Understanding Instructional Design

The following graphic is a high level overview of a basic principle in instructional design – choosing your instructional model to guide you through the process. It begins with coming to the conclusion that training is needed. Once it’s been determined that training is needed one must choose the instructional model they are going to use. I call this choosing which version of ADDIE they are going to use. There are many versions of ADDIE. Dick and Carey and Rapid Design are two very popular models. The key is that there are many versions. There is no one way to do ADDIE. In fact, each company I have consulted with usually has their own version – one that is usually modified for each project based on client needs. Sometimes that means using AGILE methods for design/development, working in a linear fashion, or developing in pieces. Again, this will change based on client needs. However, you will always need to do some form of analysis, design, development, implementation, or evaluation regardless of the process selected.

Do you need a degree in Instructional Design?

I have written about this before but given that we are starting a new school I will reiterate my thoughts: Yes you more than likely need an instructional degree in order to be a good instructional designer.

Can you learn to be an instructional designer without getting a degree? Yes. In fact, you can learn about any subject through libraries, internet, etc. You have been able to do this as long as books have been available to the public. However, would you want a doctor to work on you that didn’t have an MD? and just learned through some internet resources? Sorry but you would not. Instructional design is no different. There is a lot that goes into the design process and being a good designer is not easy. I would never hire someone that was not trained in a very solid ISD program that taught them how to be an instructional designer and provided them experiences to apply it.

So where does the notion that you do not need an ISD degree come from? Most often, bad designers. I am sorry to say that but usually when someone says this they either do not have the degree or came from a bad program. Choosing a good instructional design program taught by qualified instructors is a whole other issue. But usually when I find these people that do not believe in the ISD degree and that you can learn ‘on the job’ I can ask them anywhere from 3-5 questions about design, that are vital to design, and they do not know any of the answers – why? Because they themselves are usually not good designers because they do not know how to really do instructional design. Because if they did, they would realize that you really need someone trained to do it well.

Just as an example. I run into this problem all the time with managers. Managers that were hired because they were good workers. Yet they were not trained in management. So they end up failing, messing up, etc and at the very least making simple management 101 mistakes that they didn’t realize they were doing because they had no training.

Some related blog posts:

How to become an instructional desginer

10 reasons to get a degree in ISD

What to look for in an instructional design program

Should you go to college

Why does instructional design exist?

Why does instructional design exist? This video is a great example of why – Because people would focus on the number of balls being passed in this video and not the dancing bear, which was also a key learning objective

Instructional Design Hourly Rates

Many students (and former students) ask what they should be charging clients when they do contract work (and I have to figure this out when I am working on a proposal). Hourly rates in instructional design can vary widely (and they should). Rates should vary by task and client. First lets start with some of the  numbers then lets get into more specific reasons to choose an hourly rate.

First, the average instructional design salary is around $78,000 a year in the US. So if we were to calculate an hourly rate based on that it would be $36 and hour (which is 78k a year) but we would add 30% for benefits and retirement, which means that the average instructional design hourly rate should be around $47 an hour. However, given that contract work is not guaranteed and sometimes part time, this rate should be around $50-$60 an hour.

Now there are some other statistics. eLearning.net reports that instructional designers typically charge anywhere from $20-$90 an hour. And this will vary based on task, quality, and speed. They report that most of the foreign companies charging $20-$30 an hour purposely take longer on tasks and do not provide the quality that someone charging $50 and hour would do. Additionally given the role instructional designers play, outsourcing to a foreign country has not worked well for many that have tried it due to the language and time barriers – its very tough for a subject matter expert at your company to have meetings with someone who has a 12 hr time difference and doesn’t know how to put american culture into the training.

Finally, and most importantly elearn Magazine has created this image which shows some numbers by task. Keep in mind this is from 2007 but it does show how different tasks and clients should demand different rates.

So here is a list I have comprised based on stats and my own experience. These should vary based on the task at hand, the quality expected, experience of the contractor, location, and client:

1. Business strategy, proposals, needs analysis, needs assessment – $100-$250 an hour

2. Simple Design (articulate, captivate, PPT) – $60-$100 an hour

3. Advanced Design (simulations and games) – $75-$150 an hour

4. Development with Articulate, Captivate, or other authoring tools -$35-$70 an hour

5. Development that includes programming, Flash, HTML5 – $60-$125 an hour

6. Implementation – $50 an hour

7. Evaluation – $75-$250 an hour


This is a summarized breakdown of ADDIE. One would assume that front end analysis was completed at this point to determine that there was a training need.


AGILE in Instructional Design

This post will discuss the use of the popular AGILE strategy (notice I say strategy) in instructional design. First before I start I will note – AGILE does NOT replace ADDIE. In fact, AGILE is just another way to do the ADDIE process – and there are 1000s. There is not one correct way to perform the steps of ADDIE. Each author, expert, company, organization, etc has a different way to do ADDIE. Thus ADDIE changes by entity and should be modified for each project to suite client needs and expectations. AGILE is just one way of many ways to do ADDIE (and really AGILE should only be applied to the design/development stages of ADDIE as you will see below). As a result we are always doing ADDIE, you cannot replace it. Now that I have said that…

AGILE was first created for software development to replace what is known as the waterfall method but has since been applied to many other industries.

So what is AGILE?

AGILE is a strategy that promotes iterative and incremental design and development in order to get out parts of a project to the client instead of the whole at one time (to save time). This is actually very similar to the rapid development strategies – they are for the most part exactly the same.

When can I use AGILE

You should use AGILE when you meet some of the same requirements that you have to meet to do rapid instructional design. It is not something that should be used on every project. Certain conditions should be met first.

1. Analysis is completed – without a proper analysis the project will fail. 70% of projects fail and poor analysis and management are usually the cause. This doesn’t mean analysis needed to be completed for this part of the project. You might know these clients and have done other projects with them so you can take some/all of that original analysis and use it.
2. Constant access to SMEs, Developers, and Graphic Artists (and person who signs off – i.e., client)
3. Project can be rolled out in sections – for instance 1 module can be rolled out by itself without the other 10 modules
4. Already have learning objects from other projects (optional and very helpful – cuts time) – this is not required though but will save a significant amount of time

How do I use AGILE

Once your task analysis is completed in the ADDIE process (as in you have done analysis and design), you can really start the AGILE strategy. Development should look something like this:

1. Design – minimum skills required are taught (think job aid type training). Limited graphics, interactions, etc are used. (it should be understood that these will be modified at a later time. This is more of a rapid instructional design strategy but will cut time with AGILE as well). The more interactions that are taught, the more time it will take. Thus if you are using complex software and have a lot of interactions you will not get the time savings advantages associated with AGILE.
1a. Feedback and test
2. Iterate – Develop the prototype
2a. Feedback and test
3. Review – meet with clients to get feedback and approval
*This process is a cycle that can technically repeat indefinitely until its right. Most organizations go through it 2-3 times before implementation.
4. Implement

What does AGILE look like?

Here are two strategy maps showing how AGILE can be used in Instructional Design (and note how they fit into ADDIE). First note that they are both slightly different as there is not one ‘right’ way to implement these strategies. As I said earlier, these need to change by client and project so they should not look the same. Here is the first from bottomlineperformance.com

Here is another from learningsolutionsmag.com


Do you notice anything familiar about these? You should. They are just defining how to do steps in the ADDIE process. The first chart is starting at Design after your learning objectives are created and showing us how to Develop. Thus that would be a way to use AGILE for development. The second chart also shows us how AGILE can fit into the ADDIE process.