Is instructional design really dead?

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Written by Helen Blunden on 10 June 2016

Judging by the amount of articles on the internet by Learning and Development people across organisations, you’d think that instructional design really is dead!

With all the talk of social and informal learning, as well as the explosion of new technologies and media for learning, the perception may be that those who have spent years designing and developing formal courses within organisations now have an outdated set of skills that are unlikely to serve them in this new world.

But I’m not so sure.

I started out as a performance consultant, but as the field was relatively unknown 24 years ago I found myself in corporate L&D.  
In that role, rather than take a performance approach to our work – where we explore the gap between what is and what should be and then design learning and non-learning interventions to close the gap – our focus instead was to build workforce capability by developing formal courses.  

So by default I became an instructional designer and it was a role I didn’t mind, especially when I knew there was an actual knowledge or skill gap which necessitated a program being developed.   

Together with my clients, we would lock ourselves into a meeting room for a day or two and brainstorm a high-level program plan. We would step through the process of what a participant would be expected to do and perform within workplace conditions, standards and environment and then create a content plan that listed all the blend of tools, delivery methods, media and assessments that had to be created. Many times, I was also involved in the marketing and promotion of the program as well as the co-ordination, delivery, facilitation and evaluation.

With the advent of more tools and technologies, I had more choices to explore and the blend of delivery options to consider and use.     
When I put my mind to it, the skills that I picked up from instructional design over the years were the following:
•   Analysing and scoping client needs
•   Identifying appropriate delivery strategies
•   Designing and developing the training plan which included all material and assessments
•   Delivering the material through a variety of methods and media
•   Writing participant workbooks, courseware, job aids and checklists across different media
•   Managing or running the workshops, webinars and conferences
•   Writing marketing and promotional material for the programs
•   Co-ordinating workshop registrations and attendance
•   Creating attendance and evaluation surveys
•   Organising and co-ordinating the social elements of the program

Before we discount that we don’t need any more instructional designers, let’s look at these skills, where we could put them to use and who may need them. Instructional designers have one critical skill that is desperately needed today: the knack of making complex things simple.  

Working with clients who are experts in their fields or niches, instructional designers are able to ‘pick their brains’ and breakdown the detailed information and topics to create a framework and a plan that would help communicate this knowledge to others in a logical process.  

I believe that instructional design isn’t dead. If anything, their skills are critical for a world that is swamped with content and information. They can work with a variety of clients such as corporates, content marketers, small business and solopreneurs to distill the important aspects of the topic and then create programmes that may be potential new business revenue streams. 

Of course, there will still be a need for formal learning programmes in organisations especially around knowledge and skills gaps. What we may see however, is a need for instructional designers to be more open to using a variety of different methods and media or alternatively, their audience widened.

Certainly judging by the amount of people who are leaving the corporate world to change careers, build physical or online businesses, or build a reputation and profile in their area of expertise, all need their knowledge, skills and expertise being marketed.  Here is a potential area where these skills will come in handy.

What do you think?

About the author 

Helen Blunden is the Founder of Activate Learning SolutionsHelen can be contacted via and on Twitter @ActivateLearn