Behind awesome online education courses are equally awesome instructional designers. Instructional designers have a myriad of technical and social skills, as well as heightened creativity, a thirst for continuous learning, a passion for teaching and a determination to reach every learner. Most importantly, stellar instructional designers know how to engage. This doesn’t mean they can pull a lever to start equipment, nor are they constantly involved in wedding planning, it means they know how shape and create content that engages their audience. They are engagement experts.

Often, instructional designers are considered the wizards of online content design and development. It seems that with a wave of their magic wand, vibrant and appealing courses are created that fit the exact needs of the specified audience. The magic wand actually includes analysing the needs of the specific users, designing and shaping content to maximise the learning potential while addressing the user needs, utilising software and coding skills to develop the learning product, producing quality assessments to measure the learning gains of the user, and evaluating the overall effectiveness of the learning product.

So, what skills are required for an instructional designer? Technical skills include web development utilising HTML and JavaScript, as well as an understanding of the current web development technologies, basic use of word processing and spreadsheet software, and experience with learning management systems (LMSs). Building relationships is a big part of the need for an instructional designer to have strong social skills. Instructional designers often work with subject matter experts (SMEs), web developers and project managers during the design and development of a learning product. Experience with curriculum and instruction is also necessary for a proficient instructional designer.

Let’s circle back to instructional designers as engagement experts. In many ways, being an engagement expert means being a ‘fun’ expert. Think about it – you get to interview subject matter experts, review long and boring materials and perform what is sometimes hours of research. What, you don’t equate that to fun? Okay, maybe those specific tasks don’t seem fun, but it is all about the approach. When interviewing a SME, you are not just taking notes on the information they are providing, you are taking notes on delivering the information the SME is providing. When you review materials to gather information, you are also reviewing those materials with the purpose of gathering ideas. And those sometimes long hours of research, often those are not about gathering additional materials or knowledge on the topic, but rather about locating engaging ways to present the materials. Consider this quote:

‘My course lacks interactivity and it has no point. I assumed the software would take care of that.’

No software can engage a learner without assistance from the instructional designer’s magic wand of engagement. Flat text and flat images magically become interactivities, custom slideshows, detailed charts and graphs, videos, podcasts, read and sniffs (okay, this one is less likely, but never say never), the list is endless. See what fun an instructional designer brings not only to a learning product but to their job?!


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