Instructional Designer: How to Become an Instructional Designer in 2021
Instructional Designer
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Instructional Designer: How to Become an Instructional Designer in 2021

Instructional designer -AKA- ID, is creating hype in the E-learning market. In case it is your first time coming across this term, do not be alarmed. The job has been around for ages but it has become famous fairly recently with the surge in the online course creation industry. According to Inside Higher ED, it is the hottest job in higher education. But even is an Instructional designer? Read this guide to find out all the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ regarding the topic.

How to become and instructional designer

What does an Instructional Designer do?

Simply put, Instructional designers are experts that help create educational materials. From courses to the curriculum, and coaching faculty, these people are responsible for shaping the education sector. Think of them as advisors who provide key insights into creating new learning mechanisms. Unlike course creators who actually create the course, these designers guide them on ‘how to create a course’. Their work is quite multi-dimensional.

Develop course curriculum

It can be said that the primary job of an Instructional Designer is to develop the overall course, from its content to its functioning. They create detailed storyboards for course creators and instructors that act as guides. These storyboards explain what a course should look like, map out the content and instruct on interactive activities required for a particular course.

To create a course curriculum, one is expected to have an adequate understanding of the subject matter. But this shouldn’t put you away from pursuing this career. As a matter of fact, you don’t require a great academic background as IDs work in collaboration with subject matter experts (SMEs). They are responsible for collecting and organizing relevant information with the help of SMEs. As a result, they can structure and optimize a course for their clients.

Project managers

As their work comprises various fields and they act as a sort of link between departments, one can say that IDs are in fact project managers. They make sure that there are enough finances and resources to carry out a project. That there is no glitch in the course program. They also train instructors, etc. As it involves a lot of administrative work, the description of the project manager suits them well.

Test latest E-learning tools

Staying up-to-date on the latest E-learning breakthroughs is a prerequisite for becoming an Instructional Designer. As educational experts, they are responsible for reviewing and recommending technological tools that can assist educators in their work. Together with this, IDs have to run thorough researches on these tools and products. They have to gather user data and at times conduct surveys to compile a report on the E-learning tools. One can clearly see the nuances involved in just recommending these tools.

Faculty training

As educational consultants, Instructional Designers have the task of training teachers according to the latest advances in the education sector. They create specialized programs to guide faculty regarding new theories and practices with which they can become better educators. An interesting aspect of this particular point is that Instructional Designers help teachers shift their offline courses online. This is an especially important task due to the situation nowadays and the rise in demand for online learning.

How to start your Instructional Design career?

There is no one way to becoming an instructional designer. You can either pursue it as a career choice right in your college, receive a formal education, and get inducted into the job market. Then there is the indirect method where you can switch from other domains into this. Whatever the case may be for you, the steps mentioned below are rudimentary for a career in this field.

Familiarize yourself with ID theories and models

To create impactful E-learning materials, one should have some understanding of the principle ID theories and models. They serve as guidelines for designers. By having the right understanding of these theories you will be able to better understand the requirements of your clients. You will also know how to create content that students will engage with more and retain for longer periods of time. In short, you will be able to optimize your learning strategies.

I have listed the top 3 important theories. If you wish to expand your knowledge further, feel free to check out InstructionalDesign.org. It provides a handy compilation of ID theories.

Instructional design theories
Source: InstructionalDesign.org

1. ADDIE Model

ADDIE is an acronym for Analysis – design – development – implementation – evaluation. In the analysis phase, designers have to conduct researches regarding the topic. This can include interviews, surveys, and data interpretation. This step is where you analyze the issue for probable solutions. Then you get to designing the instructions or recommendations. This comprises expected outcomes and structuring the storyboard. The development stage is where the instruction is given a tangible shape. Think of it like the assembling phase in a factory where every part gets put together to take a form. In this case, the products are instruction manuals, guides, workbooks, etc. The last two steps of implementation and evaluation are simple as the names suggest. The newly devised information is applied and then updated according to feedbacks.

2. Action Mapping

Action mapping is a design training process to help designers improve their performance by identifying the best solution to a performance problem. The term was coined by Cathy Moore. It works by pinpointing business goals (educational outcomes) and then determining necessary actions to achieve them efficiently. With this, you stay focused and thus improves your overall performance.

3. Cognitive Information Processing

This particular theory stretches out of psychology. It relates the cognitive functioning of the human mind to a computer. The idea is to study the thought processes as they occur in the brain to create such E-learning materials that can be picked up by people efficiently. As humans have limited cognitive capacity at any given time, learning materials have to be created in such a way that is easy to understand and remember. The theory suggests creating your instructional design in a simpler less distracting way for longer retention.

Become an Instructional Design tech expert

Having know-how of ID technology is just as important as getting the grip on its theories. Although most instructional designers are only required to write the instructions some jobs also ask to fully develop them into their online format. Anyways, being tech-savvy will provide you with an advantage over your competitors. Below is a brief list of software important for your Instructional Designer career:

Diversify your skill-set

As mentioned above, the job of an instructional designer is quite multidimensional. Therefore, it is important to have a wide set of skills to fulfill your job requirements. Having strong writing and communication skills is absolutely necessary so that you can organize your ideas better and communicate them properly to others. Besides, you will also need to improve your management skills, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills. To put up with the changing needs of people, designers should be able to adapt quickly.

Build your Instructional Designer portfolio

For any creative, having a portfolio is an absolute must to land a job. These serve as your work samples and allow prospective clients to have an understanding of your work. To bag a top-tier job, one should have some prior experience. Therefore, engage in volunteer work, conduct and take ID workshops, and importantly, do internships. These will help you collect key experience and will rank up your resume too. Moreover, your profile should also include your future project ideas to reflect others on the sort of work you are interested in.

Once you have pitched down a couple of project ideas, start by putting them up on your online portfolio. Choose the right tool for designing your portfolio website. There are a couple of options to choose from like Squarespace, WordPress, Webflow, etc.

Some additional tips for your portfolio: be yourself and stay professional. Remember, your authenticity is what makes you unique. Do not try to copy others. Just because something works for them doesn’t mean it will work for you too. Test things out, seek feedback and improve your portfolio over time. During this entire process, do not forget to remain professional. It will leave a positive impression on your clients.

Here is a sample of an instructional design portfolio by Chris Friend. You can check it out to have an idea of how to create your own portfolio.

Sample of an Instruction Design portfolio.

Conclusions

Lastly, to mention some key takeaways; learn from people around you and their experiences, seek feedback and improve your performance, and stay up-to-date. By doing so you will be able to remain on top of your game. Finally, network as much as you can. To be honest, this is important for any field to excel, and even to seek out new project opportunities networking is essential. You can even join communities on Slack and Facebook for instructional designers where you can interact with like-minded people and help each other.

Hopefully, by now, you must know what is the job of an Instructional Designer. The article discussed in detail the multiple roles of an ID and outlined the key steps that will guide you through your instructional design journey.

For similar content, check out our blog.

Written by
Atika Qasim
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