How to become an Instructional Designer

How to become an Instructional Designer

So you are considering getting into the instructional design or instructional technology field and want to know what it takes to make it. Today I am going to explain how to get into the field – at least the corporate part. Now before I start, there is not one way or a right way per se to get in, but there are things you should know before you make that jump.

1. Knowledge – before you get into the field you need to understand each and every step to the ADDIE process. You can get this from a Master’s program, certificates, your job, or just learning it on your own. It really doesn’t matter where you get it but you need it. And I care about this 10x more than any technology programs you might know. Technology programs only last for a years before something better comes along. Knowledge lasts forever. For instance, ask yourself the following questions, if you can easily answer them then you probably know what you need to. If you cannot answer them, you probably should consider a Master’s degree where someone will give you what you need to know. And remember these are just a few of probably 100s of questions I would choose from if I were interviewing you or trying to determine your competency in a short meeting:

  1. Name three learning theories?
  2. Describe the multimedia theories and how they apply to computer based instruction
  3. Name three instructional strategies?
  4. What instructional strategy is appropriate for indirect instruction? What about one for direct instruction? And experiential?

2. Experience – Yes you need experience in addition to just knowing information. I want to see that you can work on a team and such. For this I suggest internships in the field. You need actual experience in the field and there are tons of internships out there. Having said that, if you have a masters + other experience I would definitely accept that as well.

3. Master’s degree/certification – You need something that shows you have the knowledge. I will interview you like crazy but I really prefer someone that I know has the basic competencies. I would hire someone without the degree but they would really have to pass a pretty tough and extensive interview where I would really ask them about every competency in the field. The worst thing I see in our field is instructional designers that do not actually know instructional design. While a degree is no guarantee of that, it does help. That is not to say all instructional degree programs are equal either – so yes it also matters where you went to school.

4. Portfolio – First, if you show me stuff you have done for other clients I am going to be a bit concerned as they more than likely own that work. I wouldn’t want you leaving my company and showing the stuff you developed for me. So you need to develop a few mock examples. Honestly though this is not that important unless you are really going to be an instructional developer. I can tell if you can design by setting up a few scenarios and asking you what you would do, what models would you use, why, etc. This is more important for fields like computer science and graphic art. But it doesn’t hurt to have it.

5. Technology – I do not expect you to be a tech expert or developer. I expect you to be able to discuss technology and work with programmers though. You should know what all of the latest software packages can do, when you would use them, and why. You should understand an LMS and how to be an administrator of one. You should not be ‘that’ instructional designer that knows one technology and recommends that technology before ever doing an analysis to determine if that is really the best or not.

What does an Instructional Designer do?

 What does an Instructional Designer do?

An instructional designer’s job is to develop curriculum. This is the easiest way to describe what we do.  Now the longer version is that we:

–       Determine if there is a problem or respond to an RFP

–       If there is a training problem, then we solve it. If another problem, that group solves it (ie IT, Communication, etc), we just help find the problem and only solve it ourselves when training is the solution.

–       Do an instructional analysis and needs assessment – We determine what the scope of the training is and recommend a solution (i.e., we should develop online instruction and it will cost this much and take this long)

–       Design the instruction – we develop objectives, work with SMEs, and figure out what models and theories we should use to create this instruction in the best possible manner

–       Develop the instruction – instructional designers can do this but more often its done by computer programmers. We however will develop the storyboards and work with the developers  to do this. Sometime we do develop though using simpler and more limited software such as Articulate, Captivate, and PPT.

–       Implement the instruction – We help with the rollout and work with IT to deliever instruction. We might train trainers how to deliver the instruction or we might even deliver the instruction ourselves

–       Evaluation – We conduct an evaluation to determine if the training was successful, met company goals, if ROI was met, etc.

ADDIE – Development

Development

*If you are just coming to this screen, you might want to read about ADDIE, Analysis, or Design first

During this phase of instructional design (ADDIE) we develop our instructional product and get it ready for implementation.

Prototype – From our design, we should build our prototype. This can be a screen shot or mock-up of screens that show what the final product could look like. It is very important to get client approval here before moving onto storyboard development. These should also look good – so get a graphic designer to design them if needed. These will help the developer and graphic designer in the long run when looking at the storyboards if these are done well.

Storyboard – This is the story. Each screen (or scene/action if developing a game) will be depicted. Everything we have done in design will aid in the development of the storyboards. The client should be able to look at these (and see the visual in the prototype) and have an exact idea of what the final product will look and feel like. Again, these need to be signed off on.

Development – Once the storyboards are completed, development can begin. Thus, the instructional developer, programmers, graphic artists, etc. will develop the software or instruction. This might involve one to many different deliverables depending on the type of instruction being developed (i.e., CBT, software, game, simulation, training manual, instructor guide, etc.)

System Testing – During this phase the LMS, network, etc. should be tested (if needed) to ensure that the servers and network are prepared for the implementation. This is the time that the IT team and ISDers work out any system glitches, especially if delivering this to many users. This way when implementation is ready the rollout will run without glitches.

dev

Design

This is an overview of the design phase within ISD.

Step 1 –

task analysis – this is the instructional flow of content and can be a concept map (how your objectives will be accomplished). It should really be a visual of your learning objectives and help ensure that all of the content is going to be taught. This is where you will sort through content and figure out the order that it needs to be taught. What learning taxonomy are you using? You need to make sure you are using a learning taxonomy here. This document can be done in unison with your learning objectives.

Objectives – Each piece of content should be a learning objective. Each learning objective should have an assessment item. Each objective should be written in some format that includes the audience, behavior, condition, and degree. Each objective should be able to be seen in your task analysis. You must be using a learning taxonomy here. If you do NOT know what a taxonomy is I suggest using Merrill’s Component Display Theory.

Step 2 –

Instructional strategy – How will this content be taught? What instructional strategy are you using? You need to look at your objectives and task analysis and determine the best instructional strategies. These could include gagnes 9 events, problem base learning, etc. First determine if you solution is direct, indirect or experiential then figure out what strategy fits that methods. This is one of the most important parts of the ISD process. Most generic and bad training does NOT use an instructional strategy.

Step 3 – Development prep. Keep in mind that not all of these apply to all situations so take your case and see what fits (for example CBT will use the multimedia theories whereas instructor led training may not). These are done prior to storyboard development or in the beginning stages of storyboard development when working on a prototype. This step can be done consecutively with prototype development, which is the first stage of development. When developing these I am usually beginning to work on my interface which then gets put into the prototype in the development phase – this will involve the graphic designer and developers.

Motivation – Can you incorporate any motivation theories (ie ARCS model) into this instructional strategy? How?

Multimedia theories – Are we going to use the multimedia theories? This will apply to computer/technology based instruction. If so, which ones?

Usability (HCI) – Where are buttons going to be placed? Do we actually know where they should go or are you just making this up? Make sure someone is well versed on HCI (human computer interaction) before deciding this stuff. How does fitt’s law apply? The golden ratio? Grids? etc. How can I make this user friendly? Are my color choices good? A design document might be developed here to help the developer and other designers. This is really where interface design begins. The instructional designer should understand HCI if they are going to design an interface.

Rules – What are the rules for the user? What are the programming rules? This is why my instructional designer needs to understand programming. I need to be able to let the programmer know what constitutive rules are going to be applied here (this will only apply to CBT type instruction not face to face)

Story and Character Development – This only applies to CBT, certain instructional strategies, gaming, and simulations. Who are my main characters? Do they have an ARC? What is my story?  What is the scenery like? What are the graphics like? What are the sounds like?

At this point I move into prototype development. However, I place this in the development phase of ADDIE but it really happens just after design and before development. Many like to put it in the design category and that is fine, assuming its the last step.

For more on this here is an overview of the whole ISD process: http://raypastore.com/wordpress/2014/01/instructional-design-process/

design2

Instructional Analysis

Here is my image depiction of an instructional analysis.

Project charter – This should not be confused with the project charter in the PM process. However this may contain much of the same information. This should contain the problem, project managers, contact info, background to the problem, ROI information, Project goals, budget and schedule summary. This document will be filled in and modified throughout the whole ISD process. It is usually a 1-2 document.

Learner analysis – Who are the learners? What is their level of education? Can they use computers? smart phones? What is their age? Motivations? What are their work conditions like? What is their job like? Do they prefer a certain kind of training or are they used to a certain kind? (remember if they are not used to it then you need to go through a change process which might involve training and communication on the new process) *Note here do NOT look for learning styles as there is much research against them and they do not help with curriculum development. Learning preferences are NOT the same as learning styles.

Context analysis – What kind of conditions will the learners use these new skills? What are those skills? What kind of conditions will these learners be trained in? Computer labs? Classrooms? On the job? Really answers two questions – where/how will they use these new skills and what are the learning environments like?

Technology analysis – What technology is available? What technology are the users used to? Computer labs? Projectors? ipads? etc. This information may be included in the other analysis sections however I really like to break it down and have this section separate so that developers looking at this document do not need to read between the lines to help give input on technology solutions.

Knowledge of performance analysis (*performance analysis should be completed prior to needs analysis in the front end analysis not described here) – Is there anything else we can add to this? Document analysis? Prior project lessons learned? Results from front end analysis such as surveys/observations? All of that can go here. And if there was no front end analysis done (which is why I include this section) then make sure you have data to add here. If a front end analysis (a good thorough one was completed) then this section may be omitted.

Gap analysis – This is the section where we analysis the problem and analysis to come up with a solution.

Current state – What is the current state that needs to fixed?

Desired state – What is the end desired state? What were the companies goals and what are the new ones for this project?

Potential solutions – What are all of the potential solutions? How long will each take/cost?

Impact of those solutions – How will those solution impact the company? Which departments will those solutions impact? Are any department already doing this? What is the ROI for each of those solutions? How much will each cost? How long will each take?

Solution selected – What solution is recommended to the client?

Goals – What are the goals of this project with this solution? Can you classify them using something like Gagnes categories of learning? (this will help with your task analysis). Do learners have the skills required to complete each of these goals?

Here is a high level view of the Instructional Design process to see where analysis fits in: http://raypastore.com/wordpress/2014/01/instructional-design-process/

To see the sections on Design and Development click the links

analysis2

Instructional Design Process – ADDIE

Each semester, many students ask me about ADDIE, Dick and Carey, Rapid ISD models, SAM, AGILE, Rapid Prototyping, etc. There seems to be much confusion, not just by my students, but in the field as to how ADDIE relates to all of these other models (read about that here). I also see a problem with most instructional models in that they try so hard to be an instructional design process that they leave out how and where they connect within the system. Thus you see them as an isolated system. As a result, my students do not always see this connection. Hence, I am going to be writing several blog posts outlining the instructional design process – what is to be done at each step, how you do it, how does it relate to and effect other systems, and a few other things. This is the first part. This is the instructional design process (ADDIE) within a company (*please note that this will change a bit for each project as this process needs to be adapted to the environment but this is the standard process assuming ideal conditions). I have added extra parts because I believe not adding them has in part led to the confusion that instructional designers have in our field. To read specifics on the steps, click the links below:

Analysis

Design

Development

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10 reasons to get a Master’s in Instructional Technology

There are many reasons why one goes into instructional technology. I personally went into the field because I loved computers and making websites in the late 90s. I have written about this topic before and this is just really an update to my original article.

So what are ten reasons to go into this field?

1. Good pay. Starting salaries between 55-70k (depending on location).
2. Average 5 year salary is 75-90k a year. This goes way up if you are in a management role.
3. Chance to move to high ranks in companies. Many instructional designers are promoted to project manager after a few years and can move up into very senior roles from that point on. 4. Can enter with any bachelors degree. Only requirement is a bachelors degree in any field.
5. Great 2nd career. Great for teachers trying to leave teaching to go into the corporate sector. You basically become a teacher for the corporate world.
6. Lots of jobs. Lots of jobs everywhere. Although keep in mind obviously cities have more jobs.
7. Work from home – many jobs in our field are allowing you to work from home when not on client site.
8. Work with technology. You always get to play with the coolest new gadgets
9. Can work in the corporate world, Government, higher education, or K-12. Really any sector.
10. Every company needs instructional designers. Yep its true. Every single company needs training and guess who designs it? Yep, instructional designers.

Sounds to good to be true? Well it is and isn’t. Our job in a lot of work and many instructional designers are hard workers. It requires a masters degree – so we are a smart bunch (and our master’s programs are tough). When we are finishing up a project there can be long hours and our job involves thinking and strategy – so its not a cake walk. However, we also gets nice breaks in between projects, good pay, good bonuses, etc. Overall its a great career for anyone – with the right kind of motivation, cognitive ability, and love for technology.

Instructional Design and Project Management

Tonight in my project management course we will be discussing the role of the project manager in ISD. Here is some basic info for instructional designers interested in project management:

Main PM organization: PMI – Project Management Institute – http://www.pmi.org/. PMI has created the PMBOK Standards. These are standards that every single PM should know in all fields. If your PM does not understand these standards I would be hesitant to hire them even if they have 20 years of PM experience (because that doesnt equate to 20 successful years even if it appears so on their resume) http://www.pmi.org/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards.aspx
There are a number of PM Certifications. PMP being the most recognized. http://www.pmi.org/Certification.aspx

Is it worth it for Instructional Designers to get the PMP certification? Here are some sites that debate the issue. I personally believe it is if you are a PM and it can only help your resume.

What is the best eLearning software?

The right answer is? The best software that allows you to deliver your learning objectives using the desired instructional strategy. However, that is not the answer I usually hear not the answer people usually want. Instead I hear Articulate, Captivate, Flash, Lectora, etc etc. The truth is that there is not one tool that does it all…well actually there is, its called programming but that is usually the least cost effective way to go so we do not do it. One of the big issues I am seeing in our field is that people are only familiar with a few tools and really believe that those few tools can do everything. The problem is that many of those tools are very limited. For instance, if an instructional designer cannot tell me why I would choose Flash over Articulate or vice versa, I would be concerned that they do not understand some of the basic authoring tools that are available because there are situations when I would choose one of those over another. They each have distinct advantages over one another.

Another big issue I see is that designers are many times playing the role of a developer so they can only use simple development tools because they are not programmers. So the training is limited to a drag and drop development tool. If you have an instructional design team, you need a developer. You need someone dedicated to development…otherwise you are a very small company and you are not going to be competitive with the big boys because they have developers that can develop full simulation environments. If I see a company/person saying they can develop effective training using X tool without seeing my needs, objectives, etc. then I get very concerned with quality and ability to deliver effective training. You choose your tool that best fits the design. You do not make your design fit a tool. A good instructional design company will be able to use any tool that fits your needs, whether it be simple like PPT or Articulate or advanced like Unity 3D game engine.

So what are the problems with all of this? The biggest in my opinion is boring training, training that is not effective, and/or instructional strategies that are limited by software. The two big issues I hear from executives are that training is not effective or its boring. And I believe poor use of technology is one of the causes.