Home > Instructional Design - General > “Instructional Designer” – Job Title, Skill, or Confusion?

“Instructional Designer” – Job Title, Skill, or Confusion?

I did not really know I was an “Instructional Designer” until a few years ago when I started working for myself.

I always “…worked in the training department”, or “…ran the online learning system”, or “.…solved business problems by explaining processes”, or a variety of other things.

When I started working for myself, I had to find a succinct way to describe myself, more for other people’s benefit and my business card than anything else.

What I actually do was simple enough – “Making eLearning Simpler”, (so that became the business card slogan).

“Instructional Designer” confused me, is it a Job Title, or a skill I possess? A corporate accountant would not describe themselves as a “Spreadsheet presenter”, so why should I describe myself with one of the many constituent parts of my role?

“I work in training”, “I build courses”, and “I create and narrate online learning” are a little weak, but “Instructional designer” means little outside our industry – there must be a clearer Title.

I have always felt tied to the other business functions more than to a training department, because our job is to solve business problems – that is all we do.

In order to do our jobs, there are many techniques, but I believe there are two fundamental competencies, (there are others too). I believe that there are many people in our industry who have #1, but many that do not understand the importance, (or indeed the relevance…) of #2.

Competency 1> Understanding of and interpretation of the important aspects of business – which changes depending on the business we are working for.

Competency 2> The ability to deliver facts and messages in a powerful and condensed format.

Many “IDs” see the training or training department as the end focus, it isn’t, understanding business needs and problems is. Sorry – pet peeve, I will get off my soapbox now….

To serve competency#1, in addition to my “Instructional Design” skills, and my understanding of the learning and development industry, I always try to immerse myself in knowledge of my client’s business. In the last few years, (as well as the obvious ID skills such as Salesmanship, Design, Sound Engineering and Presentation Skills), I have had to learn about Telecommunications, Design, Microbiology, Industrial Cleaning, Paper Product Dispensers, Industrial Piping, The Stamper Industry, Basic Chemistry, HR Processes and server cooling systems, to name but a few.  IDs need to know more than just about being “…in training…”. The more you know about business process and function in general, the more you will be able to underatnd the problem that “training” is designed to solve.

To serve competency#2, I usually receive a bunch of data, and condense it into the final product. The more you learn about communication skills, and how to translate words into message, the better you will be. Study the masters of Marketing, Pront and Design, and Memory techniques.

So – what do I actually do?

I take business facts – I prepare them, I mix them. Then I highlight the core qualities of the data, I accent and emphasize.

I pass through several stages, sometimes with my client, sometimes in an objective way on my own in the silence of my “studio”– each time checking for product quality.

At the end, I add “colour” and “flavour” – graphics, audio, sound effects, animations and annotations.

Finally, I deliver, and learners consume.

I have decided there is only one correct job description for me – I am a distiller!

  1. Stephanie
    January 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    “Distilled.” That sums it up right there and I’ve often used the phrase “distilling information” to describe what I do. After reading your post and reflecting on my background as a technical writer and information and instructional designer, I don’t think its adequate any more to rely upon a cadre of “skill sets” to define what it is we do. We are learners ourselves: you mention soaking up information from the sectors you’ve found work in; this echoes my own feelings that I’m as much of a student as an instructor because I have to live the perspective of the learner to be able to write the instruction. We are teachers: we lead other learners by forging pathways to connect them with information. We are designers: by formulating delivery methods that are engaging, concise and useful, we ensure comprehension, retention and recall.

    There is no laundry list of skills that can accomplish each of these objectives. Your focus on competencies instead of skill sets emphasizes that the nature of our work is a far more complex, intuitive and cognitive process drawn from a diversity of skills to facilitate and assist learning. Well said!


  2. Zara
    January 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks Bruce…

    I am fortunate to not have a Human Resources Background. I come from a Financial Services background and have fallen deeply in love with Learning and Development. I find that many live in the Grey area that does not permit them to ask and respond to “What is the bottom line?” and “Does it meet the Objective?”

    In my own confession I can be too black and white but I think it makes me a better designer.

    Look forward to learning from you…


  3. Pooja Jaisingh
    January 25, 2011 at 5:53 am

    That’s so true!! I guess all of us face the same problem. The moment I let people know that I’m an Instructional Designer; it has to be followed by a long description about what I actually do… So, sometimes I decide to introduce myself as an eLearning Professional rather than an Instructional Designer… I would love to know what other IDs think about our job title…

    Thanks for this insightful post 🙂


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