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Extreme Makeover

Instructional Design Edition

Extreme Makeover

Sarah Davie, OCT 12 2015

For many years the world of workplace learning and development has been distancing itself from the influence of its formal education origins, where students are “taught” by the font-of-all-knowledge at the front of the room. How? We changed the language we use. For many of us, “Classroom” became “Workshop”; “Lesson plans” became “Session outlines”; “Trainer” became “Facilitator”; passive “Audience” became active “Participants” or “Learners”.

Here’s another term to add to that list: “Instructional Design”. Anyone else balk at the word “Instructional”? Have you too, experienced the blank stare of non-recognition or the question “What’s that, then?”, when you’ve told people what you do for a crust? You can’t really blame them.   What does it even mean? What comes to mind for you when you hear the word “Instructional”? At best it brings to mind someone imparting knowledge to another. At worst, someone authoritatively instructing people step-by-step how they must do something.

The words we choose to use communicate our intention. They shape our thinking – they can limit it or expand it… Just ask George Orwell! “Design” is a wondrous, lose-yourself-for hours, creative, consultative and collaborative process. It is bursting with possibilities. Now stick “Instructional” in front of it. Suddenly it’s more process-driven than creative, and the output is more directive than consultative.

The design of learning has morphed well beyond the creation of content to be “pushed” to learners in a PowerPoint pack. You’re just as likely to find designers sourcing interviewees for a podcast, curating online content and shepherding people to it, or facilitating learning experiences via their company’s enterprise social network.   In an industry that is rapidly letting go of control over what, how and when people learn, the term “Instructional Design” would do well to hang up its dancing shoes and join its old mates “classroom”, “trainer” and “audience” at the back of the hall.

A quick search on Linkedin and you’ll see many organisations have already retired the title “Instructional Designer”. As a community who love learning, let’s all vouch to do the same. Of the various replacements you will have seen around the traps, “Learning Designer” is a solid alternative – it does what it says on the tin for starters! Not a revolutionary change to a role title, yet somehow far more true to the purpose, spirit and mindset of the people who fill it.

Who’s with me? I’ll start….


Sarah Davie