience
- Once launched, how often the course will need to be updated
This may seem like a lot of considerations and questions to ask, but these can be addressed rather quickly. Keep in mind that you can rely on the learner and her manager to do some of this heavy lifting for you: a proper training intake form and system will ask these questions from the requester upfront, thereby relieving some of the burden of the Analysis phase on L&D.
2. It cuts through the online clutter.
Instructional design might seem invisible to most learners—especially when they are taking a course they enjoy and from which they are deriving value—but instructional design is obvious to those learners who are suffering.
As mentioned above, there are hundreds of thousands of online courses available on the Internet. Perhaps learners are used to a mixed bag of experience so when a course doesn’t measure up, they’ll just shrug it off and find another one.
However, when sound instructional design principles are applied to the development and delivery of a course, learners will recognize it. They will know that a course of superior quality that had their best interests in mind has been produced.
3. It tailors the experience for the learner.
The more the course is tailored to the learner’s particular role and pain points, the more the learner will be engaged.
Instructional design understands this, and not only in the Analysis phase is the persona of the learner considered, but also in the Implementation and Evaluation phases, when the L&D team looks at what’s working and what’s not. The L&D team is then able to iterate so they can deliver a learning experience of the highest quality.
4. It has quality checks built-in.
The iterative nature of instructional design means that testing is performed along the way and if something isn’t working, the team makes a change.
Reviews and feedback once a course is completed are incorporated by L&D, who may decide to adjust certain course components. Further, the ROI of the course is also measured, as an employee’s performance can be tied to a learning experience.
5. It is still relevant when used with technology tools.
Though some might think that there’s no way that ADDIE—developed in the mid-1970s—could keep up with the pace of technology, the opposite is true: it’s more relevant than ever.
In fact, it’s thanks to technology that the phases of ADDIE can be carried out: project management tools and Agile methodologies can be applied every step of the way, creating a much smoother, more seamless experience for everyone involved.
So what does the future hold? Instructional design is evolving, note some experts, primarily because the very definition of “instruction” means different things to different people. Employees are busier than ever, and the time available for formal instruction keeps diminishing as time goes on.
As such, learning has become more informal, as professionals find themselves watching mobile tutorials or taking assessments on the go. These seemingly random learning experiences are anything but random; the importance of instructional design is that the learning manager recognize how the learner will be learning and develops the learning experience accordingly.
Instructional design is giving way to learning design, as “learning” is a broader term. This is evidenced by Google Trends for both the terms, worldwide, since 2004:
The importance of instructional design cannot be overstated. As instructional design evolves, the principles behind it do not. Learning leaders will find success in adhering to the tried and true while developing experiences that deliver the most ROI to learners.
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