Instructional Design Matters: Here’s Why

The word design may call to mind beautiful objects, sleek lines, carefully crafted spaces or even visions of high fashion and marketing genus.  Indeed, design is an active process of making conscious choices about the look and feel of an object or experience. To the untrained eye, we only seem to notice when design is bad – because it fails to meet our needs. However, to the designers working on those minute details, every choice is carefully considered, and not a single user’s need goes unexamined.

While it was not always the case, the field of instructional design brings the same level of thoughtful decision making to the process of crafting instruction and education. All educators make hundreds of choices during their work with learners, and many of these choices ‘work’ for the seasoned instructor. Due to narrow attention spans, and the incredible power of technology, there is a huge potential for precise design when it comes to learning. Educators, from pk-12, to higher ed, to corporate settings, now have more potential for impact because of what we know about instructional design.

1. Intention

Instructional design is an important field because it allows educators to slow down and bring attention and intention to their work and decisions.  

“When it comes to learning, what we choose to do is guided by our judgments of what works and what doesn’t, and we are easily misled.” – Peter C. Brown, Make It Stick

Small decisions in instructional design can yield big results.  For instance, consider video. Flipping the classroom is now common across a variety of classroom environments. While video is an excellent tool, how it’s used has to be carefully considered. Learners are more likely to engage with a video that is 6 minutes or less. While this doesn’t seem important,  it is these types of small adjustments, grounded in learning theory that can maximize our ability to reach all learners.

2. Access

Instructional design also allows us to consider the ways in which we provide access to learning.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for ensuring that all learners have multiple ways to enter into content, engage with learning, and demonstrate knowledge.  UDL has the potential to benefit all learners, and provide more access to the available content. Developing a framework for instructional design, and using UDL principles can at first be a conscious effort but overtime becomes  a practiced approach to teaching.

3. Desired Learning Outcomes

Good design is often considered ‘invisible’, because the designer has fully considered the needs to the user, and integrated those ideas into her work.  Instructional design can be a powerful process to spotlight the desired learning outcomes, and guide the learner through a series of scaffolded experiences to reach the learning outcomes.  An instructional designer, like any educator, begins with the learning goals in mind, and then carefully maps the multiple journeys learners will need to take to make sense of content.

4. Measurable Results

Time is a precious commodity, and there is increasing competition for the limited time we have in education.  Great instructional time allows educators to think carefully and purposefully about how to maximize learning, and provide students with the critical space to think, reflect, discuss and make sense of new ideas.  Instructional designers are intentional about the learning experiences, and therefore are able to see measurable results in the learning outcomes.

Looking to Gain New Skills?

Are you interested in taking the next step with your own practice as an instructional designer? Join us this summer to begin in our 2018  Certificate in Instructional Design cohort. A recent alumni from the program offered these thoughts on her experience:

“The Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design program absolutely improved my practice as an academic librarian. Guided by experts in the field of educational technologies and pedagogies, I was able to learn an incredible amount in a condensed time period. In the course of the program I produced several information literacy lesson plans, created an online module for learning citations, developed a peer coaching model that I’m presenting at the American Library Association Annual Conference, and authored an article for a professional journal about how to engage with citations using critical theory. UMaine Online offered the flexibility for me to pursue these myriad professional projects that advanced my career goals. I am very grateful to the program faculty for providing such enriching experiences that I continue to draw from regularly as Librarian for English and History at the University of California, Los Angeles. I would highly recommend anyone who works at the intersection of technology and education in any context to consider enrolling.

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