I recently came across a review of a book written by Clive Shepherd called The New Learning Architect. In this book, Shepherd makes the point that we, as instructional designers, need to shift our focus from simple course creation to that of an architect who designs an entire learning environment, similar to the way an architect designs environments for living and working. I began to reflect on the 11+ years that I have been an instructional designer and how the role has changed dramatically over that period of time.
A Brief History
When I first started in the role of an instructional designer, we developed courses. All of the learning took place from the CBT or in the classroom (for those of you who remember, that stands for computer-based training – preceding the WBT, or web-based training). We were really “order takers” in the sense that we received a request for a course and developed it.
Then came performance consulting, a new buzz phrase that attempted to turn instructional designers into consultants who would investigate performance issues and work towards interventions to close that gap, both instructional and non-instructional. This was a hard sell to our clients, and it took (and still takes) a lot of selling and convincing to get their buy-in to trust us as consultants.
Then came Web 2.0 and social media, which sent instructional design into another direction. The idea of collaboration and informal learning took the stage, and again our role shifted. We began to feel that we needed to take what was going on in the world of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and move it into learning. We also began to realize the value of informal learning, or learning that takes place outside of the formal WBT or classroom environments, and started to capitalize on how we could capture that tacit knowledge sharing for the benefit of the learners.
So…what are we doing today?
Instructional designers today have found themselves doing several things as part of their role that they would have never dreamed of doing even a few short years ago. Let’s look at some of these roles:
- Online Discussion Facilitation – Social media has become a major component in learning environments today. As such, designers are finding themselves doing things such as facilitating online discussions to encourage informal learning and collaboration to enhance their courses. Designers also find themselves in the role of selling the value of social media interaction to their client organizations serving as consultants in this area.
- Beyond eLearning Courses – In previous years, designers would develop an eLearning course, publish it, and their job was done. Today, we recognize that this is not enough to ensure learning takes place. Designers are utilizing collaboration tools and developing informal learning environments so that today’s learners can talk to each other about what they learned in the eLearning course and learn from each other. Designers are creating these collaborative environments both online and face-to-face. The learning is no longer taking place only from completing the course, but from the valued interaction with more experienced employees or with fellow learners.
- Educating Trainers – Technology has changed over the years, and trainers who are used to one method of delivery (classroom) have had to adapt to new technologies such as delivering virtual courses via Adobe Connect, Microsoft Live Meeting or other software, and facilitating from tablets rather than books. Designers are finding themselves in the role of teaching these trainers how to use the new technologies and selling the benefits.
For anyone who has been in Instructional Design for several years like me, what are some other roles that you have taken on to become a learning architect? Feel free to share your experiences.