What can we learn from Instructional Design?


Does anyone have expertise in instructional design? I would be interested to understand which practices might influence or guide our work. What theories or practices of instructional design to you feel are essential in your own education or community work?

My background is in adult education, broadly more participatory and political in nature. I have spent plenty of time creating workshops and training agendas, but oddly enough, I don’t know much about the field of instructional design. Recently, I’ve noticed a significant trend of academic librarians who are developing their skills in instructional design, and academic libraries who are actively hiring instructional designers too.

My experience so far with instructional designers is that they are very methodical in designing learning frameworks, rubrics, and seem to be influenced a lot by organizational development language and theory. I generally agree with their processes for creating learning content and objectives (goals, objectives, storyboard, sounds great!), but they seem to distance themselves on issues of power, culture, and stories, and more broadly, the experience and context of the learner. Instructional designers also seem to be found more often in private online education vendors as well.

Let me know if you’ve got some ideas that could help me out!

Thanks for your insights :slight_smile: (@Sherry_Lehane1 @Sherry_Lehane I heard you finished a degree in instructional design - you might have some ideas for me)


Yes! I recently completed an M.Ed in Instructional Design. Let’s chat!


Lets chat here @Sherry_Lehane1 :slight_smile:

I agree with you @Nico_Koenig. There is definitely some type of science (or at least methodology) to developing learning resources and experiences, and I see no issue with somebody claiming an expertise in that field. But as you mention, in a number (but certainly not all) interactions I’ve had with instructional designers, there seems to be a false sense of neutrality to the work. Something like “I’m just organizing the content or designing the framework, it’s up to the teacher to imbue this with values”.


The short answer is: there may not be anything new to learn from an instructional designer. I think your notions might be accurate simply because you have an innate feel for what effective learning entails.

The longer elaboration is: You are correct in thinking that IDs are trained in learning theories, follow a methodical approach for designing training, which includes using models, like ADDIE, proto-types, etc. for developing an ID plan. To Grif’s point about neutrality, this may be in reference to working with subject matter experts. IDs who work in the private sector as well as with universities are relied upon for their expertise in designing learning plans and sometimes learning materials. In turn, IDs rely on SMEs for their content knowledge. But before that happens, IDs typically dig deeper, in the form of a needs analysis, to find out where the issues are and, as a result, what the solution might be. A big part of the overall plan is learning about the learners and the learning context. Before IDs even begin to think about the plan, they typically (or should typically) start with the learner and find out as much as we can about their background, experiences, needs, etc. For many people, including those who are educators, this is not new.

In today’s digital environment, IDs often have expertise in using e-authoring tools, video production, graphic design skills, etc. There are also elements to designing online learning, and academic courses that were very enlightening to me such as learner presence, teacher presence and instructional content presence (I think there’s a better name for that last one!) Corporate training is another ballgame all together.

Final word: Effective IDs do the opposite of distancing themselves from the learner. Issues of culture, experiences, stories are part of the interviews, observations and data collection in the needs assessment process. Is there something you can learn? You be the judge!



Wow Sherry! This was very helpful for me. Thank you!

Two thoughts right away:
IDs typically dig deeper, in the form of a needs analysis, to find out where the issues are and, as a result, what the solution might be. A big part of the overall plan is learning about the learners and the learning context.

I would be interested to see what processes ID’s use to understand what the issues might be, especially from a perspective of understanding or interviewing the learners themselves. Are there resources or practices you have been encouraged to follow here?

Also, have you run into any “radical” IDs? Similar to designers and architects who seem to have more technical focused professions, there always seems to be people who take a more participatory and political stance to their work. I would be interested to meet these people and read their work!


Understanding issues: The practices that come to mind are: observations, interviews, surveys, and tapping into existing data and research. Of course, it depends on what you are trying to learn.

No, I don’t know of any radical IDs. I wonder if you might be interested in partnering with a university like UMass or other. We often had the option of working on projects -for all different types of organizations and with a variety of needs. If you put out a description of work, you might attract the kind of thinker and doer you’re looking for. I really appreciated the opportunity to do work with different types of organizations. Also, I was impressed by the range of skills, knowledge and ideas among my peers. I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out just for more information. Dr. Carol Shariz is one person you could contact at UMass. She is very approachable and might be able to steer you in the right direction. I am happy to make an introduction by email if you wish.