Is Instructional Design Dying?

Just a few thoughts on the present and future state of instructional design. I’ve gone on the record, several times on this blog, with my stance regarding rapid elearning creation tools. In a nutshell, they are great in the hands of experienced elearning developers and dangerous in the hands of inexperienced trainers. Unfortunately, the companies who develop these tools tend to target the latter group. And because this inexperienced group is becoming more responsible for the development of elearning, instructional design is falling by the wayside.

The more clients I deal with, the more I have come to realize that instructional design is dying a slow and unceremonious death. In the past (8 to 10 years ago), instructional designers were present in most training departments. Keep in mind that this was before elearning gained moderate popularity in most corporations. The instructional designers were there to mainly create instructor led training classes. They usually worked hand in hand with trainers and SMEs and had a significant say so in the development of classes.

Now, fast forward to the present. Not only are dedicated instructional designers becoming rarer, the process of instructional design is being bypassed altogether. As corporations move away from instructor led classes and more towards elearning, the emphasis is now on rapid development. So now not only do companies want courses developed faster, they also want inexperienced employees (mainly trainers) to develop them.

Let me stop and state that I am not placing fault on these trainers, nor am I questioning their competence. The fact of the matter is that most corporate trainers were employees that performed their previous jobs at very high levels, and because of that they were promoted to trainers. Most of these new trainers knew the system extremely well and were very good at the training aspect of their jobs. The problem arose when they were tasked to create new training programs based on new programs and procedures.  Many of these individuals had never been exposed to any kind of instructional design techniques or adult learning theories, yet they were asked to create training for their entire organization.

I wish I could offer some solution for this problem but I can’t. We are in a society where we want everything, all the time, right now. And elearning is no different. There are some companies out there that do employee dedicated instructional designers or, at the least, provide instructional design training to their new developers. But those companies are few and far between.  The only thing I can do is voice my opinions to anyone that will listen to them and I encourage you to do the same.  I’ve even created a seminar titled “Instructional Design Principles for Rapid Elearning Development” and hope to present it several times in the next few months. The first presentation will be at the BYOL Elearning conference in November. Click this link for more information –

If you are interested in scheduling this seminar, please contact me at

For more information about adult learning, instructional design or elearning, visit


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15 Responses to “Is Instructional Design Dying?”

  1. Justin Beller Says:

    I would tend to agree with your thought that instructional design is a dying art and the emergence of rapid e-learning tools have hastened it’s demise. However, instructional designers are partly to blame for this situation. We haven’t been able to explain why we are important to the training process. We haven’t explained our value and the benefits we provide to the company as a whole.

    My philosophy as a trainer or instructional designer is that we must explain how we make money or save money for a company. We ensure that training (if there is a need for it) is learner-centered and performance-based. The performance we elicit should be objective and should either save money or make money at the end of the day.

    The problem with instructional design is we are an admin function to a company. We are not a line function and we do not directly make money or save money. Our actions are essentially indirect. That’s why it is easy for us to be eliminated from payrolls – we don’t demonstrate our value.

    So, in order to save ourselves, we need go back to those rapid e-learning modules that were created by non-instructional designers and address the stakeholders by asking them, “How did that work out for you?”

    • learntoelearn Says:

      Justin, I think you are correct regarding having to justify our existence as IDs and elearning developers. Corporations are in love with numbers and “the bottom line.” It’s hard for people in our line of work to prove our worth with statistics but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t justify our positions, no one will.

      • Justin Beller Says:

        I think rapid e-learning applications need to come with a warning label:

        WARNING: Any attempt to use this application by an untrained professional in the field of instructional design is prohibited. Results my vary leaving learners bored and disengaged if mishandled and misused.

  2. Ken Steinman Says:

    Justin, I like your idea, I wonder if the government would sponsor that requirement! 🙂

    I’ve been a consultant for ToolBook for several years. To keep up with the market, ToolBook has added features which allowed instant import of PPT presentations. THAT’S the part that I think needs the warning label. I always urge new users to take the context of the powerpoint into consideration. If the context was just speaking points and it won’t stand on its own, it won’t magically turn into instructional material.

    If the developer can’t tell the difference, THAT’s where the problem lies.

  3. Sean Says:

    Interesting question.

    Before I reply, can either of you give me a link to what you believe to be a good example of ID?



  4. Michael Says:

    This is an interesting post since my I’m trying to break into the IDT profession. I have the experience as a trainer and facilitator at different levels of learning, e.g., public school, college and corporate, but from this original post, the author uses the term inexperienced referring to trainers and I can’t agree with this assumption.

    On the contrary, I would think a trainer would be perfect as an Instructional Designer given some train-the-trainer in using the tools of an IDT professional and e-Learning. I make this case based on the needs in the classroom. Who better to assess that then the trainer who is responsible everyday to motivate and move the information from a developed piece of technology to the mind of the individual who will be applying the material in the real world.

    To consider training to be a successfully validated experience, the information learned has to be evaluated. Trainers know the front-end of learning which includes the environment, learner behaviors, response methods, rapport building and learning cues. With this in mind, IDT professionals can also be considered inexperienced when it comes to the full spectrum of training. However, I would not say that since I’m currently taking courses to eventually enter the IDT profession and I have too much respect for the work they do.

    In my humble opinion, I think the best trainers are those that have both of these qualities which is probably why we are seeing the developer and trainer merging in corporations.

    • learntoelearn Says:

      @Michael – I never meant to disparage trainers. I have worked with numerous trainers who have taught me invaluable lessons in training content creation and delivery. And I do agree that trainers would be the perfect instructional designers because of the traits that you list. But, sadly, most trainers are never given the ID tools to create training outside of their area of expertise. The whole point of my post is that ID is dying because corporations are not providing new trainers with the appropriate tools to create effective training. Most trainers do not have your background in facilitation. Most are thrust into the role out of a corporate necessity. So please don’t think I am looking down on trainers. I am just trying to point out a flaw that exists in the corporate structure that is preventing us from achieving our most important goal: providing effective learning for our students.

  5. Adel Says:

    I see your point of how corporate are looking to cut training costs by not hiring instructional designers and how they force the instructors to do both jobs because I used to be a technical trainer who ended up teaching classes and design courses as well. This why I’m studying instructional design, because I realized that I need to learn in order to do both jobs right. I also share you on the fears of Instructional Design future’s but I think first half of the way out is going to through teaching your course, “Instructional Design Principles for Rapid Elearning Development” and the second half would be teaching the Rapid Elearning Development tools for Instructional Designer. This means let us develop the instructional designer capabilities to be always required , this is going to be a tough job but it may be the way out. Meanwhile I think there is no way for corporations to take all the training to Elearning. From what I see in the oil business for example, it was great achievement to move about 30% of the training courses to Elearning and still 70% had to be done through instructor lead classes that require the skills of the instructional designer.

    • learntoelearn Says:

      Adel, believe me I preach my message to anyone that will listen. Not just for myself but for others in our industry. I applaud you for taking the initiative to learn ID. Not only does it expand your skill set, but it also makes the learning you create more effective. If more people were like you, we would be much better off…

  6. KN Koch Says:

    It is interesting to read the conversations that have emerged from the original post. I have my bachelor’s degree in education, however I now teach teachers. For this I had to take a Train the Trainers course for my State Department of Education to become an approve me to teach.

    With my background, the class was a joke. After going to a state school and teaching in a public school system for 6 years, I now had to pay $600 to prove that I can teach. Aside from that frustration, I did learn that trainers come from a variety of backgrounds. This was an astonishing realization for me. But then I thought about it; most teachers are found in the classroom. What teacher would leave the job security of a school? Kids will always need to be taught. But, businesses come and go, especially in this economy.

    As I search for a job in private industry, I have found numerous positions that ask for experts in their field to become instructors. It is an unsettling because I knew plenty of teachers with degrees that were not very good, so to imagine an expert teaching a course without the knowledge of differentiated instruction, how the brain works, and time management is scary. Being an expert does not make a good Trainer. This is not to say that there are not good experts that are excellent instructors, but how can this be measured. This is where the need for Instructional Design and qualified instructors comes into play. No instructor needs to know all about teaching in order to be effective however, the core concepts of learning and teaching need to be addressed.

    I like the warning label! That is clever and to the point. The hardest question is how? How do you get businesses to understand the importance and value of good instruction? It does not give immediate results that they crave. The results come in time when they save money in the end by investing in quality instruction.

    I am curious if Adel was encouraged by her employer or she was self motivated? It is not easy add more work on to the day, but I know it will be so beneficial to her in the end.

    I hope ID is not dying. I have attended many professional development trainings and seminars that were dull, boring, and strictly followed the PowerPoint and/or notes that were distributed (like I cannot read for myself). Not everyone will be an effective instructor, but I sure hope those who seek information on ID will have an opportunity to get the tools and help that is desperately needed.

  7. Cathy Moore Says:

    Like Sean, I’d like to see an example of what is considered good instructional design for this discussion. I heartily agree that ID is being bypassed and this is a Bad Thing. I have a blog post about it with plenty of discussion in the comments:

    At the same time, I think that instructional design has an image problem, and insisting that it be included in the workflow without addressing this could backfire.

    For example, some IDs have partly brought about their own downfall by over-focusing on a mechanistic approach to training (e.g. slavish applications of ADDIE, insistence on 30-page design documents for the smallest project, over-focus on delivering super-structured content rather than facilitating the on-the-job application of it…). A complaint I’ve heard from game designers is that the ID sucks all the creativity out.

    Also, several IDs I’ve worked with have a lot of trouble showing how their work supports the organization’s strategy. The common lack of evaluation is just one part of this.

    When I worked with several recent graduates of a respected ID program, I learned that the program gave the students very little real-world business experience, so they graduated without the mental tools to analyze performance problems and tie their work to organizational goals. They were trained to be online information designers, not problem solvers.

    If a company thinks that ID is slow, stiff, and doesn’t add any value, then they’ll just grab the nearest SME, give them a PowerPoint conversion tool, and expect a “course” in a week.

    One way to get ID back into the process is to make it less cumbersome and show clearly how it improves performance. There are several ways to do this; I have an approach as do several others, and I agree that teaching ID in the context of rapid elearning development will help.

  8. Jeffrey Katzman Says:

    For better or worse, the instructional designer in the business of training may suffer the same fate as a journalist in the print media business. The journalist’s hard work of a researching and writing a story is being replaced by people who aggregate the work of others and provide context and perspective on it. So too the ID, who is accustomed to working through a formal ID process, may need to adapt to the changing training landscape and become an aggregator and organizer of enterprise knowledge.

    I am not arguing for an all or nothing approach. I see this as another quill in the ID’s quiver. Some knowledge transfer simply won’t work as a list of contextualized links. But there are certainly cases where it may be more effective to provide contextualized access to raw source content than to develop a course. A user that must learn something to solve an immediate problem is a motivated learner and far more accepting of unrefined content. The trick is to make the content easily accessible in that moment of need.

    Regardless, the ID needs to embrace these new development and delivery models to remain relevant.

  9. Cammy Bean Says:

    Nathan Eckel has just published a booked called “Open Source Instructional Design” — his general position is that we need to rethink our role as IDs and become a coach for the SMEs.

  10. techherding Says:

    Instructional design isn’t dying, it’s just getting more expensive. Like Instructor Led Training, and Horse Drawn Carriages — the people who value it are still willing to pay for it.

    In my case, I’ve had to learn that NOBODY wants “instructional design”. They want faster production lines, more skilled drill press operators, or employees who don’t sexually harass other employees.

    So I’ve pretty much quit talking about the value of good instruction and am now focused on the business drivers that the guys (and gals) in the “C” suite have on their yearly review. Want more sales? I’m your guy. Want more people to try your software? I can do that — easy! Want your production line to have less defects, want your customer service people to handle more calls, want that merger to go through without lots of angry employees — no problem at all!

    You’re right. Less and less people want “instructional design”. And I’m just fine with that. ‘Cause I don’t sell that any more.

  11. Koreen Olbrish Says:

    Totally agree with the good – and bad – process of our evolution. The truth is, IDs come in two flavors…strategic designers and tactical producers. Unfortunately, the tactical producers de-value the strategic designers, and calling all of us instructional designers confuses anyone who doesn’t know the difference between the two.

    I’ve been writing about this for awhile…like to see others who are like-minded!

    Also, ironically…when I pulled up this post, the Google Ad on your site was for “Rapid Development E-learning Tools” 🙂

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