Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Should IDs Have Skills in Areas Other Than Writing/Design?

To answer this question, let’s first understand what is “Instructional Design” and who is an instructional designer. (too basic, huh? well, I thought of starting at the basic level!)

As stated in Wikipedia, “Instructional Design is the practice of arranging media (communication technology) and content to help learners and teachers transfer knowledge most effectively.”

If we simply keep that definition in mind, what skills do you think an Instructional Designer should have to transfer the knowledge most effectively to their learners? Do you think an ID who knows how to design a product or how to write well, can transfer or deliver knowledge in the most effective manner to its learners?

I really don’t think so.

In my opinion, an Instructional Designer is one who has a “holistic” picture about the product he/she is designing. The IDs knowledge should not be limited to design or writing skills only. Let’s see why.

The involvemnet of an ID begins even before a project is kicked-off. The ID is the one who needs to understand the client requirements, do a detailed analysis of the client’s needs, create an overall solution that will fulfill the client’s requirement, and so on. Not just this, an ID should also understand the “technology” aspects involved in creating a course/product – a basic knowledge of the templates that would be used for constructing the product/ course or a specific engine or tool that is being used to develop the product/course. The ID should also be aware of the kind of medis that is being used for the product/course.

“Designing” or “Writing” cannot happen in isoltaion without the knowledge of most of these things. Ultimately, this would only give the ID, an edge over all others who simply focus on a particular aspect of “Instructional Designing”.

Having said all of it, I would not say that an ID has to be an “expert” in all of these areas; but an ID should definetely have some basic skills in most of these areas for him/her to come up with something worthwhile that is of value for the end user.

From that perspective, I definetely think that IDs should have skills in lot many other areas than just writing and designing.

However, I would like to point out one of the the bigger questions for me here is not whether the IDs should have skills other than writing/designing; rather, the point is whether an average ID (mainly referring to number of authors/designers working in the organization who are designated as “IDs” or rather call themselves "IDs") even understand that he/she is supposed to have skills outside the “writing” that they do. The pity is that for much longer periods of time in their career as “IDs”, they understand only a perspective of what instructional design is and what all constitutes a role of an instructional designer. In my opinion, an instructional designer should be exposed to much more variety of work rather than making them work in a “factory mode” for churning out one project after the other. Well, to think of how this can be done? This could be taken up in another subsequent blog!

Till that time, it would be good to hear what others think of this issue.


Anurag on May 15, 2008 at 4:25 PM said...

I completely agree with Sonali. As an ID is involved in a project from the initial stages, he/she has to do a lot more than just writing. Additional knowledge of graphics, construction is only going to help the ID perform better.

Blogger In Middle-earth on May 18, 2008 at 11:45 AM said...

Kia Ora Sonali.

I agree with the need for the ID to have a holistic view to the whole project. While I also agree that other skills than writing/design are required, I get the impression that what your saying is that these specified skills are somewhat less important than the rest.

Having worked with qualified ID’s who were patently deficient in their writing/design skills I can vouch that they were not really capable of imparting much knowledge through their work.

In fact many of those who were deficient in these areas could not even understand the need for the writing/design skills. Without very close supervision they were incapable of producing anything of use to the learner.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Shiny said...

I agree with you Sonali.

IDs should have a holistic picture because they design the entire product and should not be limited to writing. We, the IDs, own the overall design of a product so we should know about all aspects that impact the product design.

To strengthen my case, following are some advantages (top of the mind actually) I have experienced knowing a bit about construction and media:
• Strategize better during storyboard: Knowing how the final product will appear and behave helps in strategizing and writing instructions accordingly. For example, in the Autodesk project, we use the content data model to develop content (essentially we need to write small chunks of information considering reusability). This content is then moved to an LCMS, where each chunk of information is treated as a separate element. A single-parse methodology is used on the LCMS to generate different outputs. In this situation, it becomes very important to understand how the LCMS works before we develop content.
• Minimize dependencies on other practices: If an ID can perform tasks, such as simple graphic editing, creating software-based simulations, and creating simple graphics (elements are provided), the communication, iterations, and waiting time can be minimized to a great extent. For example, there are some effects that need to be applied to application screen shots to indicate they are cut. Sending this request to a media person and explaining requirements can become tedious.
• Communicate ideas and requirements effectively: I can communicate the visualization and functionality requirements for a frame/page better.
• Perform better product reviews: IDs can raise issues knowing the limitations and even recommend fixes (at times work around) to get the product to behave and appear the way it was designed.
• Communicate better with client: These days most of our client contacts are people who are experts in multiple practices while we have separate practices and experts within these practices. It is awkward in a call where there is a one-many ratio of participants; the many participants from our side are required not for expert opinion but to answer simple questions. Personally, I think we should have single person leading a call and handling questions from our end too. If inputs from an expert are required, then the expert can speak up or we can get back later with our responses.

Sonali on May 20, 2008 at 5:42 PM said...

I completely agree Shiny! Thanks for adding in more "substance" with real-life examples to this.

Sonali on May 20, 2008 at 5:49 PM said...

Dear Ka Kite,

I agree with your perspective.

I understand that writing and design skills are the ones that are required the most by an ID; however the point I was trying to make was that these are not the "only skills" required by an ID. Along with these, there are other important skills (as mentioned in the post) that are required by an ID.


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