So, what is it that you do again?


As an instructional designer (or eLearning developer), I know it’s difficult for people to understand my role. For my 4-year-old’s sake, I am a teacher. For my friend’s sake, I am part of my companies HR or the Training Department.

At my organization, our new hires take a tour of our corporate campus on the second day of on-boarding. When they arrive within HR, the department is encouraged to greet the newbies.

So as I saunter out of my office, I introduce myself, and I quickly attempt to explain what I do. I always start with, “I’m the bank’s Instructional Designer. No, I don’t design rooms like an interior designer. Instead, I put together training materials and put together learning experiences for our associates.” This is to keep it simple. I usually end with a spiel on the learning opportunities available to them now that they are part of the org.

By the time I finish explaining my role, I feel everything has something like this playing in their mind.


Forget about “performance improvement” or discussing the importance of analysis/assessment to determine the best solution(s) for a problem. Add the phrase performance improvement into the mix and people are almost certain to checkout (especially if they didn’t already).

Official Definitions

The textbook definitions don’t help us that much either. Theoretically-sound but confusing to those outside of the field.

Instructional Design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning instructional theory to insure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes the development of instructional materials and activities, and try out and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities. – University of Michigan

Instructional Design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. – Instructional Design Central.

In response to this common issue within our profession, Kery Mortenson referenced the following simple two page illustrated summary for performance improvement. I thought it did a great job of honing in on the basics, but is this document enough?

We are ID

In the spirit of simplifying this problem in a typical-blog-type format. I will make a list of things I feel encapsulate the spirit of instructional designers.

  1. We don’t assume training is the solution right away. We dig deeper and look for evidence.
  2. We ask questions. This is to challenge assumptions and wear our Sherlock Holmes hats. We don’t want to develop training for the sake of providing any solution for our clients. We consistently think about what is it that we need people to do rather than think about the information to present.
  3. We develop partnerships. We have to collaborative and bend over backwards sometimes to get what is needed done for the organization, our clients, and their learners.
  4. We begin with the end in mind. Let me figure out the final desired state that we are looking to achieve and I will reverse design our initiatives, solutions, programs, learning objects to meet the end goal established early on in the design process.
  5. We apply systems thinking. During analysis and design, we begin to look at and consider the the system around the “problem” that was initial brought to us. Than, we try to make hone in on the root-cause in order to solve the larger problem.
  6. We add value. Not-so-secretly, many of my instructional brethren want a “seat at the table” and to prove our value in an organization. I want to add value, but you can keep the seat. I just want to create impactful, value-added programs that effect the organization in a positive way. Ultimately, this will drive more internal business for my area.
  7. We make sense of nonsense. The phrase “garbage in; garbage out” came to mind when I wrote this list item. Too, I think of the main image attached at the beginning of this post. However, instructional designers can sometimes make a miracle occur with the garbage or nonsensical information being provided initially. This doesn’t happen all of the time, but there are moments were the training materials, topics, content, et cetera isn’t clear from the start.
  8. We look to other industries for inspiration. I constantly look for inspiration from other fields. Tips from product developers, project managers, UX designers, graphic designers, sales, leadership gurus, neuroscience, financial analysts, and so on can all help improve an instructional designer’s skill set to make them dangerously relevant. Overall, we are building our business acumen by leverage techniques across various fields.
  9. We improve our own skills incrementally. Every project I work on seems to increase or add a new skill to my batman-like ID belt. It’s critical to hone these skills and to continuously use the ones that matter for your role.
  10. We dabble with new technologies. I don’t think of myself as a techie person, but I possibly know more than your average user.

I don’t know if others would agree completely with this list, but these are the basic items that I feel instructional designers do. However, I am no expert. I have a long way to go and need to make much improvement throughout my career.

How would you describe Instructional Design, Performance Improvement, eLearning and so on in a simplified way, while still maintaining a value prop?

About @hoosier_teacher

Instructional Designer, I help make sense of workplace, work, and worker interactions in order to create comprehendible and practical training programs.