FAQ – What is Instructional Design?

What is instructional design (ID)?

For a simple definition, I believe that instructional design involves shaping a learning experience in a systematic way.  Without getting technical, instructional design defines the problem and the solution, and determines the best way to bridge the gap through instruction.  It includes factors such as learning theories, defining the goal, knowing your audience and the topic/task, creating measurable objectives, designing an instructional strategy, developing the instruction, assessing the learners, evaluating the course, and making revisions as appropriate.  Instructional design is systematic, but the process is fluid instead of a rigid step-by-step formula.

Instructional design sets the stage for a successful learning experience.  Failing to consider ID sets the stage for failure.  Let’s look at an example that you may have experienced.

Picture yourself in college sitting in a math class.  The professor or graduate assistant is clearly a mathematics genius.  He or she is a subject matter expert (SME) and is essentially trying to transfer the contents of his/her brain into your brain.  The problem is that you don’t understand or follow what the person is trying to teach.  Why?  The instructor probably never considered instructional design.  Instead the SME is focused on the content and is likely teaching from the perspective of, “Let me tell you what I know”.  An instructional designer will consider many factors beyond the content and fashion the learning in a way that will help the students succeed in the class.

There are many formal definitions of ID.  Below is a nice version courtesy of the State of Washington:

“The systematic process of creating or adapting instruction, including at least these steps: defining the problem or knowledge gap that the instruction is meant to address; defining the audience that the instruction is meant to serve; developing objectives and assessment strategies; selecting and sequencing content and learning activities; evaluating the instruction; revision.”  Source: http://www.wa.gov/esd/training/toolbox/instructional_design.htm

The University of Michigan also provides a comprehensive definition on their website.

Who can benefit from learning about instructional design?

Anyone involved (or who wants to be involved) in education or training in any setting will benefit from learning about ID.  This includes:

  • Trainers
  • Educators
  • Employees in private industry (including non-profits)
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Human resources professionals
  • Military service members
  • Government workers (local, state, and federal)

Instructional design principles apply to children and adults and in face-to-face as well as e-learning (computer-based) environments.  Perhaps you’ve taken some horrible training at work and you want to improve how training is delivered in your organization?  If you would benefit from knowing how to effectively train or educate others, consider learning about instructional design.

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