Instructional Design

Extreme Makeover: Instructional Design Edition

For many years the world of workplace learning and development has been distancing itself from 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 people and organisations, "Classroom" became "Face to face / workshop"; "Trainer or Instructor" became "Facilitator"; passive "Audience" became active "Participants" or "Learners".

Here's another term that could use a makeover: "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 using this term outside of HR circles? 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.  Even if the purpose of what you're designing is to implement something relatively black and white like a new process or procedure. There's still ways to encourage people to come up with their own answers and explore impacts of decisions. Now stick "Instructional" in front of "Design".  Suddenly "Design" sounds more process-driven than creative, and the output 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, could the term "Instructional Design" 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 the usual suspects like LinkedIn and Twitter shows that many organisations have already retired the title “Instructional Designer”.  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, and not really an "extreme" makeover, yet somehow far more true to the purpose, spirit and mindset of the people who fill it.

 Who's with me? Anyone already moved away from "Instructional" for similar reasons outlined here?  

And who isn't? Anyone attached to the word "Instructional" in their title?