Monday, 25 July 2011

I’m an Instructional Designer so respect me!

Instructional designers, like all workers, are treated in different ways by different people but a key question, which as yet remains unanswered, is are they respected?

Over the course of the last few years I have come across a number of instructional designers (who obviously have to remain anonymous) who bemoan the fact that the role they play in designing eLearning programmes is not respected or appreciated. Many of them feel unvalued, frustrated, demotivated, usurped and fed up. By nature, instructional designers are very good, if somewhat unassuming, team players, however for many a feeling of exclusion has become the norm.
So, what’s going on that has led to this sorry state of affairs? Well, I have managed to determine two causes which, singly or together, invariably lead to one effect.

Cause 1 – Project managers rule
For instructional designers who work in teams, alongside graphic designers, video producers and programers, there is usually a project manager ‘conducting’ the work and acting as the ‘go-between’ with the team and the client.
When a project manager is not and has never been an instructional designer, problems arise when they assume the instructional design mantle and seek to cut-off essential communication channels with the client and the lead/senior instructional designer.
In situations where the project manager is a control freak and/or will do anything to keep the client happy by agreeing to their requests, no matter how unwise, inappropriate, time-consuming or costly, then the lead/senior instructional designer becomes impotent and their vital role ceases to exist.
In the worst case scenarios, project managers have even been known to undermine the credibility, knowledge, skills and experience of instructional designers by dismissing the latter’s efforts and achievements to the client, as well as keeping the two parties well apart in order to retain their control.

Cause 2 – Authoring tools dominate
In this situation, the instructional designer is forced to work to the lowest common denominator ie the authoring tool or software. The instructional designer is told “We will be using ‘X’ tool, so you will need to design the programme accordingly.”. Depending on the tool, as some are not so limited as others, this can result in the instructional designer being severely constrained in how they can treat the content. Not only is this extremely frustrating, it is also very demeaning, somewhat akin to asking a top-notch organist who is used to having four manuals at their disposal to achieve the same musical outcome with only one manual!
In those cases, which sadly are becoming more and more common, where the instructional designer is also the programer, then the tool in question easily dominates most design considerations. The individual in question either forgets any instructional design knowledge and skills they may have or lets the tool dominate their design.
In either case, the outcome is one in which the ‘science’ and ‘art’ of instructional design plays very little, if any part. No small wonder then that many people are asking just what is an instructional designer good for!

Effect – Bottom of the heap syndrome
In an increasing number of cases, instructional designers are now being treated as second class citizens. In terms of an eLearning pecking order they are rapidly being relegated to the bottom of the heap. No small wonder then that so many feel unvalued, frustrated, demotivated, usurped and generally fed up.

A recipe for disaster
If this state of affairs continues then quality and fit-for-purpose eLearning programmes, irrespective of whether they are stand-alone, form part of a blended learning solution, or are used as a form of performance support, will rapidly become a thing of the past.
Sound and effective instructional design are the sine qua nons of all formal learning solutions, as well as for provision which is used informally for performance support. This is no more true than when, arguably, the most demanding delivery medium of all, eLearning, is involved.
We have got to do something to address this current lack of respect of instructional designers by, first, acknowledging that it exists, second, by bringing it to the attention of others and, third, by enforcing our role as indispensible L&D professionals. I sincerely hope that this post will make a positive contribution to the first two steps.

“I got to have (just a little bit) – A little respect (just a little bit)” (Aretha Franklin)

If you have had similar experiences to then please do use the comments box and tell me about them.