Should We Rename Instructional Design?

9factsJust recently, Connie Malamed wrote an interesting piece on her blog making the case for giving “Instructional Design” a new name.

For those of you who may be new to the field, an “Instructional Designer” is the moniker given to those who create educational content.

Instructional designers create elearning, live-instruction courses, informative webinars, and so on. They specialize in using best practice methodology to maximize the impact of the learning programs they create.

It’s a field that has been exploding in popularity lately.

What’s in a Name?

In her article, Connie makes the case for why she is in favor for changing Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design (shortened to LX). By its nature, the nomenclature suggests more of an emphasis on experience than the current Instructional Design title.

I’m hesitant to say that this potential industry shift is the “next best thing”, but I do see how it could make sense.

While I agree with the three reasons Connie mentions on her blog (read them here), I personally like the change because of how it shifts our attention from the “instructor” to the “learner”.

Instructional Design places the emphasis on the “message sender”. There’s nothing wrong with this approach of course. However, lately the tools that we leverage for both elearning and live instruction have been created with a greater importance on the “message receiver”. The Learning Experience Designer title is very much in-line with this perception swing.

Makes Sense, but is it Necessary?

While this name-change does have its merits, how necessary is it? Do we lose something by maintaining Instructional Design as the industry standard?

Probably not.

Changing the way we refer to something in any industry cannot be forced. In fact, it is a really difficult thing to do.

All we need is look at the heartburn that is Tin Can API.

Even after a few years, people still reference SCORM – not because they think it’s better technology, but because SCORM has been an industry standard name for over a decade. People know it and reference it daily.

My gut feeling is that we will not see a change until formal educational institutions change the title of their degrees and certification programs. Nonetheless, the proposed change from Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design is intriguing.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

13 Comments
  1. JR Hall

    I like the idea of including learner in the title; however LX seems a little simplified for what true instructional design is. I think you are correct – the industry and educational systems have to come up with a standard and stick to it. ASTD’s recent change to ATD is an excellent example of the changing nature of field. Many poepole have great heartburn with that change.

  2. V Brace

    I am opposed to changing the name, simply because it has taken so long to get people used to the idea of instructional designers and what we do…changing the name would only lead to confusion and I would then again be answering the question what is it that you do?

    • Derin Tolu

      What is it that you do? is precisly why it should change.

      For some reason average joe doesn’t comprehend the two words “instruction” and “design” when placed together.

      When I say “Learning Experience Designer” I get a lot less questions.

  3. I agree with Connie (whom I admire and like).

    I’d like to add a connotation of training in the role as well, as so many of us do that in conjunction.

    Whatever the case, “ID” is outdated in my view.

    Camilla

  4. Sandra G

    As much as I love the idea of shifting to the learner’s point of view, I feel that to change the name to Learning Experience Design leaves out the importance of the Instructional Designer. Yes, the main goal is for the success of the learner but the Instructional Designer is the one that is in “charge” of assuring the success of the learner by designing the best method possible.

  5. Veronica Pena

    After reading the article and the replies thus far it appears many people don’t feel a name change would be the correct action. I also don’t feel that if we were to change the name the ID field would just be taking on the task of defining the new field name. Our time is better served giving as much information about the ID field to the public for better understanding. The name instructional design after take a moment to think of those words combined really does encompass our field and helps when explaining to others.

  6. I have been in the instructional design industry for over 30 years. I agree the title is a bit antiquated and could probably use a measure of modernization. I also agree with Justin that name change is a real challenge. I also agree with V Brace regarding the road traveled and the fight we had to go through to be viewed by the rest of the HR community as a viable entity.

    My biggest push back on a name change comes from my experience as both a Senior Training Facilitator and as a Senior Instructional Designer. No matter how goo the design and development of content is for ILT or WBT/CBT, the ID dies not create the learning experience. From the learners point of experience the software/internet connection creates the experience for CBT/WBT and the training facilitator creates the experience in ILT.

    I have seen great content ruined by poor delivery and I have seen bad content salvaged by a good facilitator.

  7. Thanks for the article, Justin, but I must respectfully disagree with your statement that “[e]xperience will trump a degree 100% of the time.” I know of at least one training company which demands quite a high level of demonstrated experience to equate to a 2yr Masters in ID (or some related field). Additionally, it’s nice to be able to back up your recommendations with supporting research and/or recommendations. I know that I field requests for appropriate recommendations as well as support for them on a fairly regular basis. Being able to substantiate your recommendations provides clients with a valuable level of comfort.

    I am not saying that you don’t learn a great deal though experience – on the contrary! You learn a huge amount through experience. You will learn a ton about effective approaches to learning by designing, developing, deploying and evaluating training materials. However, I would argue that we probably ought not subject our learners to our early forays – not only because of the damage it is likely to do to attitudes towards learning and the learning itself, but also because those learners are unlikely to be able to provide you with the quality of feedback that you need to move forward.

  8. Juan Alvarez

    People that are not or have not heard about “instructional designers” do not know what we are or do. If there is confusion about what a professional does, then the people in need of this type of services will not know who to hire. Our Master’s degree name is not Master of Education in Instructional Design, it is Master of Education in Educational Technology. The name was picked for a reason. It is a good name because people know it involves education and technology, but it also carries a paradigm. Most people think that it ONLY involves education, meaning that it is only for the educational field.

    We are currently reading the book Multi-Media Learning from Richard E. Mayer. The title of his book goes directly to what it is for. In my opinion, “instructional design” should be renamed to something like “Multi-media Learning Design” This name tells the audience what we do (design) for what (learning) and how (Multi-media). We should be Multi-media Learning Designers.

    When someone reads the title of what we do or we mention what we do, we should NOT have to explain what it means or involves, as people might not retain the right idea. Our main objective in our field is to transfer knowledge in the best possible way, and the best way is to let the learner have a clear picture of what something is.

    I think Connie is wrong in the new name she wants, because Learning Experience Design does say you are creating a learning experience, but it does not say how you do it. Mentioning that multi-media is used, will create a higher level impact to whoever reads or hears it.

    My proof is this. In the late 1990s there were hundreds of new websites with investments of millions of dollars. Most of the websites failed for several reasons, but the MOST important reason was the domain name. The domain name is the name used to access the website. Example: Yahoo.com, Hotmail.com, etc.

    Failure names had things the possible visitors could not remember, such as te-ve-de-men-te.com, even boo.com You can read about their failure here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boo.com although they do not include the name as the reason.

    The users might not remember how many “o” it has. Or if the person visiting is a none English Speaker and listens to the name, he/she could write it differently. In Spanish would be bu.com
    I made a 2 year analysis on why so many websites failed even spending 500 million dollars in advertising, and from all, the main reason was the website’s name. My analysis also included why some were so successful without so much effort, and the main reason was the same.

    The name should be designed for the target audience. That is my opinion.

    • Hello Juan,
      I am a learning experience designer. I would like to reply to your idea of using the name multi-media learning designers. This doesn’t feel right for me. The reason for this is that the medium you choose to use is secondary to the people you design for and the outcome they want to achieve. Focusing on multimedia sends the wrong signal by putting the emphasis on the medium and not on the experience.

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