What advice and resources would you offer to early-career instructional designers? That’s the question Inside Digital Learning asked practicing instructional designers. There’s many worthwhile insights for aspiring designers in the piece. I enjoyed reading it, and you might like it, too.

I’d like to add three points:

The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) is the flagship organization for instructional designers in North America. The organization’s annual convention is usually in October. Members participate in one or more divisions of interest (e.g., Distance Learning, School Media & Technology, etc), and divisions often offer free webinars. For example, here’s Dr. Patrick Lowenthal discussing the use of live meetings in asynchronous online courses. [Disclosure: I have been a member of AECT since 2005, and at one point I was the president of the Research & Theory division. In other words, I’m biased]. Other organizations that may be of interest to IDs, but don’t necessarily focus on ID as much as Educause, OLC, and ALT (UK).

Instructional design is about problem-solving. Are you interested in helping others solve instructional and learning problems? You’re in the right field. You might be asked to collaborate with others in order to improve learning outcomes, reduce dropout rates, improve course participation rates, convert face-to-face courses to online courses, and so on. Be warned though: Some problems may be more interesting than others, and even though instructional designers should be working collaboratively with faculty members and others(e.g., media developers, data scientists, etc), that doesn’t always happen (unfortunately).

Problem-solving is not just about technology. The best way to illustrate this is to use a problem from the list above, so let’s pick the wicked problem of “improving learning outcomes.” Novice instructional designers might gravitate towards exploring what technologies might help them address the problem, in what Tanya Joosten describes as the act of throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping that it will stick. Instructional design involves analysis: Why are learning outcomes poor? Might it be that they are not well-defined? Are objectives, instruction, and assessment well-aligned? Perhaps enrolled learners don’t have the pre-requisite knowledge coming into the course? Could it be that learners are facing significant challenges that have nothing to do with the content of the course, but which nonetheless conflict with the design of the course? Solutions to these (and a slew of other problems) can be found in redesigning courses, policies, and practices without necessarily adding/removing technology to/from the mix. In our Master’s program, we highlight design – sometimes coupled with technology, often without – as central to innovation.

What other advice do you have for aspiring instructional designers?