instructional designers

Instructional designers share an evolving role, research finds

As demand for online education grows, so, too, does the demand for instructional designers on campus

The demand for instructional design professionals in higher education has soared in recent years, due in part to an increase in online and blended courses across the U.S., according to new research.

A whitepaper from Elaine Beirne (Dublin City University) and Matthew P. Romanoski (The University of Arizona) takes a look at the growing field of instructional design in higher ed, and also explores the reasons behind the field’s growth and how instructional designers function in their role.

While the field of instructional design isn’t new, it has evolved over decades to meet unique and changing demands of faculty, institutions, and students.

More students, particularly nontraditional students with work and family obligations, are seeking more flexible learning formats. The 2017 Survey of Online Learning shows that nearly one-third of all higher-ed enrollments include at least one online course.

As students demand more online courses, institutions look to improve their online learning programs, leading to what the whitepaper cites as an “equivalent increase in demand for instructional designers in higher education institutions.”

Instructional designers play such an important role in helping institutions offer top-notch online courses because faculty’s face-to-face instruction doesn’t always translate well online.

“Consequently, instructional designers are emerging as pivotal players in navigating this transition,” according to the authors.

Generally speaking, instructional designers support teaching and learning on campuses. While the role is somewhat ambiguous and differs at each institution, instructional designers tend to have the same four responsibilities in common: designing, managing, training, and providing support by collaborating with a diverse array of colleagues. They also are becoming more involved in teaching and learning research, according to industry surveys.

Collaboration seems to be the top challenge for instructional designers, followed by a lack of time and resources. When it comes to collaboration, faculty buy-in can be a barrier because many faculty incorrectly believe online learning works with a “set it and forget it” approach. Collaboration also is hindered by faculty concerns that their course will lose its personal side and students will feel like numbers instead of people.

Some instructional designers are using an instructor-driven process in which they ask faculty how they teach concepts face-to-face and discussing how to best translate that into an online format.

Although the instructional design field is growing, there are still some aspects of the role that remain fuzzy. The authors outline a few steps to better define instructional designers’ role in higher education:
● Expanding efforts to share research and best practices
● Improving training and development processes
● Clearly outlining industry standards for the field
● Identifying practices to improve instructional designer career pathways

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Laura Ascione

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