A new report on the role, workflow and experience of instructional designers by the strategy and design studio Intentional Futures has an intriguing thread running through it that suggests how much this profession is in flux and, at the same time, emerging as a potential key resource for innovative institutions looking to improve learning outcomes.
Instructional Design in Higher Education: A Report on the Role, Workflow, and Experience of Instructional Designers was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its Next Generation Courseware Challenge grants. Instructional designers “bridge the gap between faculty instruction and student online learning,” the report begins. “But who, exactly are instructional designers? What do they do? Where do they fit in higher education?”
Intentional Futures surveyed 853 people in the field and developed profiles of some typical instructional design professionals you might find on a U.S. campus at different stages of their careers. Those profiles alone do much to bring this group into focus.
The report estimates a field size of about 13,000 professionals in higher ed. That’s a surprisingly small number when compared to the more than 1.5M higher ed faculty that ID’s often support. On average, that’s about 1 Instructional Designer for every 115 faculty. The report further notes that instructional designers are varied in their backgrounds, with a large number holding advanced degrees, and more that half coming to the field with teaching experience:
- 87% of respondents have masters’ degrees, and 32% have doctoral degrees
- 87% of respondents have 3 to 11+ years in instructional design
- 57% have 3 to 11+ years teaching in higher education and
- 53% have 3 to 11+ years in technology development
The report goes on to highlight that, contrary to popular belief, ID’s do much more than “just design online instruction” and, in fact, raises interesting new insights on just how diverse their responsibilities, career paths and reporting structures are.
Diversity of responsibilities
Search through job descriptions for instructional designers, and you’ll see very little uniformity. The new report identifies four very large buckets:
- Designing — which can include developing new courses or redeveloping old courses and developing the actual content.
- Managing — which can include acting as project manager, advocate, or liaison between all the stakeholders in a course design project.
- Training — which can include helping faculty use education technology tools or helping faculty improve instructional practices, particularly in online environments.
- Supporting — which can include migrating courses online, finding tech solutions to instructional challenges or managing the IT help line.
Diversity of career paths
Unlike faculty, instructional designers rarely come up a well-beaten career path. They’ve worked in the past as librarians, photographers, architects, designers, journalists, software engineers, and web designers..
The master’s degree is very common — 87% of all the respondents have one — but the subject matter of that master’s degree work ranges from learning science to the humanities to business and administration, and “a significant percentage studied something else entirely such as mechanical engineering, aquaculture, divinity, or business.”
Nor do instructional designers see themselves staying in similar roles throughout their careers. Some plan to become faculty or administrators, and some anticipating transitioning out of higher ed to consulting, freelance, or private sector roles.
Diversity among reporting structure
Half of instructional designers work in research or doctorate granting institutions, while 20 percent are in master’s degree institutions, 13 percent are in community colleges, and 10 percent are in bachelor’s granting institutions.
But where they live within those schools is spread very broadly. A little more than one third are in academic affairs, and about a quarter are in either continuing education or IT.
Similarly, the names of the “centers” within those departments suggest a wide range of roles — technology, distance learning, teaching, library science, innovation, and IT support.
Where instructional designers fit in and beliefs about them
The difficulty of characterizing what instructional designers are and what their work is probably has something to do with the relationship they have with colleagues. As the report notes, “There is a misconception that instructional designers are just glorified IT personnel who simply move courses online.”
And the number one barrier to success that emerged in the surveys centered around how they are understood by other professional colleagues. They say that faculty and administration lack an understanding about their roles and possible contributions, that faculty resist their contributions and are not interested in changing teaching practices, and that faculty are not incentivized to use their help.
While the diversity of experience and training by instructional designers should be an asset and the range of structures for deploying them throughout institutions points to a lot of innovation in higher education, it appears that a broader and more consistent understanding of their professional contributions is necessary. This report certainly contributes to that quite a bit.
To read the full report, visit Intentional Futures.
You can also download The Convergence of Instructional Design and Technology-Enabled Teaching to learn more about how Instructional Designers are assisting faculty in developing more personalized, effective learning experiences for students.
Join the Online Learning Consortium’s free webinar series to learn more about the field of instructional design, how it is changing, and strategies for success. Each date will host an hour long session with a panel of experts sharing how instructional designers are making an impact in the world of higher education.
Instructional Designers in Higher Education: The role, responsibilities and experiences of Instructional Designers
From Campus to Classroom: Leveraging Instructional Designers at Different Scales
Moving the Innovative Institution Forward: Tools & Strategies for Instructional Designers
- See more at: http://intentionalfutures.com/reports/instructional_design/#sthash.YlFPNAbM.dpuf