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 it is they do. The first post of the Instructional Design 101 series gave a broad overview of what instructional design is. This post will explain exactly why it’s so valuable.

“‘Why do I even have this job?”

A few weeks into her first instructional design job with an online university, Alisha Blanchard couldn’t quite understand why her position existed. In her previous career as an elementary school educator, she’d been trained to teach, and she wrote her own lesson plans that were tailored to learning objectives and standards that were supplied by the state. She assumed the instructors at the university would have the same training and experience, so it was hard, at first, to figure out just how the role of instructional designer fit in.

“I thought, “They’re instructors, they already know what to do,” said Blanchard, who is now a Senior Instructional Designer at Cengage.

Expertise in how students learn

As time went on, Blanchard realized that while instructors at the university where she worked may have been brilliant lecturers or recognized experts in their field, they didn’t necessarily have formal training in how students learn. They may not have been taught how to write meaningful learning objectives for their courses or how to focus class activities to achieve those objectives. They might have been able to create fantastic assignments that students loved, but didn’t necessarily connect them to the bottom-line goals of the course.

“That’s why instructional designers are needed,” Blanchard said.

Instructional designers bring in-depth knowledge of learning theory to the process of course development. At Cengage, the ID team works collaboratively with your school’s faculty, administrators, and subject matter experts to bring your educational vision to reality in the way that best supports student and instructor success.

Instructional design and online learning

Instructional design can be helpful in any course development work your school is doing, but it’s especially useful as institutions move more and more of their courses online. Translating a course from the on-ground classroom to an online environment isn’t a simple process – it involves much more than simply entering lecture notes and assignment prompts into a learning management system. Cengage’s IDs have specific training in online learning methods and technology, and can help make sure your institution’s transition to online classes is successful.

In one recent project, the Cengage Instructional Design team worked with a community college in California that wanted to offer its entire information technology catalog – an associate degree and several certification programs – online. It simply didn’t have enough staff members to do the work involved, so Cengage instructional designers worked with the college’s faculty and subject matter experts to create online versions of 16 IT courses in less than a year.

“I love the challenge of instructional design,” Blanchard says now. “It’s immensely rewarding to use my knowledge of learning theory and instructional technology to help faculty members realize their vision for a course or program, and to know that I’m contributing to creating an experience for students that’s engaging and educationally sound.”

Check back for more 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.