Instructional Design

What Does an Instructional Designer Do?

If you landed on this page, you’re either considering a career in the eLearning industry, are going to school for a master’s degree in instructional design, or you’re already working as an instructional designer (ID) and want to grow in your career. Wherever you’re at on the spectrum, this blog will give you the information and resources you need to position yourself on the cutting edge of learning and design.

What Is an Instructional Designer (ID)?

According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), “an instructional designer applies systematic methodology (rooted in instructional theories and models) to design and develop content, experiences, and other solutions to support the acquisition of new knowledge or skills.” 

Traditional instructional designers build their courses upon a solid foundation of adult learning theory. They chunk the material, dig into the details, tease it apart, and identify important information that a learner would need to know. Instructional designers are also responsible for all the additional course materials, like presentation materials, guides, infographics, handouts, audio-visual elements, job aids, and any other resources. They align these materials with a course delivery based on the learning models.

At ELM, we prefer the term learning experience designer or (LxD). This is because we look at learning through a broader scope and view it as a full and comprehensive experience. 

You can learn more in the LxD post hyperlinked above, but in short, a learning experience designer expands the traditional ID model into EdTech and user experience (UX); taking a Neurolearning™ approach into consideration. It’s a combination of learning science, educational technology, and user experience.

What Does a Learning Experience Designer Do?

An LxD applies a design-thinking model to their job. This is a much leaner and agile approach than business thinking. Even though the LxD adds extra steps by making low fidelity prototypes and testing them, design thinking is about failing fast and small with minimal investment. It’s constantly moving by expanding ideas, narrowing them down, setting up prototypes to get feedback, and making changes quickly. A learning experience designer focuses on creating a more human-centered design through techniques like target audience analysis or learner’s analysis. 

While many Fortune 500 companies, such as IBM and GE, are employing design thinking in their business practices, it’s still not widely applied in the learning space. 

“Fail early to succeed sooner.”- Tim Brown

The Learner-Centered Design Process

Every instructional design project involves a push and pull between the goal of the stakeholder and the learner’s needs. The trick is combining the two elegantly so that form meets function. The customer knows what their learning objectives are from a business or management perspective, but learners come to the table with an entirely different set of problems and challenges that management might not even be aware of. 

Instructional design usually starts with the customer’s goals and builds out from there. On the other hand, the LxD needs access to the learners, asking questions like: What is your workday like? What challenges do you face? What do you feel you need to learn, and what are the obstacles to that knowledge?

The aim is to remove barriers to their learning experience at work by co-creating with them, integrating their needs into the company’s overall goals. This sets the project up for success because it’s meaningful to the learners (they buy in).

“Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful” – Dieter Rams

What Kind of People Make Great Learning Experience Designers?

There are certain qualities necessary to become an exceptional learning experience designer. Let’s examine each of them.

Great learning experience designers:

  • Know how to actively listen to the problems of their learners 
  • Are open-minded and highly empathetic
  • Can pull out key points and learning moments during the course of an interview
  • Share a love of education
  • Have deep belief that knowledge changes the world for the better
  • Are curious and love research
  • Like organization on a deeper level— and have an obsessive need to simplify

“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, synthesize, and glean insights” – Hillman Curtis

How to Become a Learning Experience Designer

Now that we have discussed the basics, let’s talk about what you can do to become a learning experience designer. 

Many people launch their LxD careers by getting a graduate degree in instructional design and continue their education with specific courses in learning experience design. While learning experience design is a relatively new field, some universities do already offer master’s programs in the subject.

At ELM, we seek out what we call “t-shaped people,” people who are expert instructional designers but also have expertise in project management, UX, and visual design, and are also versed in different learning management system platforms. 

Thus, we recommend that any design student, particularly ID students, find a design research course or UX class. Even if it’s not directly applied to your degree, it’s an effective way to get some awareness around design thinking and make yourself stand out from the crowd. 

Top Resources for Instructional Designers

  • Interaction Design Foundation: This organization offers excellent online learning with courses in Beginning UX, Gamification, Augmented Reality, and Design Thinking. It follows a subscription-based model, and classes are free for the members.
  • IDEO.org: This is a project-based free class called Introduction to Human-Centered Design. It is sponsored by design firm IDEO, runs intermittently, starting again on January 25, 2022. In this class, you will learn design thinking and practice interviewing, researching, and prototyping.
  • IDEO U: The aforementioned design firm, IDEO, offers a Design Thinking Certificate through their online university, IDEO U. All classes are five weeks long and are divided into three categories: Design Thinking, Creativity at Work, and Creative Leadership. This certificate will make a perfect addition to your master’s degree in Instructional Design.
  • The d.school: The Stanford University d.school is open to current students, educators, executives, and mid-level designers and is at the forefront of design thinking and business, as it has integrated both into a powerful program. Learners are given a chance to attend the Design Thinking Bootcamp, where they will get to work on a real-world business challenge. Classes are offered in March, July, and September each year. We recommend checking this out if your organization will cover all or part of the cost.

Where to Find Learning Experience Designer Jobs

  • The best cities: San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Diego
  • The best industries: Tech, medical, biotech, pharma, any Fortune 500 company
  • Freelance/Contract: Learning experience designers, with their enhanced skills, engage in more partnerships with internal IDs because large companies prefer to outsource digital learning pieces. At ELM, LxDs are often hired to work with internal IDs or consult with them for companies looking for a new approach.

Instructional Designer Salaries

ID is a well-paying career choice. As you gain experience and polish your skills, the sky’s the limit for you. At the beginning of your career, you can expect an entry-level salary ranging from $60K-85K. 

Resources to Stay Updated in the Instructional Design and Learning Experience Design Field

Here are some excellent resources that can help you stay up-to-date in the ID and LxD field. 

Summing Up 

Apart from all the above-mentioned things, you can also take additional steps to improve your instructional design skills and thrive in your career.

Read some good case studies

Reading and solving case studies will enhance your decision-making and analytical skills. Case studies also enable you to put your theoretical concepts into action. In this way, you will better understand how the eLearning industry works in reality.

Download and read eBooks 

eBooks are an excellent source of knowledge for modern-day instructional designers. They not only provide you with high-quality knowledge, but they also enable you to read on the go. So if you want to sharpen your skills and enhance your knowledge about instructional design, make sure to download and read several good eBooks.

Join discussion forums 

Getting in touch and communicating with like-minded people can do wonders for your instructional design career. That’s why joining a discussion forum is a must. There are several wonderful discussion forums that instructional designers can join to talk about their ideas, share their thoughts, and discuss their problems.

Reach out to ELM

ELM is a learning agency that specializes in creative learning experiences. We can provide you with great learning resources like blogs, eBooks, and case studies to enhance your knowledge and stay updated with the latest industry trends. Contact us today! 

In this article, we covered the most important skills that instructional designers need to have and how you can become one. We hope it has given you a good start in the newly emerging field of learning experience designer. 

Make sure to check back for updates on this rapidly evolving industry!