The field of instructional design has gotten a lot of attention lately, especially in the world of higher education. But even some experienced instructional designers have a hard time explaining exactly what  they do. The Instructional Design 101 series will explore the basics of what instructional design is and how it can help colleges and universities better serve their students.

If curriculum is the “what,” instructional design is the “how”

Imagine this: You’re the head of a large dental assisting program that is planning to transition to a new suite of textbooks and supplemental materials. These new textbooks cover much of the same material as the old, but there are some significant differences in both the content and the presentation. Your school needs to revise its syllabi, lesson plans, homework assignments, and other course elements to reflect the new material and make sure it’s used in a way that will contribute as much as possible to your students’ success. Unfortunately, you don’t have the resources on staff to tackle such a large project.

Enter Cengage Learning’s Instructional Design team. Working with faculty from your school’s dental assisting program, the instructional designers (IDs) overhaul and restructure each course in the program by:

  • Reviewing and adjusting learning objectives for each course
  • Selecting content from the new textbooks to address each objective
  • Creating new lesson plans and rewriting lab assignments
  • Crafting meaningful assessments that support and fully cover your learning objectives

The instructional designer’s role

In the scenario above, your school’s faculty chooses the curriculum – the textbooks and supplementary materials they want to use in a course or program – and the instructional designer works with your faculty members to put that curriculum together in a way that best promotes student success. IDs aren’t teachers, although many have teaching backgrounds. They aren’t typically experts in the subject matter of the courses they design, although they often collaborate with people who are. Instead, IDs are experts in how students learn. Their job, at its core, is to help make sure students walk away from a course with a specific set of knowledge or skills.

How does the instructional design process work?

Instructional design is an end-to-end process that includes these steps:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

When you work with Cengage Learning’s ID team, we start by analyzing your institution’s needs. Is there a specific problem you want to address by redesigning an existing course or adding a new one? In one recent project, for example, the institution’s faculty wanted to spend class time working with students on higher-order thinking skills rather than lecturing on fundamentals or reviewing assigned readings. Our Instructional Design team created online learning modules that covered those fundamentals, so students could work through that material on their own and faculty could spend their limited class time guiding students through more difficult exercises. Whatever the challenge, the instructional designer’s goal is to address it through training or learning. The end result is a focused, purposeful course or program that paves a path to success for both instructor and student.

Check back for additional posts in the Instructional Design 101 series, where we’ll delve deeper into topics including the ID process, how instructional design can improve a course, and how a typical ID project unfolds.