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The Multiple Personalities of an ID

#becomeanidol #besthire #careeerpivot #design #elearning #idolcourses #idoltalentpool #instructionaldesign #instructionaldesignblog #instructionaldesigner Dec 04, 2020

 What is an Instructional Designer (ID)? I get asked this question often by friends and family that are not in the industry. For fear of boring them with a passionate rant using a lot of industry jargon, I typically respond with the extremely truncated answer – I build training for professionals. 

Those of us in-the-know understand if we posed this question to 100 different people within the Learning and Development industry, we would probably get 100 different answers. Yet, they would all be correct to some degree. This is due to the multiple personalities of an ID. Rather, the many roles we fulfill from project to project. 

The crux for all of those answers would be “Instructional design is the design, development, and delivery of learning experiences. It constructs those experiences in such a way that learners acquire either knowledge or skills,” according to “Instructional designers follow various academic theories and models related to how people learn and the cognitive processes behind the learning experience. These models ensure the instruction is as effective as possible for imparting knowledge or teaching skills to learners.”

However, if you listen to the conversations of those in the industry, you will notice that Instructional Design becomes a very broad and generalized term. It includes niche aspects of design, development, and delivery of training. When you look at ID job descriptions, today, you will see many employers want everything and the kitchen sink in one individual. I recall one job posting for an ENTRY level ID position requiring the candidate to already have several years of experience in Instructional Design, be proficient with authoring software (that one is a fair requirement), be proficient with Microsoft Office Suite, be knowledgeable in HTML5 and JavaScript, use Photoshop and other graphic design tools proficiently, and be highly skilled in audio and video editing. That’s a lot for one person. Technically, not all of it is truly needed to design effective instruction. They are just nice to have. Since they are nice to have, ID candidates have adapted and are rapidly learning how to use any and all tools and technology to be more marketable. 

While IDs are officially analysts of learning, designers of instruction, and eLearning developers, they are also unofficially:

  • Graphic Designers
  • Programmers
  • Video editors
  • Videographers
  • Voice Over Actors
  • Consultants

To anyone who professionally and expertly holds one of those titles, excuse the generalizations. Your profession requires much skill and years of experience to master. I am referring to the jack of all trades mentality that comes with being an ID. Some companies do not have the luxury of having a large Learning and Development (L&D) department where the different aspects of a project can be handed off to a team member who specializes in one particular skill. Sometimes the whole L&D Department is one person.  

I would like to explain further how IDs fulfill each of these roles when designing and developing instruction:

  • We are Graphic Designers in the sense that we need to effectively use visual communication with the learner. We have to have a basic understanding of composition, color theory, typography, contrast, and balance. If we miss that mark, there will be an unnecessary cognitive load imposed on the learner. They will be wasting time deciphering what is on the screen instead of focusing on the learning. 
  • We are Programmers in the sense that if a company is not using authoring tools such as Storyline or Captivate, they are probably developing with Flash. Flash requires coding to build the experience. If there is not a programming department dedicated to developing eLearning, then it is left up to the ID to complete this task. 

  • We are Video Editors in the sense that we take a screencast of a demonstration, remove all of the unnecessary dialogue, extra time between clicks, and mistakes to present only what the learner needs to know. Then, we add text, callouts, music, animations, etc. to create a polished video ready for consumption. On very rare occasions, we become the videographer and take an actual video of what we need ourselves. Then, do the editing.

  • We are Consultants when our clients and stakeholders are not exactly sure what they need. They come to us with a problem and look to our expertise to provide a solution in the form of training. We also determine the best modality for that training and discuss how it will accomplish the desired goals. They also expect us to be honest with them if the issue cannot be fixed with training.  

  • We are Voiceover Actors by providing the narrations to our own trainings. Paying a professional or a third party vendor is not always an option for every project or every company. Aside from the budgetary component, there is the extra time it would take to do either of those. A lot of times IDs are already up against such tight deadlines we end up doing it ourselves. 

For those new to the industry, I know it can seem daunting learning all of the tools and technology most have come to expect from IDs. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Embrace learning one new aspect of the ID role at a time. You can fill in any gaps or even upskill, for veteran IDs, through IDOL courses Academy. The Academy is designed to specifically hone in on real-world application of instructional design methods and becoming comfortable with the tools of the trade. 

The days of an Instructional Designer in the basic sense of the definition is obsolete. We have to develop these multiple personalities with unofficial titles in order to stand out in the Talent Pool of other IDs.


Written by:  Gretchen Johanson

Gretchen is an Instructional Designer, IDOL Courses Academy Mentor, and former public educator. Combined, she has over a decade of experience in learning and development. She considers herself a life-long learner and is always looking for opportunities to grow and develop her skills.Work-life balance is important to her. She enjoys kick-boxing, traveling and family time when she is not working.