Monday, February 2, 2015

The IDentity Crysis

Yes, you read that right! It is about Identity of Instructional Designers (IDs) and it certainly makes me want to cry!!!

When companies decide they need IDs, one is never sure, what it is they want to get done from these IDs. So, before getting into the whole crisis thing, a little bit on Instructional Design. What is it? While there are a myriad different ways in which it is described, I am satisfied to go with the definition I found on Wikipedia:

Instructional Design is the practice of creating "instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing."

Please note the following:
  • Creating instructional experiences
  • Which makes acquisition more efficient, effective and appealing
Now let us see what many Instructional Designers end up doing:
  • Convert existing material as is into e-learning: The existing material may be in the form of documents, presentations, or worse video and sometimes just audio! So, the job of an ID is restricted to:
    • transcribing text from audio / video
    • copy-pasting text from pdf / ppt
    • chunking content into screens for pdf
    • think up of graphical representation of the topic being taught
  • Convert existing material into e-learning with interactivity: Yes, the previous category exists. You might argue that e-learning without any interaction is pointless, but the reality is that to save a few pennies and to get a tick-in-the-box implementation of e-learning, IDs are used for simple conversion. Coming back to this category, here the additional work that the ID does is:
    • creates interactions (mostly MCQs) based on the content
    • slightly better off - creates some tabbed interactions
  • Convert manuals into e-learning: Although, this comes under the general realm of conversion, this requires even more rudimentary skills:
    • take every step in the manual and put it up screen-by-screen
    • if it is a software manual, then the screen captures are also done by the ID using one of the several capture utilities
I am sure you get the general idea... IDs don't just do conversion you say! Oh! I agree with you, the other thing that is a hit these days is getting IDs to simply create a bank of questions - a whole lot of them - bulk produce questions at break-neck productivity - 5 minutes per question or some such speed.
  • Generally skim through the content and think up of as many MCQs as required
  • In some cases, think up of some scenarios and then create multiple MCQs by simply changing the variables in the scenario
So, as you can see, hardly any emphasis on creating instructional experiences or anything which ensures efficient, effective and appealing acquisition! Oh, you might get someone to say - get me some jazzy, eye-catching graphics or create a game around this - but that is usually only eye-candy, with hardly any focus on learning!

There is a very small percentage of IDs who are lucky enough to get actual ID work, and I am sure many would agree that even that is not guaranteed all the time. So, many a times, even the most experienced IDs would be gritting their teeth working on some project that is purportedly an ID project.

Refusing non-ID work is the luxury afforded by the lucky few, who don't have bills to pay and mouth to feed. Otherwise, it is an uphill task, trying to convince a stakeholder to go through the full cycle of:
  • Analysing what the audience needs
  • What are the objectives that need to be fulfilled
  • What is the best way of fulfilling these objectives
And only then getting pen to hit paper.

As Instructional Designers, what is it that we can do:
  • We need to become evangelists - at least the more senior ones and we need to convince both clients and sales teams that doing the right thing is the profitable thing in the long run
  • For this, we need to come out of our shells (a lot of IDs are introverts - sorry about the generalizations) and learn more about the business drivers and customer mindsets. We need to go for more sales meetings and delve deep into the solution designing aspect.
In continuing with what I had written in my last post - Keeping the main thing the main thing,
If we do not know what is the main thing, we will never be able to keep the main thing the main thing
And that is what being aware of the business compulsions and how these can be mitigated through proper use of ID will help creating the virtuous cycle:
  • Quality of learning material will improve
  • Learners will learn and perform better
  • Stakeholders will appreciate the improvement
  • Instructional Designers will get more credit
  • Instructional Design will emerge as a good career option
  • Instructional Designers will get better work to do
A good analogy would be professions like Interior Designing or Fashion Designing, where anyone and everyone including a mason or a tailor would profess to be a designer, but they are not. Similarly, if we do our job diligently and instead of converting content, if we convert stakeholders into believers in Instructional Design, the world will be a more learned place!

So, the next time you do a conversion project:
Don't Convert Content, Convert Stakeholders


  1. Sounds like a common complaint, Anand, but let's look at some facts:
    1. Not everyone you have working as an ID in our industry is an ID.
    2. If an organization is using some real good IDs for plain content conversion, it, for sure, is over investing.
    3. As an ID, you don't have to be lucky to find ID work. You just have to be in the right job :)

    Let's connect offline for more. You'll find my contact number in your FB inbox.

    Take care,

  2. Thanks or replying Anu, and what you say further strengthens my resolve to resolve this issue.