Education and corporate training have always been important. However, in a world where no formal education can catch up with the new skills demand, investments in professional training have become one of the backbones of an organization's success. In fact, according to ATD and HR Magazine, companies that invest $1,500 per employee annually on development programs earn 24% more profit than organizations that do not, while well-trained employees bring in an average of 218% more income.
But not all training pays off: training outcomes are significantly affected by the instructional quality, and if a first-rate teacher can compensate for the poor quality of learning content, in digital learning, where a learner is often left one-on-one with their screen, the quality of content can make or break the training success. Designing proper instruction, thus, is a task of the utmost importance.
That's where instructional design comes into the picture. What is instructional design, how does it benefit learning, and what goes into creating quality instructions? Let's find out.
What is instructional design?
Instructional design is the systematic process of creating effective and efficient learning experiences. The primary purpose of instructional design is to ensure that learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need to meet specific educational or training objectives.
Instructional design is used for creating many different learning products, e.g., curriculums and lesson plans, guides and manuals, presentations, traditional and e-learning courses, interactive training modules, simulations, educational games, etc.
The field of instructional design is highly adaptable and used in various educational settings, from K-12 schools to higher education and corporate training, in traditional classroom instruction and online learning environments.
The benefits of instructional design
Creating training materials that are not just informative but also engaging, effective, and meticulously aligned with specific learning objectives offers many advantages:
Better learning outcomes
Instructional design dates back to the mid-20th century, and over these decades, it has worked out methodologies of teaching and creating content that are proven to help learners achieve their training goals most efficiently.
Instructional design has a vast collection of tools and tricks that make learning more dynamic, engaging, and captivating, like interactive multimedia, peer collaboration, and practical tasks, and uses them to pace the lessons and the course optimally.
Instructional designers must consider every possible learning scenario and ensure the content is accessible for users with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments by providing thoughtfully designed primary and alternative media, e.g., captions or text voicing.
Time and cost savings
Instructional design aims at making learning not only effective but also efficient. It streamlines the process, reducing operational costs and ensuring the best-suited strategies are used and all the existing resources are utilized effectively.
Edtech is one of the most rapidly developing industries, and instructional designers are the first to embrace innovations and leverage new technologies to the organization's and its learners' benefit.
The biggest strength of the instructional design lies in the structured approach that ensures consistently high-quality learning content. At the core of this structured approach are content creation principles and methodologies used by instructional designers — the tried and trusted whats and hows.
Instructional design principles
These five principles provide a foundational framework for instructional designers to create effective and engaging learning experiences:
All elements of a learning experience (theory, practice, and assessment) should harmoniously work together.
Learners should be active participants in the learning process and engage in activities that require critical thinking, problem-solving, and practical application.
The feedback should be timely, specific, and constructive, with valuable insights into learners' performance, strengths, and areas that require improvement. Such feedback empowers learners to adjust their approach, ultimately leading to deeper comprehension and mastery of the material.
Recognizing and respecting the diverse learning styles and paces, prior knowledge, and motivations of learners is essential.
Learning experiences should resonate with real-world applications. Learners should see the direct relevance and applicability of what they are learning to their lives and future careers.
Instructional design methodologies
Principles provide a guiding philosophy, while various methodologies and models further structure the creation process. The most widely used one is ADDIE, the gold standard of instructional design. It's a sequential, five-phase roadmap for instructional designers comprised of the following steps:
- Analysis: identifying the learning needs, understanding the target audience, and determining the learning objectives. It also includes analyzing the existing knowledge and skills of learners.
- Design: planning the content and structure of the learning materials, choosing the teaching methods, appropriate media, and technologies, and creating a detailed instructional plan.
- Development: creating the actual learning materials, e.g., writing content, designing visuals, developing multimedia elements, and building assessments.
- Implementation: delivering the instructional materials to the learners, whether through traditional classroom teaching or via digital platforms, like learning management systems (LMS) or e-learning modules.
- Evaluation: assessing the effectiveness of the instruction — evaluating the learning outcomes, gathering feedback from learners and instructors, and making necessary adjustments to improve the instructional materials and methods.
In addition to the ADDIE model, there are several other instructional design methodologies and frameworks that instructional designers can use to develop compelling learning experiences, like SAM (Successive Approximation Model), an agile version of ADDIE. In SAM, design and development are iterative and often go in parallel, allowing for a more rapid and flexible development process.
Other popular frameworks are Merrill's First Principles of Instruction focused on problem-solving skills, Bloom's Taxonomy that structures learning objectives by cognitive levels, from simple recall to complex synthesis, and Kirkpatrick's Evaluation Model that assesses whether training leads to behavior changes and practical results.
Each of these methodologies has its own strengths and is suited to different projects, learning contexts, and organizational needs. Instructional designers often choose the approach that best fits the specific requirements of their projects.
The role of an instructional designer
Now that you know what instructional design is and what it's based on, you can probably see how navigating and following through the right principles and methodologies are only a fraction of what goes into creating truly great learning experiences. It also requires expertise, skills, and creativity to ensure that the resulting learning experiences are engaging, effective, and tailored to the specific needs of learners and organizations. That's why professional instructional designers are indispensable in such scenarios as:
- Creating courses from scratch: When your organization needs to develop entirely new training programs tailored to specific goals and objectives, an instructional designer is essential. They provide the expertise to craft programs that meet the unique needs of your organization.
- Updating digital courses: Outdated training materials can be transformed into fresh, modern, and more engaging content with the help of instructional designers. They will overhaul and update the courses, utilize newer technologies, and improve overall user experience with content. By breathing new life into old courses, organizations can ensure that their training remains relevant and adequate for their needs.
- Digitizing and transforming courses: As organizations transition from traditional training to e-learning, instructional designers can adapt and enhance existing materials to ensure they, at the very least, are suitable for the digital environment or completely repurposed for new, more engaging, and powerful training.
Key responsibilities of instructional designers
Instructional designers are sometimes referred to as architects of learning, and it's not just a fancy name. They are versatile professionals who bring together various disciplines and creative approaches. Apart from choosing a methodology and aligning the processes with it, instructional designers are responsible for the following:
Instructional designers often manage projects from start to finish, which includes setting timelines and budgets, coordinating various aspects of the instructional design process, and collaborating with a team of subject matter experts, instructors, multimedia specialists, and other stakeholders. While many methodologies provide a structured framework, instructional designers are also responsible for making critical decisions during the design and development phases: choose the appropriate content, instructional methods, and technologies, or pivot from the original plan based on feedback, changing circumstances, or new insights.
Content creation and multimedia design
Instructional designers often create content, which may include writing instructional materials and branching scenarios, developing gamified content, making videos and animations, designing quizzes, assignments, case studies, etc.
Instructional designers work with various e-learning tools, learning management systems (LMS), authoring software like Articulate Storyline, Adobe Creative, or H5P, and other widely used tools like Zoom to deliver instruction effectively.
User Experience (UX) design
Instructional designers ensure that the learning materials are user-friendly, accessible, and engaging. This often involves considering the layout, navigation, and interactivity of digital content, as well as responsiveness and adaptability to different devices.
Beyond the design, instructional designers play a crucial role in evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction. They develop assessment methods, analyze learner performance, gather feedback, and make improvements to enhance the learning experience, so they need to know how to set and analyze the learning data and metrics to draw the right conclusions and make informed decisions.
As you can see, instructional designers draw on a range of disciplines, including pedagogy to employ scientifically-based teaching methods, psychology to understand how people learn, technology for selecting and operating the appropriate tools, and graphic design for creating visually engaging materials. It's a particular skill set that can only be acquired through years of education and deliberate practice.
Elevate your training with Opigno
In the modern landscape of e-learning and corporate training, creating high-quality learning content is not a trivial task; it's a critical success factor for organizations. To ensure that your courses effectively empower learners to achieve their objectives, you need the expertise of an instructional designer — a skilled professional who brings together various disciplines, methodologies, and creative approaches to create engaging, meaningful learning experiences. Their expertise is irreplaceable when creating training from scratch, revamping outdated courses, or making the transition to e-learning.
We invite you to unlock the full potential of your training programs with Opigno. Our instructional design services extend to developing interactive and gamified learning content that captivates learners, making the journey to knowledge acquisition exciting and productive. Contact us today and experience the transformative power of expert instructional design in your organization.
Published on October 31, 2023.