There are many different definitions of instructional design, and the history of our field goes back 60 years. Instructional design lies at the intersection of three disciplines: education, psychology, and communication. It arose from the necessity of developing effective training for large numbers of soldiers during and after World War II. The military was concerned that they were risking lives and equipment because they had no way of ensuring consistent, effective training for soldiers. They turned to experts in these disciplines to find a solution, which became known as Instructional Systems Design, or ISD. By drawing from the known body of established research and theory in these disciplines, these experts developed a model for ensuring effective training and learning, regardless of discipline, learners, or environment. From Psychology, they drew the best of what is known about how humans learn and develop (e.g., cognition, behaviorism, constructivism).
From Communications, they drew from all that is known about message design and communication (e.g., readability, screen and page design). From Education, they pulled from all that is known about how people learn in formal and informal settings (e.g., instructional strategies, objectives, assessment). Instructional design (ID) grew out of this process, and while there are at least 40 different ID models, all share the same underlying process of Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, also known as the ADDIE process. We tend to focus primarily on one model, the Gagne, Wager, Golas, & Keller model. Robert Gagne is widely considered the founder of our field, and this model is arguably one of the best known, along with the Dick & Carey and Smith & Ragan models.
What can you do with a degree in ID? There are many different career paths that instructional designers follow, including performance improvement consulting, multimedia development, program evaluation, and technology specialist. In general, however, there are two main areas IDers work in: corporate/organizational, and public education. Those who focus on the corporate sector are training designers and/or developers in the military, government, healthcare, banking, or any business or organization which requires systematic and frequent training. Of course, training is a part of virtually every organization, but some are large enough to have their own human resources department and training program. IDers are generally a part of a design and development team in these environments, working with graphic artists, programmers, and subject-matter experts. They may be "pure" designers, or also develop and/or implement the training they design.
Those who work in the public education environment focus either on K12 or higher education. In K12, they may be teachers who are seeking additional training in the use of technology to support learning in the classroom. As such, they become technology facilitators capable of designing meaningful learning environments that make intelligent use of technology and problem solving. They may also develop and deliver professional development training for other teachers in their school, or at the district, state, or national levels. They may also work as curriculum designers at all levels of the education system, focusing exclusively the design of large scale curricula. Those who work in higher education may work with faculty to develop technology-assisted learning in a variety of ways, including distance education and multimedia development labs. Likewise, they may work as curriculum designers in a similar fashion. in all cases, IDers may develop learning and performance support material using the web, computer, print, video, and human delivery systems.
Who Makes a Good Instructional Designer?
The first thing you should know is that there are no undergraduate degrees in instructional design. Accordingly, instructional designers come from all disciplines and domains. The field itself is rooted in Education, Psychology, Communications, so students with backgrounds in these areas will recognize much of what they have done already in the work they will do as instructional designers. More important than prior educational area are the skills and dispositions required of instructional designers. First, you should not be averse to the process of writing, as a large portion of what is done in ID is the creation of design documents and instructional materials. An interest in many areas is also helpful, as IDers are regularly called upon to develop instruction in a wide variety of areas by working with subject-matter experts in different domains. Creativity is also a good trait to have as an instructional designer because development of effective training and instruction requires as much creativity as science. Finally, you should enjoy working with people to solve problems and improve human performance and experience.
What are UND's IDT Students and Alumni Doing?
If you would like to see where some of our current students and alumni use their degrees, click here.