What to look for in an Instructional Design and Technology Master’s Degree Program

I see this question posted time and time again on LinkedIn so I figured it was time to blog about it.Here is a list of things you should look for and consider when looking into that ISD Master’s program.

1. Do your research – Not all instructional design programs are the same. Some focus on K-12, Corporate, or Higher Ed. Some focus on all three but more than likely focus on one more than the others.

2. Who are the professors? Do you recognize their names? Have they worked in the field? For instance, if you are planning to go into the corporate world after graduation, make sure the professors (or at least some) have worked in the corporate world as full time instructional designers (not just consulting either but full time jobs).

3. Look at the professors resumes and/or website. Do they have degrees in Instructional Technology (or similar field as our field has 20 different names)? Where did they go to school? Are they involved in professional organizations in the field?

4. Are the professors publishing? Do they present at conferences? Do their topics interest you? What organizations do they belong to and work with? Does any of that align with your goals?

5. Are the professors full time or adjunct? Adjunct professors usually have other full time jobs meaning you and your class may not be their highest priority. A program should have mostly full time professors.

5. What does the program look like? Do they have a comprehensive website? Do they have a facebook page? Twitter? LinkedIn? Not that these are vital but they do show the program is keeping current with social media. Additionally, a facebook page can be a great place to learn about the students and alumni in the program. I would encourage you to join it and see if its active. An active social media page indicates there is a lot of interaction in the program.

6. Where do the students who graduate from that program end up? What kind of jobs do they get?

7. What kind of reputation does that program have? You may not really be able to find this, but are they from a respected university? If you cannot find information about the program from their website (like who are their professors), I would be very hesitant of that program.

8. Talk to students from that program if you can. Students will offer advice that differs from professors.

9. Please before you apply, talk to a professor in that program (PLEASE make sure you talk to a professor in addition to anyone else you talk to). Have a list of questions for them and see what kind of feeling you get – even if its a phone/skype meeting: Please have it. This is a sign of the kind of access you will have to faculty once you enroll.

10. Do you get to work with real clients or is an internship required? You need at least one real experience before you graduate if you want to get a job in instructional design. Look at the job market, every single jobs asks for some experience and everyone else you will be competing with in the job market will have that internship.

I hope that helps. While this list is not everything you need to look for, it is a great start.

Multimedia Design Book – A must for Instructional Designers

If you are not familiar with the Multimedia Principles then this book is a must read for you!

This is pretty much the best multimedia design book I have ever read. If there is one book I can recommend to my students that will help to improve their design, its this book: The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning by Richard Mayer. While this book is from 2004, I still reference it a lot and use it for all of my research. If you are an instructional designer and have not ever read this book, you HAVE to get it and I cannot over emphasize that enough. It is a must read for all instructional designers because not understanding the principles discussed (in the book) in your training design could be disastrous and unfortunately I have met too many ISDers that do not understand or even know of the design principles discussed in this text. Here is a link for amazon but I’m sure you could find this used on half.com for even cheaper:

http://www.amazon.com/Cambridge-Handbook-Multimedia-Handbooks-Psychology/dp/0521547512/ref=la_B001IOBJ48_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1342448652&sr=1-3

Article Review: Why I hate learning objectives

Article:

http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/965/marc-my-words-why-i-hate-instructional-objectives?goback=.gde_48422_member_132428000

Overall I think this article brings up some good points. I do have some issues with the implementation and think it takes the wrong direction but the overall message is a good one. Here was my response to the article that I posted in linkedin in the ASTD group forum. Let me know your thoughts:

“I like the idea of telling learners why they are going through this training ie why its important. I actually cannot imagine designing instruction that does not include that as all training should have learners apply and use the knowledge (ie problem solving/application learning objectives). So if learners are using the information they learned in a valuable way (good designed instruction with application/problem solving learning objectives), wouldnt that be better than only telling them why its important but rather include having them actually use/apply the material for their job? It seems that if learners did that, they would not be questioning why they are going through the instruction unless the material was not relevant to their job. I would mark that as very poorly designed instruction with probably bad learning objectives/bad assessment/bad content/bad instructional designers/etc

As far as adding the E to instructional objectives, well that may be overkill. I think it might be adding to the increased jargon you mention. I usually never write ABCD learning objectives for my learners but always modify them and use ABCD where appropriate. For instance, I may not say the A because the learners understand that the A is them (the learner). But the A is important to be included in the design (design document/analysis) for the ISDer. E should be a learning objective where learners apply and use the knowledge (apply/rules/procedures/problem solving).

To answer the question, are learning objectives as valuable as we think they are? Well do they guide the design of instruction and let the learners know what they are expected to be assessed on? If so, then the answer is yes because that is what they are designed to do. They are not designed to tell the user why they are important, rather to tell what is being done. There should be learner objectives in the design/content that actually tells the learner why they material is valuable ie how can this be applied, and have them apply it. I do agree that training that does not include that piece of information for each high level objective is very poorly designed. All learning material needs to be applied and reach that problem solving level of learning.”

Should instructional design programs include creating writing courses?

As an Instructional Designer we are expected to be a good technical writers because we will be designing curriculum for clients and good technical writing makes them happy. However, does technical writing make the employees happy? When was the last time you read a good book? Ask yourself, what was the writing in the book like? Then ask yourself, why isnt my training written this way? Training should be fun and motivating for employees and technical writing is not fun or motivating. Nonetheless, this is what clients usually want and it’s what instructional designers have been trained to do. However, with the push for more interactive-game like interactions in our training, there is a need for more creative writing to capture the readers’ attention. When I read technical writing, I want to go to sleep. Seriously, it just makes me cringe. When I read a great book, I can stay and read through the night and never put it down. Sure there are different purposes for each of these but why can the training not incorporate some elements from each? So we need to combine the creative writing style (with stories etc) from that fun book with our training in order to capture the readers attention. Now some companies are doing this, but for the most part (I think it would be safe to say 99%) its not fun or exciting. Employees should be excited to get training, not bothered by it. So, how do we do this? Well I believe it will start in ISD programs. We need to train our students to start writing this way from day 1. That means incorporating this kind of writing into our classes or even having our students take a creating writing course in the literature dept. I believe learning how to write stories will help training significantly more than purely focusing on technical writing.

Bad Instructional Design: Dale’s Cone of Experience

Prepping for my class today I ran across the following image which is a modified version of: Dale’s Cone of Experience. Obviously there is no research to back this image up and I consider it fake. This just goes to show what goes on in our field as I found it on an instructional design website. And in fact, if you look up Dale’s cone on google you will find many education and instructional design sites with this fake image and they claim it is real.

Again, this image is not real (no research backing it up it is just made up):

Here is the site that is using this as part of their article – sorry I am not trying to offend you, its just this image is not real and you are using it)

So you can only remember 5% from lecture? Where did you get these stats from? 10% from reading? 20% from audio-visual? Look at my 2 studies on comprehension, learners scored around 50% using audio-visual on facts, concepts, rule/procedures and problem solving knowledge. And this was technical content that they had no prior knowledge in. If they had prior knowledge I would expect it to be significantly higher.

Also, here is a good site that breaks down just how wrong this image is: http://www.brainfriendlytrainer.com/theory/dale%E2%80%99s-cone-of-learning-figures-debunked

And for those who are interested, here is the original image that was published and then turned into the above one. And again, none of them (these two or others that look similar) have any research backing them up.

Why are there so many names for our field?

This is a good question brought up time and time again in class or the workplace, conferences, and manuscripts. I have heard instructional design programs called:

Instructional Technology
Instructional Design
Educational Technology
Educational Design
Learning Sciences

and there are many more but these are the common ones.

The reason, in my opinion, that there are so many different names has to do with the fact that we borrow from so many different fields, so each program and/or person has a slightly different focus on one or more of those fields. Thus you have instructional design programs that focus more heavily on design, programming, K-12, corporate, assessment, analysis, etc. Overall however, we are all linked by one thing: ADDIE (except for some of the learning science programs which have more of an ed psych base and do not use any form of ADDIE although I believe this is changing).

I believe all of these different names are not helping our field. In fact, they are hurting us and the field. I believe our field needs a common name with a solid operational understanding of what it is. One of the first things that happens during re-engineering of a company is ensuring that everyone understands their basic terminology because its a problem when the executives think they are saying one thing but others understand it differently.  We cant even agree what to call ourselves better yet define our field. We have groups who define our competencies and they are all very similar yet we still choose different names. This confuses potential employers who might be looking for instructional designers but are confused that someone has a learning science degree. While these programs have slight differences we need to put them aside for the reasons I have described. We need to make it clear what our students do and what all students in our field do. I am not saying we need to only train designers or anything like that, but we need to make clear all the roles we can and do play.

UNCW – Master’s of Instructional Technology

For those interested in a Master’s of Instructional Technology or Instructional Design, please check out the video that one of our graduate students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington made which highlights our program:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5e8_Sp0VvU]

Why choose Instructional Technology / Instructional Design as a career?

If you are unfamiliar with instructional technology/instructional design I will very briefly describe what our graduates do, however, this post more or less focuses on the ‘why’.

Instructional Design? How did it originate?

Instructional design as a field or job was created during WW1 and WW2. The government realized that ‘nuclear scientists’ while great at their jobs were not the best people to actually develop training materials and to deliver training sessions to new scientists. Essentially what they did is take experts who understood education theory, communication, education psychology, etc. and had them work with the ‘ subject matter experts’ on these sciences to develop sound effective training. Thus instructional design was born.

What does an instructional designer do?

– Can work in corporate, government, K-12, or higher ed settings
– Design curriculum, design training (anything from anti terrorism training, flying helicopters, corporate orientation, to developing curriculum for elementary school students).
– Develop/program training
– Front end analysis – what is wrong, why, how do we fix it? (think of the ‘bobs’ from office space)
– Evaluation – was this implementation effective?
– Recommend technology solutions for training needs

So why be an instruction designer?

– Great pay – graduates are starting just above 60k (with no experience). If you go into management from a general ISD position your salary can easily be over 100k in 5 or so years.
– Can have a bachelor degree in any field then get a Masters in ISD – You do need a masters degree to be an instructional designer.
– It’s a Masters degree – very easy to move up the corporate ladder with an MS
– Many jobs available – even during 2007 when the economy tanked our graduates had work. Every company needs trainers and training.
– Get to work in teams – usually always on project teams
– Easy transition into management. Very easy to get into a project management role within a few years. From there you can move up to partner/CEO positions assuming you are a super star employee (and a lot of luck)
– Mobility – instructional designers are needed everywhere. You can move to any state in the US and find a job fairly easily. Many international opportunities as well.
– Future – training is not going away. In fact, with each new technological advancement our field becomes more and more important and needed.