After having a recent conversation on Linkedin with some colleagues, I felt obligated to write this article to provide my point of view on the instructional design since I am seeing an ongoing reductionist approach on instructional design. What is instructional design? It is an interdisciplinary field which many fellows join from different professions to understand learning and learn to analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate (ADDIE) instruction or instructional systems which should improve learning. An instructional designer might end up having a career focusing on one of the ADDIE stages, or instructional designer may involve in all the steps with changing contexts. I think the reduction starts with the definition of instruction. Instruction is a complex concept that receives various operational definitions depending on the context. Instruction is science which contributes to the knowledge of effective instruction and learning. Instruction is art which requires creativity to address unique situations. Instruction is a complex system with multiple intertwined components. Instruction is also technology not necessary in the sense of hardware or software but it operates as a whole with multiple components in it. Instruction is more than content delivery. Instructional content and instructional delivery could be the components of the instruction again depending on the instructional goal(s). Designing hundreds online courses, instructional materials, activities, systems so far in my career, I could provide hundreds of different descriptions of instruction in different contexts. Instruction is organic meaning it evolves to meet the changing needs of the instructional environment. It means the evaluation of the instruction will support the development of the next version of the instruction. I understand that learning and student-centered approaches are important, but the analysis of the instructional context should go beyond the student and learning. If there is an instructor or subject matter expert, a specific technology, limited resources, the short timeline for development of the instruction, or unique instructional goals, all those need to be part of the instructional design not just content, instructor, student, etc. Instruction as a whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. The instruction may have different parts in different contexts. This is the reason it is easier to follow an instructional design framework with very high-level stages than a specific model which may guide very unique instructional design cases. I can go for hours and give specific examples and provide many cases on how certain components of the instruction are identified during the analysis and some other components later during the design, development, or even implementation stage of the instruction and included into the instructional design process.
In summary, if the employer is a digital company providing electronic resources for training purposes or to selling a product and need someone who needs to develop learning materials with or without the assistance of a subject matter expert that is great. This is one type of instruction, and an instructional designer can help. But not the only way an instructional designer can help. If you need your faculty to develop an online course and you would like to provide instructional design assistance, that is great and an instructional designer can help. If you need to provide face-to-face instruction, an instructional designer can help as well. If you are planning to develop a system to provide stand-alone adaptive learning environment without any instructor’s presence, it is a different way of instruction but an instructional designer can help. If there is no actual implementation of instruction is required but design work is needed such as curriculum design as the curriculum is a component of instruction an instructional designer can help either to analyze, design, and develop the program curriculum or a course curriculum. If the need is not design or development but it is the evaluation, an instructional designer can help because evaluation is still part of the instructional design process referring to well-known ADDIE framework which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. Many of the instructional designers are professionally trained to conduct assessment and evaluation.
It is my hope to provide many contexts that an instructional designer can operate in and an instructional designer can wear many hats depending on how one improved the skillset through non-formal and informal learning. So, the question should be what an instructional designer cannot do versus what he/she can do.