Instructional design plays an important role in course development for higher education, whether the course involves online learning or traditional in-classroom teaching. Surprisingly, there is little public awareness of what instructional designers do, even though there are at least 13,000 people in higher education alone who identify with this role. Preparing a well-written instructional designer job description should be the first step toward hiring the best fit for this role.
Creating effective online courses is harder than it seems; online learning is not just about moving the lecture from the classroom to video. Learning science, in particular, is showing the path toward high-quality online learning experiences. An instructional designer can help ensure that course authoring tools leverage the full power of the underlying learning science.
Instructional designers also know that today’s e-learning must be engaging and effective at helping students’ learn. With advancements in just-in-time learning, learner-centered instruction, and blended learning in higher ed, the involvement of an instructional designer can be invaluable.
A good instructional designer can help an experienced educator see learning from the students’ perspective and design learning experiences that are engaging and impactful.
A survey of instructional designers
To learn more about this field, Intentional Futures, in connection with the Next Generation Courseware Challenge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, conducted a survey of today’s instructional designers. Intentional Futures (IF) received 853 responses from participants who were or are currently instructional designers working in higher education institutions.
Intentional Futures discovered that instructional designers are “highly and diversely qualified;” 87 percent of respondents have master’s degrees, and 32 percent have doctoral degrees. Most respondents — 87 percent — have 3 to 11 or more years in the industry, the majority of which is spent teaching in higher education. In addition, 53 percent have 3 to 11 or more years in technology development.
Intentional Futures’ survey also found that instructional designers do more than just design instruction. “There is a misconception,” the reports says, “that instructional designers are just glorified IT personnel who simply move courses online.”
Survey respondents perform a wide variety of day-to-day tasks that include designing instructional materials and courses, especially for digital delivery; managing the efforts of faculty, IT personnel, and administration to design and develop coursework; training faculty on ways to utilize technology to deliver effective content; and provide technical and instructional support to faculty.
The role of the instructional designer
Many instructional designers today rely on the course design triangle, which aligns practice, activities, and assessments to ensure that students get targeted and timely feedback on practice opportunities that are goal-directed. The result for instructors, when they are using a platform like Acrobatiq, is a skills graph that maps intended course outcomes to each individual learning objective and breaks those into component skills, practice activities, and assessments.
Today’s instructional designers need to wear multiple hats, playing the role of facilitator, innovator, researcher, and developer. They work with other departments and subject matter experts to develop learning objectives, conduct needs assessments, and design programs. They select and use a variety of techniques to define and develop instructional materials, leveraging technology to deliver them.
Instructional designers develop learning experiences specifically for online delivery. Many instructional designers are project managers, managing the work of others to deliver courses and achieve better student learning. Instructional designers often train faculty or other departmental staff to leverage technology in delivering online content. And, finally, instructional designers play a support role for others when they run into technical challenges.
Planning to hire? Consider this instructional designer job description
The tasks performed as well as the skills and experience required for instructional designers are similar across higher ed institutions. We reviewed the job functions for instructional designers from a variety of colleges and universities and prepared a sample instructional designer job description as a starting point to help with your recruiting efforts.
Essential job functions and responsibilities
Instructional designers work collaboratively with faculty and colleagues to analyze instructional outcomes and provide expertise in the planning, development, and delivery of high-quality learning experiences – particularly ones delivered online. They will design online training courses and instructor-led classroom training, identifying methodologies to be used to deliver content and organizing the content and flow of information.
Analyzing and applying trends in learning technologies and instructional design should be standard practice for instructional designers. They will develop learning objectives, structure learning activities, create visual aids for online and face-to-face interactions.
Instructional designers should be able to write effective copy, instructional text, and audio and video scripts. They will be responsible for devising modes of assessment, such as tests or quizzes, to measure the effectiveness of the course. They will utilize eLearning development tools and software as part of their course development. Instructional designers will also be responsible for planning and managing course development and design projects.
Minimum knowledge and experience
The position usually requires a Bachelor’s degree or higher in instructional design, education, or equivalent field. Candidates should also have two to four years in instructional design, experience in developing online, mobile training, and instructor-led courses, and experience with eLearning technology platforms and learning management systems.
Many of the recruiting ads for this role also required either a master’s degree or PhD in instructional design and development or educational technology.
Special skills and abilities
In addition to the above skills, the ideal ID candidate should have a background in accessibility, usability, and experience design, information design and communications, as well as knowledge of instructional design models, strategies, and best practices.
Instructional designers in higher ed must be collaborative and be able to work independently. Instructional designers should have strong oral, written, and interpersonal skills and exceptional project management skills.
The applicant must be able to work with multiple priorities in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. They must also be able to train one-on-one and in a group setting.
The instructional designer position requires a basic knowledge of streaming audio and video, file types and formats, and experience with online conference software.
Qualities and traits of a successful instructional designer
An instructional designer can make the difference between simply converting a classroom lecture to a mundane online video and creating an innovative, interactive online course that helps students learn, more efficiently and retain their newly acquired knowledge over time. Once you’ve gathered a few candidates, what qualities should you look for in an interview?
Connie Malamed, in her blog 10 Qualities of the Ideal Instructional Designer, says the successful instructional designer should understand how people learn and know how to connect with an audience. They should be creative and able to brainstorm innovative instructional strategies. They need to be able to visualize the user interface, student interactions with the course, and the finished product. Malamed says they should “meld minds with their subject matter experts and team members” and “be obsessed with learning everything.” And as technology skills are important for this role, they should understand eLearning development tools and software.
When drafting your instructional designer job description, keep in mind the above qualities. Ask interview questions that will help you identify these traits and qualities in your candidates. Take the time to fill this position with the right candidate. A skilled instructional designer can help your institution realize the potential of learning science and evidence-based practices, combined with effective education technology, to create powerful learning experiences for your students.
Pam Baker is a freelance writer specializing in human resources, information technology and online learning technology.