Thursday, September 18, 2014

The State of Instructional Design in 2014

You may have seen the serious elearning manifesto.  It opens an important discussion in the instructional design and development world.  It also underlines the chaos that exists in that field; a cohesive field would not need a manifesto that addresses only a fraction of the work within the field – only the e-learning portion, in this case. It also begs the question of why a manifesto is needed and creates a tension between ‘typical’ elearning and ‘serious’ elearning.  This manifesto underscores the fact that field of instructional design and development has charlatans, wannabes, the tired masses, and top-notch professionals – within just the learning portion of the field.

The Instructional Design and Development Workforce Marketplace  

From the market perspective, instructional design and development (ID) is a diverse, fragmented, and undifferentiated market.  This is an international marketplace workforce with a wide variety of skill levels competing against each other for work and recognition. Whether instructional designers and developers work as internal consultants (a.k.a. staff) or as external consultants, they struggle with the fallout from this complex market. 
What is a diverse, fragmented, and undifferentiated market?


Instructional designers and developers (IDs) work in every industry from military to social work, from finance work to entertainment, from government to energy, and everything in between.  IDs work for non-profits, military, government, colleges and universities, public schools, every industry every invented, as well as consulting house that serve the world.    They may be one-person self-supporting businesses or they may members of large teams working multi-million dollar projects and every workplace variation in between.  Diversity in workplace creates a huge variance requirements and expectations.
IDs come to the field through two paths – higher education degreed and lateral movers with subject field experience.  While the degreed members are on the rise, the vast majority of the field comes in with native talent and expertise in an industry’s content field.   This highly diverse background experience makes it difficult to compare even entry-level candidates. 
Then, there is the work itself.  Some IDs specialize in one type of solution – just elearning, or just instructor-led, for example.  Others are tasked with creating unique solution sets that address specific needs.  Some are expected to be expert technical writers, while others are expected to be graphic artists and technologists, and some must be everything to everyone.  Some use complex software to create their solutions, with others work with minimal resources in very resource-restrictive environments.  Diverse working environments and expectations create uneven and often unrealistic expectations in employers.
Geography, industry, the size of organization all work to create a very diverse workforce. In addition, this is a creative workforce that often brings the diversity of the creative -- music, art, color, flow, drama, and more. 


US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) list one role within the Professional and Services sector, the Training and Development Specialist. There is no national labor role for Instructional Designer or Instructional Developer or Instructional Technologist, even though there are degree programs in colleges and universities across the United States and around the world.  However, BLS indicates that the demand for Training and Development Specialists in expect to increase by 15% between 2012 and 2020, adding more than 35,000 new jobs in the United States alone.  That this important government organization does not even recognize the field of instructional design and development creates disenfranchisement, as well as misunderstandings between employers and workers. 
Within the field, there is a certain amount of distrust between instructional designers based on training.  Those with degrees, tend to trust and value IDs with degrees more than those who come to the field without.  The lateral movers with field experience tend to distrust the degreed practitioner who brings academic knowledge of learning theory, but is weak in business acumen.  Since different backgrounds mean that individuals come with different languages and ways to describe their work, the wedge of terminology creates an internal fragmentation.  


Check out the job boards for Instructional Designer.  A quick review of job listings will show that most instructional designer job listings are wish lists consisting of a general statement of work asking IDs to be all things to all people – especially, senior leadership.  These job descriptions go on to list a smorgasbord of tools in which the ID must be an expert.  Then, the typical ID job listing is capped off with a need for expertise in a specific development methodology – ADDIE, lean, six-sigma, SAM, etc. – and perhaps even the need to be an expert in the business field, as well.

Add to this, the growth of off-shoring in instructional design and development.  Many employers are willing to choose the cheapest ID resources for their project rather than choosing the ID that best matches their work. 

To this, we can add the fact that there are dozens of names for similar roles – Instructional Designer, Learning Developer, Elearning Developer, Learning Specialist, Learning Developer, Learning Analyst, Learning Architect, Learning Strategist, Education Specialist, and more.  In some cases, there is an implied career progress with position titles mark I, II, III, IV. 
As with every workforce, there are charlatans.  Unless a manager or client is, themselves, and instructional designer, they will find it difficult to distinguish the professional who produces quality work from the charlatan with a good line of schmooze.   This inability to discriminate is the greatest challenge in the industry and increases the fragmentation.

Standards Guide Capability Building

A key to building cohesion, capability, and capacity within any distressed workforce would be defining standards.   The Institute for Performance Improvement, L3C (TIfPI, has just completed a practice analysis of instructional designers.  Watch for the whitepaper, coming soon. 
Out of this analysis comes a set of nine international, theory-free, model-free standards for learning solution development.  Note that these standards focus on development and do not include front-end analysis (needs assessments), delivery, project management, content management, or technology.  Starting with a definition of development standards focuses the field on production standards.  
TIfPI’s instructional design and development experts working with TIfPI’s credentialing experts defined a series of certifications for the learning and solution development portion of the field.  These nineteen certifications are microcredentials – a credential focuses on a subset of the greater field. Whereas a full certification addresses the breadth of the field, microcredentials, often called endorsements, highlight a strength in a specific area.  Today, these credentials have digital icons, called digital badges, which allow credential earners to promote their qualifications through social media.  For more on these credentials see

Coming soon…

Watch this space for more on the emerging international, theory-free, model-free ID standards and access to the practice analysis behind these credentials, or attend the free webinar, Overview of ID Badges.   

Watch for the next in the series -- How Standards Build ID Workforce Capability.

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