What the heck is an Instructional Designer?

Instructional design is kind of a new field. It started emerging in the 60s when psychologists were first looking into how people learned. It’s a few decades later now, and the field is ever-expanding. Now, instructional designers are like graphic designers with experience both in psychology and education. The courses are pretty to look at, get a point across, and are designed to make people remember what they’re supposed to. If that is a bit confusing, let’s take a look at an example of a course before an instructional designer, and after an instructional designer.

Before After

This type of training is usually instructor-led, in a room with 8-40 employees, most of whom have no desire to be there. While the text on the page is minimal, it still LOOKS like a lot, which is likely to cause learners to decide not to listen or their minds to wander accidentally. In short, it does NOT capture learner attention.

The good things:

    • It’s uncluttered.
      • The information is front and center.
      • There are not a lot of images crowding up the screen.
    • The colors are pleasing.
      • Colors can affect people’s moods, and blue and white is a combination that many find peaceful, at least in American culture. Red on the other hand usually stresses people out.
    • The text is simple.
      • The text on the screen is summarized and tries to convey a lot of information in a few words.

This design is one that comes pre-built in Powerpoint. Many people go no further than selecting a pre-existing theme and typing in the information, choosing to focus more on what the instructor is going to say than on what the learner sees.

This type of training is called eLearning. Elearning courses are usually online or computer-based interactive training that employees can take individually. They are usually self-paced.

This course covers the same topics as the first one.

  • Justice teaches about how they should address shoplifting.
  • Oath reviews information about employee conduct.
  • Vestments explains the company dress code.

Rather than listening to an instructor speak about a topic for 45 minutes or more, the learners would then experience short bursts of learning broken up by interactive activities. Examples include:

  • A game where they must identify the correct way of interacting with a customer
  • A decision-based scenario for reacting  to a shoplifter
  • Quizzes to test knowledge

While this more playful approach may seem too informal for the corporate world, this design plays on several psychological theories of adult learning.

  • Adults like to know what is expected of them.
    • Immediately, they know they are expected to retrieve a key to unlock the chests.
  • Adults like knowing how far they have left to go.
    • The three chests are an easy way for a learner to track their progress.
  • Adults like small victories along the way.
    • Think of those little candy phone games that give you rewards like power-ups and verbal confirmation when you make a good move. There’s a reason those games are so popular.
    • Opening each chest with the “keys” they earn by completing each section of training feeds employees who crave success, especially if it comes with a sound to solidify their victory.
  • Adults like things to be simple.
    • The text on this screen is minimal, but all of it is to the point and summarized.