Observations on If, When, & How Much Instructional Design

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OK, I know I’ve been a slacker. It’s March 6, and I’m finally getting my thoughts together on the February Learning Circuits Big Question. I’d started this a while back and had hoped to spend more time analyzing and trying to bring the trends together, but it just hasn’t happened. Hopefully my observations will still be beneficial even without a complete analysis.

It Depends

One of the most common responses to the question “Instructional Design: If, When, & How Much” was “it depends.” As Benjamin Hamilton noted, that’s the obvious answer. Several people talked about different types of instructional design for different needs.

  • Cammy Bean used the great image of ID as a spectrum.
  • Mick Leyden differentiated between traditional instructional design and ID consulting
  • Clark Quinn separated typical instructional design from the “enlightened” variety.

I think this balance of multiple variables may be part of why however was one of the top 50 words used in the posts, as shown in the tag cloud.


One word that didn’t show up in the tag cloud that surprised me was analysis. Several people mentioned the value of instructional designers in analyzing situations, even if the ultimate solution doesn’t involve an ID. For example, Don Clark argued that part of our value as IDs is recognizing when a project is simple enough to pass onto a SME. Tony Karrer’s response to Jay Cross discusses how instructional designers break down learning tasks; I think that’s analysis even if he never uses that exact word. Bill Brandon offered several questions to help analyze whether a project actually needs an ID or whether a less costly solution would be “good enough.” A definition of instructional design from Jeffrey Keefer says we “systematically determine learning needs and create learning interventions to meet them,” which to me sounds like analysis is the first half of the definition.

Focus on the Project

In both of the above themes I saw a focus on the needs of a specific project. By “project” here, I’m including the content, audience, and the instructional designers as variables.

  • Looking at the content, Karl Kapp said “The real value of an instructional designer is knowing when to apply what instructional strategies to what type of content.”
  • Tony Karrer described a situation where the audience is already familiar with the content but hasn’t changed their behavior, looking at that angle of a project.
  • Cammy Bean mentions the specific experience of the ID as one of the variables in a project.

Does any of this help clarify your thoughts about March’s question, the scope of our responsibility as learning professionals, or does it just muddy the waters?

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