Many people trying to get into the field of instructional design ultimately have the same question: what does an instructional designer do?  The answer to this question isn’t very simple as it depends on a variety of factors, but Joel Gardner gives his  high level explanation as to what instructional design consists of, and what is the role of the instructional designer.

If you are thinking about working in this field (or perhaps you already do, but need a reminder), this video will give you the overview you need.  That said, you should still reference other resources to learn as much as you can about instructional design, the expectations, and the tools utilized.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter


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Justin, thanks for sharing this video. I talk more about instructional design on my website here: . I look forward to seeing more of what you share!

I love the way you have demonstrated in your video what IDs actually do. In the real-world, IDs are expected to do a lot of things other than instructional designing. Despite that, it is vital that we maintain the expertise of an ID as discussed in your video. I am beginning to be a follower of yours though I don’t tweet.

With your permission, I would like to post your video and your link in my site. It is my ID site — which is still a work in progress.

Myrene, feel free to re-post the video. The video was made by Joel Gardner, so make sure to give him credit! 🙂

Avatar Justin

Justin: I’m an educational writer who has worked with Camtasia, and who has designed digital and elearning lessons for kids, college students and adults for organizations like Drexel University and National Science Foundation. But I’ve never worked in the way you describe. In fact, I do a lot of what COULD be called ID — but apparently isn’t, because I don’t know what “pebble in the pond” or other theories you mention are all about (in fact, I’ve never heard of them!).

I wonder if you could elaborate a bit on why, for example, you chose the particular theories and instructional tools you did to teach about micro evolution. For example, why not use a more interactive tool that allows an exploration of an evolutionary timeline? And/or — why not start with a set of educational goals defined by the University or by the department under which the course is offered?

In my experience of the museum, K-12 and adult education worlds, you just kinda say “what do you want people to learn,” “what tools do you have available for teaching,” and “how much money do you have?” Then you go from there!


Hi Lisa-
Thanks for your comments! Just to avoid any confusion, I did not produce the video on this post, it was actually created by Joel Gardner (see the first comment). So in regards to specific choices/descriptions, he would be a better resource 🙂

It’s funny, because the more I become engrossed in our industry, the more I notice the vast difference between what is expected in the private sector vs. nonprofit sector (schools, museums, etc.). Not that this is a huge surprise, but it I am beginning to think that the ID implemented between the two industries isn’t as similar as I once had perceived.

I believe this would be a good topic for a future post. Thanks for the inspiration!


Avatar Justin

Hi, Justin! What I’ve found, in the museum and out-of-school education worlds (places like National Geographic, etc.) is that radical creativity is the norm — but goal-oriented, carefully evaluated products are NOT!

Thus, we create AMAZING planetarium productions with $6 million dollars planetarium instruments — that people enjoy the heck out of. What do they learn? Well… um… they learn that the universe is really, really big, really really cool, and full of things that explode… (and did you know that the imagery of Europa is based on the MOST recent imagery from Hubble?!)

We create online educational materials, tech-based exhibits and apps, all of which are very cool and gorgeous, but many of which succeed in charming their creators without necessarily teaching their users.

K-12 and even college or adult ed materials are, so far as I can see from my fairly extensive experience, often over-thought and under-engaging. Almost the opposite of museum materials, they are closed-ended, text-heavy, and clunky to use. I’ve been hired to help produce online interactives for elementary math that are clunkier, less engaging versions of counting beads or cuisinaire rods. Why bother?

There has to be a happy medium somewhere, where the goals match the content, and the content is more engaging than a guy standing in the front of a room with a slide projector!


My two cents on this discussion (this really happened to me):

When I applied for the Master’s in Instructional Design at my university of choice, I, like many others in the programme, were administered an entrance interview by the dean of the department. It was approximately and hour long and apparently was a way this school determined the social and intellectual fitness of it’s applicants.

At some point during the interview, the dean told me this: ” You know, most people don’t have a clue about what we do.” I blinked, smiled nervously and asked him again what he just said. Then he said this: ” This department is one of the oldest in the United States and we have adapted to change during that entire time to fit the demands of modern education and still everyone who we deal with and this includes teachers who ought to know better…don’t know what the hell it is that we do.”

Then he told me that it’s a good programme that I am entering and that I am accepted but to know that at the end of all that, I would inevitably face the thing that he just said. I never forgot that.

And he was right. I’ve been doing this thing for a long time and still have to explain to clients what it is that I do and interestingly enough, my skills grow after each project because I have had to LEARN new things sometimes for no other reason than to understand my client and the thing I am working on a little better.

And so because of this I can also say that I can write technical manuals, shoot and cut video, deliver training (in a couple of different languages), coach teachers, train teachers, do web development, facilitate webinars and distance learning, cost analysis for large systems that deliver training and yes…make coffee in the morning for a class of salespersons who are attending a day long seminar on the latest and greatest thing their software can do.

It seems that my dean gave me the best advice for my ID career, ironically, before I even started any of this.

Oh…the video presentation was just ok for me. A little academic and dry. My explanation is:

we write training for teachers in any form they need

Avatar Jung Feng

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