Do Instructional Designers Really Need Technology Skills?

Cammy Bean wrote an interesting comment on my earlier post, Technology Skills for Instructional Designers. She said:

Let’s not forget that many of us instructional designers don’t have any technical skills whatsoever — nor do we need them! I’ve got no HTML skills, can’t use Dreamweaver, don’t do Flash, can hardly crop an image in Photoshop. Nevertheless, I’ve been an instructional designer for years. That stuff I leave to the programmers and graphic designers. It’s important to speak the language, but I don’t know the tools.

From her comment, I believe that she works in an environment where the instructional design and the production side are split into different groups. (Cammy, please correct me if I’m wrong on that.) She does the design (probably the AD or ADD of the ADDIE process) and passes it off to Flash programmers and graphic designers for the actual implementation. That is similar to what I did for my first instructional design job, although we still had to enter everything into our LMS using basic HTML, and it was easier with a bit of Dreamweaver. My current job is much more technical because we’re a small team with no production group; if I want interactions in my courses, I have to create them myself.

When I was looking for jobs last year (in two job searches), it seemed to me that most of the jobs required more than just Microsoft Office. Cammy got me wondering though–maybe that’s just in the Chicago area, or maybe the recruiters only contacted me about more technical jobs because they were harder to fill. Maybe my current job is the exception, and Cammy’s situation is more typical. So, I decided to do a little informal research. I went to Monster and pulled up the first 20 jobs with “instructional designer” in the title, then tallied up what technology skills they requested. (Obviously, this is much too small a sample size to be really statistically significant. Consider it a snapshot of what’s out there right now.)

Here’s what I found:
Technology Skills Chart 4

This shows the number of job listings on Monster which requested or required skills in these applications. Applications like Illustrator that were only listed once aren’t included in the chart. Cammy is right that Microsoft Office is more requested than anything else, but of the 20 jobs I saw, only 1 listed only Microsoft Office. 7 of the 20 didn’t list any specific development technology, although 2 of those required SAP knowledge. (They were looking for business analysts with content expertise in SAP who could also do some training development, with a focus on the content rather than the design.)

12 of the 20 listings–60%–specifically required software beyond Microsoft Office. My guess is that at least some of the 7 openings which didn’t list any technology skills requirements (besides SAP) actually do have some.

I will absolutely agree with Cammy that there are some instructional designers who don’t have any technology skills, and I’m sure that many of them are fabulous at what they do. Is it possible to get a job like hers where you don’t need any skills beyond Office? Sure. But your choices will be much more limited, and you’ll be a much less marketable candidate. Focus on your instructional design, because that is the core of what you do, but every time you improve your technology skills, you open up more opportunities for yourself.

Being able to pick up software and technology quickly is also a major skill. During my brief contract at Accenture, I did primarily use Word and PowerPoint. I did QA checks for some activities created with Captivate or other tools, but I didn’t create any of them myself. However, I was mostly working on a project for proprietary applications for one of Accenture’s clients. If I hadn’t been able to quickly pick up the applications on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to do my job adequately.

Everything I’m doing for my current job is something I have learned on my own. I’m learning CSS, improving my Photoshop and Captivate skills, playing with Flash and Fireworks a bit, started this blog, created a wiki for our team, got into Second Life a bit–and this is what I’ve learned since I started last November.

I love it; I love learning all the time and pushing myself. (Well, maybe I haven’t loved every minute of the last few weeks fighting with Captivate…but overall it’s a lot of fun.) Being able to learn all the time is one of the best aspects of being an instructional designer. And yes, I do believe that learning technology is an integral part of what I do.

So what about the rest of you out there? Has your experience been more like Cammy’s or more like mine? Or is there another possibility I haven’t talked about yet?

Update: Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

50 thoughts on “Do Instructional Designers Really Need Technology Skills?

  1. I’m an ID in Australia and for the most part, the ID role is usually separate to developer and graphic design roles. I’ve even worked in a role where the IDs focused solely on designing the learning experience and the writing was done by a separate team of writers. I personally think limiting an ID’s role in that way is a bit ridiculous, but I agree that IDs don’t need technical expertise. I do think they need to be able to talk the language as Cammy said, but I would argue that the two roles should definitely be separate.

    I came from a technical background before moving into ID, and in my experience, you just can’t be great at both. These are two very specialist roles that require time and dedication to be really good at.

    I’m fortunate enough to work with a very talented team of Flash developers and graphic designers. Because each of us has the time to focus on our own area of expertise, the type products we are able to create together far surpass a lot of what I see out in the industry today. When the ID and the developer are one in the same, they just don’t get the opportunity to really develop their skills and push the boundaries in either area.

    Unfortunately, the trend is the same here in Australia as it is in the US. There are more and more jobs requiring IDs to have multimedia development skills, but some of the products these IDs are being asked to create, I would consider mediocre at best. While having some technical knowledge does open up more job opportunities, I personally don’t think I would enjoy working in these types of environments – I know, I’ve been spoilt.

    1. I will agree that it’s hard to be a true expert in instructional design and something like Flash or web design. I’m not convinced that the same is true of rapid development tools though. I think you can be a great instructional designer and still be able to learn Captivate or Articulate Storyline. The learning curve is much less steep for those kind of tools than something like Flash or even HTML. Honestly, if you spend 10 hours learning a tool like Captivate or Storyline, I think you can get a pretty solid foundation. I have a hard time believing that spending 10 hours learning a new tool really diminishes your instructional design skills that much, even though obviously you could have spent those 10 hours improving your ID skills.

      Even with rapid development tools, there are more advanced skills. If you’re doing significantly complex work in Captivate, for example, you need a Lieve Weymeis or Rod Ward or someone like that. But that’s probably less than 10% of the Captivate development out there.

      And of course, you can do more with custom Flash than you can with just those rapid development tools. For the really high end stuff, having a separate multimedia team makes sense. You can’t do that high end multimedia development (like simulations and heavy interactivity) with a team of one.

      But realistically, how much of what we develop needs to be that high end work? You can try to argue that we should make everything that way, but I’m not going to buy it. Some content changes too frequently, or has too small of an audience, or is lower impact, or whatever. It doesn’t justify the high cost of a full simulation or custom Flash. If IDs can’t use rapid development tools, then the answer for requests for small scale projects is, “Sorry, we can do this really expensive option, or we can do nothing at all. There’s nothing in between.” Are you really comfortable making that argument?

  2. Hi, Christy great set of articles here. And quite appropriate that I landed onto these. I am in the beginning stages of looking for a university to get a Master’s in ID. I was about ready to take the plunge but figured out quickly that perhaps I needed to investigate how much IT or technology background I would need to even go to the school.

    It sounds like being able to adapt quickly is one skill. I can do that. But I’m wondering from everyone here reading this article, going into school did you already have these skills or will the program instruct me how to do these skills? I have been doing CSS and HTML for example 5 years now. Building websites for clients on the side. I know nothing of Dreamweaver or Flash. Will the lack of this education or training be a negative impact on my education if I went with a program like this?

    Thanks for your comments,

    1. Masters programs vary widely, so you have to do your research. Some will give you a lot of technical experience; others will focus exclusively on theory. Ideally, you probably want a balance–a solid foundation of theory, but with some practical application in technology and real projects so you have something in your portfolio.

      Since you’ve already been building websites for several years, you probably will start out ahead of many other students in a program. All of that background will be beneficial. People coming from teaching or training backgrounds often don’t have any of that experience.

      1. Hi there! I am finishing my MEd in Instructional Design with WGU, and have had a great experience. It is very limited on technical skills, but I feel very solid in theory and research aspect of the field. I have been teaching for upwards of ten years in the k-12 environment. I have picked up (especially this year) some technical skills, but am only just now looking to hop into the Instructional Design job market. Any tips for me?

        1. I list specific technical skills and resources here:

          The quick answer is that you need to learn one of the big two authoring tools, either Storyline or Captivate–and probably Storyline. Storyline is easier to learn, has a 60-day free trial, and is increasingly the tool more businesses want. Check the job listings in your local area to see what employers are looking for.

          In higher ed, the expectations tend to be more about using an LMS. Right now, I’d also expect universities to look for skills supporting virtual facilitation via Zoom, Meet, Teams, or similar tools, plus perhaps video editing.

  3. Hi Christy,
    Thanks for your reply. I do know how to use Captivate and Articulate (haven’t looked at the new Storyline yet), and yes, will investigate the NZ market more closely before taking on Flash. Thanks for the useful feedback 🙂

    1. Sounds like you are already in good shape then. 🙂

      Since you already know Captivate and Articulate (and Storyline will be really easy for you to pick up), you might look at HTML5 too. Again, it depends on your market, but HTML5 is a growing area, especially for mobile learning.

  4. I came across your blog through a Linkedin discussion. Very timely for me! I’m a trainer/instructional designer and my two year contract expires in November, and I was considering if I need to upskill in any software. I’ve been thinking about Flash, and your findings certainly indicate that is a popular requisite for ID openings. Like you, I’m love learning and am always learning something new. I’ve recently started blogging and tweeting. A lot of my learning is self learning, but I’ve got qualification as well. There’s so much interesting stuff out there for me to learn – web design, Flash, photoshop….. Where do I start?
    I think I’ll take a leaf from your book and do that same search in New Zealand!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. 🙂


    1. Flash is becoming less popular now than it was 5 years ago when I originally wrote this post. I did take a Flash course about 2 years ago, but I actually still haven’t needed to really use it.

      I wouldn’t probably start with Flash unless when you do your local job search you discover that the demand is huge. The learning curve for Flash is high, and HTML5 will reduce the importance of Flash over the next few years.

      You might be better off starting with a rapid development tool like Captivate or Articulate Storyline. In the US, demand is higher for Captivate, but I’m not sure about NZ. Even knowing one of those two tools should open up more opportunities for you.

      After that, it depends on your interest and the local demand.

  5. I think it’s great to know a little bit of everything. I feel, you definitely do not need a programming degree but one should know basic editing in XML, HTML, flash etc. Knowledge on development tools come in handy when talking to clients about scope, possibilities, limitations etc. It is because of working with clients who pushed the limits of the projects that I’ve got to learn so much about other stuff outside my domain (ID). Additionally, the good thing about working in a small organization is that you have to get your hands into everything (i’ve storyborded and developed my courses in flash). It’s a great learning experience and sometimes it helps to call a lazy programmer’s or graphic designer’s bluff. Which I find very amusing. All-in-all, I feel that we don’t need degrees or certificates of qualification but some hands on experience can do wonders.

  6. I’m sure late to the table in this discussion, but I’m glad I stumbled across it. I’m working on my M.Ed. in Adult Education & Training. While it’s not specifically focused on ID work, that’s where my interest is and where I’ve been building experience over the last 16 months. This discussion has made it clear to me that I need to learn tools like Captivate, Lectora, and possibly even Flash. It’s so true that learning never really ends! I love the people skills, project management, and content creation involved in ID work. I’m less excited about the technology, but I’m willing to dive in head first because it will not only make me more competitive, but also help me better understand and estimate the scope of projects. Right now I hand my work off to a programmer so I don’t always understand that what I suggest may not be possible given the scope. Obviously I’ve got some idea, and I collaborate with the programmer, but I can see how learning the technology myself would be beneficial.

  7. I agree, knowing more technology opens doors for anybody who wants to pursue a career in ISD. I found out that if you limit yourself to one or two programs like Flash and Photoshop. You may restrict yourself and will not grow. On the contrary Instructional Design is growing and diversifying. Knowing more technology skills makes one a specialist and become a developer. It’s good to learn technologies use in Instructional design and also remember that in Instructional Design, you never stop learning. I also think it’s about your attitude and your career goals. Thanks

  8. This is a great discussion, one I wish I would have seen earlier. I recently started a Master’s Program in Instructional Design and Technology. I chose to go back to school to gain experience in the technology used by ID’s. I have close to 20 years of experience as a trainer, and have developed quite a bit of my own training materials, but also used course work designed by someone else. Last November I was laid off from my job, requiring me to go back in to the job market in search of a new training position. I can tell you, I was disheartened. Even with a tremendous amount of training and course design experience, I was unable to find a job that did not require more technical ID experience. One of the positions I held as a trainer was as a software instructor with expert knowledge in Microsoft Office Suite. Even this experience was insufficient to land me a new training position, because I lacked experience with Flash, Dreamweaver and other development tools. At this point, I saw I had one of two choices to make; 1) expand my skill set and learn these technologies making me more marketable, or 2) find a different job in some other field. I personally love training, so for me it was a no brainer. It seems to me that positions in the training and development field are growing toward a need for ID experience and at least from my viewpoint are requiring more and more technical knowledge and expertise.

    1. I’m actually taking a Flash course through my local community college right now for similar reasons. Looking at my long-term career possibilities, I know that not knowing Flash is going to limit my choices. With the unemployment rate being so high, I think it’s even more important now to make yourself as marketable as possible.

  9. So don’t work for a big corporation–work for a small company where you do a little bit of everything. If you do the whole process from start to finish, there’s plenty of variety and chance for creativity.

    It sounds like your issue is with the company size and what that means for the kind of work you do, rather than anything else.

  10. I think that the tools put you in another kind of box. The kind of box that I was put in as a “trainer.” I also get a great deal of enjoyment out of OD work, process improvement and mapping, project management and many others. Knowledge of the tools puts you into the catagory of a developer. Once you work as a developer, you get boxed in there, and, working for large corporations, they are more than willing to have you occupy a box, rather than to use your diverse skills and talents. I like the development aspect, using the tools, but just don’t want to get stuck there, because I am not a technican, but a people person, who likes the contact in the classroom. These tools tend to change so much about the nature of the work. I don’t find using them very creative, because I was originally motivated to get into training because of the people contact and the teaching, not the use of tools that really enables people to get out of the classroom, and complete trainng on their own, at their computers. The software, in my view spells the end of a creative process, not a new challenge. At least that has been my experience.

  11. I don’t think you can’t learn, but that you’ve chosen not to. You said you know PowerPoint, so you have adapted in the past. Rapid development tools like Captivate and Articulate aren’t much more technical than PowerPoint, so any advanced PowerPoint user can do those tools. That you don’t use them signifies a choice you have made.

    Everyone needs to find the balance where they’re happy. For you, that balance is obviously with nothing more technical that Microsoft Office. It’s good that you recognize that for yourself and made a choice to leave. For Sid, who commented earlier in this thread, the line is anything up to Flash or programming.

    Personally, I love the technology, partly because it allows me to be more creative than I could be without it. It isn’t an either/or situation, where you can be creative or use technology but never the twain shall meet. It’s both/and–technology enables creativity. CAD design requires just as much creativity as pencil and paper drawing, just with different tools. Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Captivate, and Flash allow for immense amounts of creativity. They give us the power to not only create visions of learning, but to see those visions through. There’s nothing bland about seeing a vision go from a sparkle in your eye to implementation with students.

    The creativity in the job is less about the tool than what you do with it. I’ve seen immensely creative uses of PowerPoint–that tool is capable of enabling a lot of innovation. Most people use PowerPoint in a boring way, but that isn’t the fault of the tool. If you think ID tools don’t allow for creativity, perhaps the issue isn’t with the tools so much as how you’ve seen them used.

  12. You know you are 100% correct. You advised another fellow to exit the business for this exact reason. I have done exactly that. Not because I can’t or won’t learn, but because, just as CAD chased many talented designers out of work to make way for technical jockeys, the work of the ID is less about the creative art of instruction and more about the technician. I happily relinquish my place at the table, for things much more deliciious, and the bland leavings go with love to the tech jockeys.

  13. Ralph, you admit yourself that corporations pass you over for jobs, even with your experience. This series of posts originated from a email questions of people looking to get into the field of ID–people without the experience. Do you think those people can get a job without technology skills in addition to their ID skills? No, of course not. I’d be irresponsible and unprofessional to give them that expectation. Even if you with 20 years of experience can find work, someone just starting out is very unlikely to do so.

    You sound very much like the graphic designer Wendy Wickham wrote about who is a great designer on paper. Unfortunately, she can’t get a job because she won’t learn Photoshop or Illustrator or any of the other necessary tools. The jobs where a graphic designer can just work on paper without using a computer have vanished. Technology is integrated in what we do; it isn’t separate.

    Instructional design is moving in the same direction. Learning professionals who consciously choose to stop learning, as you have, will be out of jobs.

  14. Hi,
    Probably gonna sound old school, but I have been a T&D pro for nearly 20 years, and love ID and classroom training. I mastered PPT technology and have consistently delivered first class blended learning experiences to my clients. Though most corporate positions specify Captivate, Lectora, etc. experience, in my view it is a specialized and separate discipline from that of ID. Rather it is a software expertise in the publishing world. Many corporations pass on experienced IDs (like me) because they want to combine two sets of expertise for one price. Maybe you are better able to pull this off than me, but I prefer to focus on the design and then hand off to the technology experts.

  15. Hi Sid, what’s the difference between being “not capable of learning” something and “having a threshold” past which you can’t function effectively? It seems like you’re saying basically the same thing.

    IDs have to balance everything they do–core ID skills, technical skills, people skills. Different jobs will have different balances, but the overall pendulum seems to be swinging towards higher expectations for technical skills.

    I completely disagree with your idea that people are only capable of learning programming if they take a formal class. There’s way too many people in IT who don’t have degrees or formal training for that argument to hold water. Maybe you personally need a formal foundations class, and that’s fine, but don’t assume that informal learning is somehow incapable of giving someone these skills.

    Here’s the deal: you have a couple of choices if you are dead set against programming from scratch.

    One choice is to simply seek out jobs where Flash isn’t required. Maybe that limits your choices to less than half the jobs on the market, so your job search may take twice as long. Maybe that’s worth it for you though. If you include jobs in your search with very minimal Flash programming requirements, like only using templates created by others, that opens up more opportunities and may make your job search a little easier.

    Another option is to include jobs in your search that do require a little Flash programming. I’m not talking the same level as what someone with a BFA in web design and years of experience can do, but what you can do basically with copy, paste, and tweak. Let’s say you find a job where Flash work is maybe 30% of your total time on the job, and 95% of that Flash work can be done by altering existing code. Do you suck it up and struggle through the programming by scratch, or do you turn down the job? As determined as you are to not program, my guess is that you turn down the job. Yes, it’s outside of your main competence–but it happens once or twice a year. Is that too much for you? Probably. I’d take the job though.

    A third option, if you discover that you really can’t find an ID job that doesn’t have technical requirements, is to leave the field of ID and find another job that’s a better fit for your skills. I actually recommended that to a friend who’s feeling very frustrated in her current position. She really loves the needs analysis; that’s what she wants to do more. I suggested she look at organizational development consulting instead. That’s a related field, and many of the skills overlap, but no one expects an OD person to program Flash.

    I don’t know anyone who has a job that they love every single part of it and all of it plays to their strength all the time. You have the make the choice for yourself. If programming makes you miserable, then you need to find a way to either not program or to have the programming not make you miserable.

    It is OK to decide for yourself that a job requirement of programming from scratch–even in limited doses–is a dealbreaker for you. That’s fine, but own up to that decision and accept the repercussions.

    So what choice are you going to make?

  16. I never said that people who don’t have an aptitude in a certain function are not capable of learning it. Yes, anyone can learn anything with effort. But, I think I have a certain threshold. I believe I should listen to my heart in this matter. In any case, why would career experts say we should seek a career in a field that we are good at?

    If a ID were to juggle with many responsibilities, such as programming, how can that person dedicate more time to his area of core competence – ID, in this case. As such, ID itself is a complex task. If the instructional designer is asked to shoulder additional work, I think it would not only be stressful but, more importantly, may impact his/her productivity in the field of the person’s expertise.

    Yes, one way to learn programming is to analyze others’ work, provided it is well documented and the ID has completed a foundation course in programming. If an existing code can be tweaked to accomplish a certain task, that’s fine. Sooner or later, however, the ID would run into a situation where he/she has to write a program from scratch. That could turn out to be complex and involve digging the manuals, asking for help on the forums, and others. This could lead to a situation giving more time to work outside the area of a person’s main competence.

  17. I guess I would reject the idea that certain people have an “aptitude” for programming and those who don’t simply are incapable of learning it. Yes, it takes time to learn ActionScript, and maybe that time isn’t worth it for everyone. But someone who is smart enough to have “core ID and basic Flash skills” should also be able to learn enough ActionScript to do what they need.

    A lot of basic programming at the beginning is taking other people’s code and tweaking it. You don’t necessarily need to be able to write the code from scratch, but you need to be able to find the snippets of code elsewhere and adapt them to your circumstances. I don’t think you need to be a hardcore programmer to do that, but that’s likely enough for most ID work.

    For example, most of my work is done in html and CSS. I’ve had no formal training; it’s just what I’ve learned on my own. Most of that learning was by looking at other people’s code and playing with it, taking out a line or changing something and seeing what happens. I haven’t had to use much Javascript, but I have a few things and I’ve been able to tweak them when I needed to. ActionScript is obviously more complicated than Javascript, but the same concept applies.

    The answer to the question “How far can an ID go?” is “As far as they want if they’re willing to put in the time to learn.” If the question is really “How far does an ID need to go?” then I think basic scripting skills are probably enough. Copy, paste, and tweak can get you pretty far.

  18. Excellent discussion. In today’s world, where companies would like to get more out of less, an ID should definitely wear more hats. So, in addition to the core ID skills, tech skills are now quite mandatory. The question, however, is, “How far can an ID go in terms of Flash or other development tools?”

    For example, consider Flash. To do advanced work with this software, such as to build interactivity, an ID needs to know ActionScript. If a person doesn’t have the aptitude in programming but has excellent core ID and basic Flash skills, how can he/she successfully pursue an ID career?

  19. I don’t think it’s a mistake to do a Masters program that is heavier into theory, partly because I think the technical side is easier to get on your own than the theory side.

    As a PM or ID Coordinator, you probably wouldn’t need to know the technical side as much (although you might need Sharepoint or MS Project experience). If that’s the kind of job you see yourself doing, then focus on those skills. When you look at job listings for those positions, do you see the same technical requirements? My guess is no. Our director does occasionally get into Dreamweaver and Photoshop if we need some help, but I expect that’s the exception rather than the rule. Larger companies wouldn’t have that expectation.

    If you want to open up more possibilities for yourself as an instructional designer, I would recommend at least trying to pick up Captivate. I think that’s easy enough to learn on your own but has a lot of potential power.

    Yes, you should do what you love–but you should be realistic about the fact that many instructional design positions will not be available to you without technical expertise. In my little snapshot of jobs available, 40% didn’t require any technology beyond Office. You can search within that 40%, but obviously that limits your choices. If you’re looking at bigger companies and PM roles, your chances will probably improve.

    But if you do a job search and can’t find anything, how long will you go before deciding it isn’t working? Wendy Wickham wrote about this a year ago. She told the story of a graphic designer who loves designing on paper but has no computer skills. After 2 years, she still hadn’t found a job.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between either theory or technology–you can do both. Find ways to approach the technology so it helps support what you’re learning about theory, and I think you’ll see more connections.

  20. Great discussion – I couldn’t stop reading! My dilemma is the same as most I guess. Here’s the rub – I am a teacher. Always have been, always will be. I taught 8 years in public education honing my instructional strategies in F2F settings, moved into corporate and K-12 elearning design development but hired for my ability to take information apart and rebuild it so it instructs. I have the knack to take typical F2F strategies and massage them as elearning elements but on paper, in a storyboard. I was not asked to know Captivate, Flash, HTML, or Photoshop… I have been able to communicate well with my graphic designers and QA dept. and of course determine the client needs. Because of this I rolled easily into PM roles and became the ID Coordinator (for lack of a better title). I find myself now without those basic skills and see the demand for them increasing – to the point that I see this dangerous merging of the Graphic Artist / Instructional Designer with the technical know-how being the major player in the mix. The art and science of solid instructional understanding based in experience and theory taking a backseat to those who know Flash, Captivate, etc … Am I nervous for my livelihood – yes! But I am more afraid that the technical wizards are seen as much more valuable and needed than instructional designers and that ultimately the products will fail to do what they were intended to do – teach; but does anyone care? I am currently working on a Masters in Instructional Design – the program is deep into theory and less into tech – I choice it because I felt that I needed a stronger foundation to support and better communicate with some fact what I know to be true in my heart about education – Did I make a mistake? Should I get more technical know-how?? If so, where do I begin? Is an Ed-tech degree the better answer or should one do what they love and all will turn out right?

  21. Perhaps the “universal truth” is actually something like “more skills = more opportunities, but it depends on your job whether you actually use those skills or not.” Not very catchy, but it’s probably accurate. There’s a big difference between jobs as an ID contractor or freelancer and the ones in a big training department or e-learning vendor.

    Cammy had a great post recently about ID as a spectrum that addresses some of these differences. One of the things we’ve both learned through our interactions is that ID covers a pretty wide range of positions, and that makes it hard to generalize too much.

  22. This discussion is great!!

    I am a recent entrant to the ISD community. After several years in large corporate environments (AT&T, KPMG), I was unceremoniously discharged. My jobs had been in sales, tech support, HR, and marketing. In those functional areas, I also was able to design, develop, and deliver training to various audiences: sales people, administrative assistants, billing reps, customers. The tools I used were my brain, powerpoint, word, company specific applications, and conference calling.

    As new tools are developed and become usable by the masses, then we (IDs) must learn them, or at least be able to know what they do and how they fit into an effective instructional design. It’s my experience in working for companies, (and for looking for jobs) that the size of the organization determines whether or not the ID does the development, too. If the marketplace contains lots of big organizations with job openings, then ID skills alone are sufficient. However, it looks like big company jobs are rare, and disappearing.

    It’s not just big company’s that are an issue here. Companies of all sizes wanting to add self-paced learning modules to a work environment that is primarily instructor led, will benefit greatly from IDs who know some technology tools. The theory of walking before running plays here. This type of company might not be ready to hire developers or programmers right away. They might want to try adding elearning with their current staff. If you’re an ID with some tool knowledge, then you have increased your value.

    My experience supports the theory presented earlier: “More skills = more opportunities”. This may be a universal truth.

    The real question to ask is “What does the job call for?” If you need tech skills, then it helps to know at least one tool. If the company is looking for someone who knows adult learning techniques and concepts, then the tech tools are secondary. “It depends” is the very best answer.

  23. Tridib, certainly some of the job postings I saw expected candidates to have the technical skills before starting. As you said, people need to wear different hats depending on the need.

    I didn’t save the job listings I used to create the graph above, but I’m not sure even if I did that I’d be able to answer the question of whether they were looking for authoring or just using. My guess is that at least the ones asking for Flash, Captivate, and Lectora were looking for creating content. Job postings that listed “multimedia” as a qualification could have been looking for a wide range of skills.

  24. Is it possible that new appointees would be expected to have technical skills?

    The demand on resources and the increased need of content generation is driving people to wear more hats according to a need, rather than work in separate silos.

    In the survey above, are we talking about knowledge multi-media authoring or usage of multi-media in projects?

  25. Dan,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Do you think that is a difference between the UK and the US in our organizational structure? I know I’m in an odd situation because I work for a company which explicitly does not have job descriptions, so you don’t have clear separations between roles. That is not at all typical though (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a company deliberately avoiding job descriptions before).

    The compartmentalization may be stronger when you’re doing outsourcing too; it’s easier to find people to fill holes if you have a smaller range of skills you’re trying to fill.

  26. Hi Christy

    Our organisation explicitly states the IDs don’t need technical skills – even some of the guys who’ve been in the job for years (not with our company) don’t seem to have done so much technical stuff.

    In fact, one or two of the better IDs have no tech knowledge at all.

    We then make a distinction between the IDs, the graphic designers and the Developers (Flash, HTML and anything else we require). This distinction is fairly rigorously maintained as the developers are in India, with all but three of the GDs. The IDs then fulfil the role of project managers as well.

  27. The “it depends” answer may be the way to go, along with the ability to learn whatever is needed quickly. I realized earlier today that I haven’t talked about choosing the right technology for the job and using that technology effectively, and I think that’s a big area I’ve missed here. It’s too late for me to write a new post tonight, but I think that’s the next direction I should go.

  28. I do think being a quick study is important. In general, instructional designers have to learn a lot o’ new stuff and then quickly turn it around and translate it for other people. Whether you’re doing that as a creator of e-Learning programs or a classroom trainer, it’s important to get the big picture and understand the details.

    You’ve got to be able to have that ‘beginners mind.’

    As to basic technology skills, I guess what we’re all saying here is that the technology you need to be an ID completely varies. Microsoft Office at a minimum — but that’s probably true for almost any job these days. The rest is gravy. Or not. Depends. How’s that for vague?

  29. Hi Cammy,

    Glad I didn’t misunderstand you and your situation.

    It is definitely important to do the work you love. I was thinking earlier today about jobs like Wendy’s and Leslie’s which also include getting up in the classroom and doing training. I’ve done that, and I’m fine at it, but I don’t enjoy it as much as I like being behind the scenes creating the content. My personal balance is better doing technology than being “on stage” all the time, but there is a path for training & developing with a different balance too. I see what you’re saying about multiple paths.

    Do you think there are any technology skills that you would consider to be the bare minimum for instructional design? You mentioned Microsoft Office and SnagIt in your first comment. Would you say Microsoft Office is the only technology that you need to be an actual user? Would you include being a quick study on your list of minimum skills?

  30. Christy, you’re absolutely right about me: most of my career has been working for the e-Learning vendors. E-Learning is all we do, so we have dedicated teams of programmers and graphic designers. I work closely with these folks, but they have their expertise and I have mine.

    When I was looking for a job (and even now I still have a regular Monster Job Agent cruising for ID jobs in the Boston area), it quickly became apparent to me that most internal training departments are looking for instructional designers who *can do it all*. The more skills, the more opportunities. Perhaps.

    But you may also find that you’re not doing the work that you love. In a pinch, I know that I could learn how to use these tools and if that’s every required of me for the next job, I certainly will. As it is, I have spent a lot of my time learning how to use other people’s software applications so I can then create a course and train their people. It’s helps to be a quick study in this field, that’s for sure!

    My core skills as an ‘instructional designer’: understanding people’s problems, dissecting their content, writing, communicating, instructional design, project management, building relationships. My focus is definitely on the content side, and that’s how I like it.

    On the flip side, the tools are getting easier and easier to use. Rapid e-Learning tools, blogs, wikis, etc. — the goal is to empower non-programmers to easily create courses.

    There are many paths to take in the field of ID. I just want to make sure that non-techies don’t feel intimidated by the technology — you don’t have to be a total techie just because you’re in the e-Learning field.

  31. Leslie,

    I’m glad to hear that this series is useful to you.

    It sounds like you really transformed that training position and opened people’s eyes to the possibilities. I hadn’t really considered that some of the vagueness in the job descriptions might just be not knowing what they need, but that makes a lot of sense. Some of the job descriptions were just really short, so I figure that was part of it, but I agree that businesses might not realize what they’re missing.

    Excellent observation!

  32. Christy,
    First I wanted to thank you for your latest series of post about ID. Invaluable.
    I’m an instructional designer who took sort of a circuitous route to get where I am. I started as a corporate trainer as a department of one. If any materials were to be designed, I was “it.” The company had no specific technology requirements, other than Office. However, in the time I was in that position (being the geek that I am), I began to use software like Dreamweaver, Fireworks, InDesign, Camtasia Studio, etc. Consequently, when I left that position, the technology expectations for the person who followed me were much different. I think that perhaps many companies who are looking for an instructional designer and don’t specify a technology needs list might simply not know what they’re missing. Their foray into a dedicated training/development team might be to new for them to fully appreciate what the possibilities are.

  33. Wendy, that’s a great succinct summary of my post. You’re obviously in a situation where you have to learn new tools before there’s any documentation (or frankly, before the tools are even finished). I know that you can get ramped up quickly because there’s no way you could survive your job without being able to do so. I admit that last night I was thinking mostly about developing e-learning, but I had forgotten how much technology expertise and adaptability is required for the face-to-face application training jobs like yours.

    Lifelong learning is definitely a necessary skill; the tools do change rapidly and will continue to do so.

    Thanks for sharing!

  34. I absolutely agree with you….
    More skills = more opportunities
    And that being able to learn new tools quickly is a skill in and of itself. Especially considering how rapid our tools change.

    1. Christy…you’re the best! Secondly where do you go for your software training…sounds like much of what you know is self taught but would you recommend any online training services and sites such as or any others? Preferably ones that have a reasonable monthly charge? My job is very demanding and I have to learn as I go so any tips you can share would be helpful,

      1. You’re right that I’m mostly self-taught. I haven’t used, but I’ve heard good things about it, so I have no issues recommending it. For both Captivate and Articulate, there are lots of free tutorials available online from the companies and the community worth reviewing. For example, Lilybiri (Lieve Weymeis) has a fabulous blog with tons of Captivate tips and tricks. If you need a refresher on Microsoft Office, the Microsoft website has decent free courses.

Leave a Reply