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The Instructional Designer Dilemma

The benefits of instructional design are rapidly gaining visibility in the corporate world as it is becoming more essential for companies to track productivity against continually learning. This is all good news, especially to those of us that make a living in this field.

As many will attest, however, it can sometimes be a daily battle to make people care (or at least to have people take ID seriously). Sure, some people will never be “won” over, but as long as the decision makers are convinced, then progress can be made.

There are many reasons why ID is constantly in this battle. My own personal opinion is that instructional design often flirts between art and technical writing – the former of which is not as much respected in corporate settings (unfairly labeled as “fluffy”). Ironically, it is the artistic component to ID that can have the biggest impact in learning. The art in ID is logical; it has to be planned and perfected in order to have maximum impact. Similar to the way Van Gogh obsessed over paint strokes, ID professionals obsess over smooth transitions, stimulating visuals, and dynamic elements as they relate to the topic at hand. (Yes, I just compared us to Van Gogh)

And herein lies the dilemma.

As perfectionists in our craft, we have to learn, and accept, that we will likely never be satisfied with the final product. Every time I finish an e-learning course, I always find myself picking out the areas that could be improved if given more time or resources. My own critiques do not happen every once in a while… they literally happen every time I complete a project.

For many people, this constant dissatisfaction would be discouraging, but for learning professionals such as ourselves, it represents a constant challenge. Our “paintbrushes” become more advanced as technology evolves enabling us to explore, and create, new works of art. While our end goal is different than that of say, a painting – the process and emotional investment is much in the same (which is probably why it can be difficult to hear critiques of our work).

Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming ID to be all “artsy fartsy” – because we know it is not. ID professionals often have to understand very complex processes as they relate to larger organizational interdependencies. If training is for a new software, then we have to not only know how the software works, but how it is in-line with every day business process, how that process has changed, and why the new way is supposedly better. ID has to be able to relate to a large variety of quantitative disciplines, extracting the essential detail from complex technical jargon and enabling people to understand on a larger scale. This is no simple task.

Still, we shouldn’t avoid the fact that what we do is in part an art, and that is what helps make learning most effective. And like any good artist, we take joy in constantly striving to improve our craft.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the Founder of LearnDash, a WordPress based LMS and Learning Strategy provider. He also works as a Learning & Collaboration Consultant where he implements large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies.

6 Comments
  1. Anonymous

    Nice post – but the errors below detract from the content – which interestingly is regarding perfectionistic tendencies. :) Corrections in brackets. Suggest you simply make corrections and not publish this comment? Thanks.

    And here in [herein] lies the dilemma.

    As perfectionists in our craft, we have to learn, and except [accept], that we will likely never be satisfied with the final product.

  2. Edmund

    Justin, I can appreciate your point that there is always a battle, and that we cannot rest for too long on our achievements. But I don’t think it is related to the artistic component of Instructional Design. Many years ago when I was in the Industrial Engineering (IE) field, we had an axiom that says that for anything we perfect today, there will always be a better way tomorrow. IE wasn’t very artistic then, but it was all about pleasing other humans. Humans are never satisfied.

    • Justin

      Hi Edmund, thank you for the comment. Your point is well stated and I think the inherent human tendency to never be completely “satisfied” likely does play a component to it all.

  3. Justin, I think you bring up several good points. It can be helpful for us to acknowledge that we may never be completely satisfied with even our best work, because there is always room for improvement. And when we have the desire to improve, we naturally challenge ourselves, which is a key component to learning.

  4. Justin,
    By nature, it is often difficult for me to agree with you. However, this time I am forced to. In addition to the excellent reasons you list for not being “taken seriously” by those outsiders who do not understand, and therefore do not appreciate those of us who strive to be “perfectionists in our craft,” I would also propose another influence may the the bad rep/image produced by those whom I will term “non-perfectionists.” Unfortunately, there are many “professional” instructional designers working (getting paid) in this profession; however, there are not nearly as many designers who are “qualified” or professionally trained in this craft. As you so eloquently stated, it is a combination of art and science. Many do not understand the science and theory behind what they attempt to perform.

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