What makes an instructional designer?

I’ve only been an instructional designer for just up to 6 months now, so I tasked myself with an interesting exercise. I have looked back at my steps into instructional design (more like leaps) to try to determine the steps that led me down this path.

Now I know that I am at early days, but I truly feel as though I’ve found the career I should be doing and I enjoy it immensely! Because I’ve found my calling, makes me wonder what does the journey look like for an instructional design career.

One person’s journey does not mean that this will be the same for all, but I’d like to share some insights that I believe make an instructional designer based on my journey.

1. Instructional designers value and like to learn

 

Could you imagine an instructional designer who doesn’t have a passion for learning? Maybe you can, but I would suspect that they are not producing the most cutting edge learning programs for their learners.

The bottom line, is that instructional designers have an inherent passion for learning. It may be hidden away, behind graduate degrees and Science magazine subscriptions, but it’s there. Whether they have applied that passion to their own lives or others, they will inherently believe that learning will solve the woes of the world.

For example, look back at how you (as an instructional designer) react to seeing someone doing something incredibly silly by accident (that you may have discovered as a viral video on YouTube). If you are like me, your first reaction was to ask, why didn’t they know that was silly? Quickly followed by, why didn’t anyone warn or tell them that was incredibly silly?

Without even realising it I am looking toward the gain of knowledge as a means to improve actions, I am valuing learning.

Valuing learning is not enough to have a passion, though. Instructional designers, dare I say it, like to learn as well. They want to learn, they like to speak to interesting people and hear interesting stories. They like to get lost in Wikipedia articles, after initially looking up the root words of ‘sandwich.’ They may even read the ingredients lists in popular products, just to see if they recognise what it contains (not that I’ve done that).

If you merge a value for, and a positive feeling towards, learning you get a passionate instructional designer.

2. Instructional designers are practiced learners

Using our passion for learning, it’s likely that instructional designers will also be practiced learners.

I don’t mean that they have copious degrees and have been in-and-out of higher education based environments. But that they are learners.

They like to ask more questions, dig deeper into subjects, and find out how things tick. All of these actions can take place in higher education and in ‘real-life.’ Take for example, the digression through Wikipedia off of the root words for ‘sandwich.’

Because instructional designers enjoy it, they also have invariably practiced the skills in a multitude of settings for a multitude of reasons (for fun and to fix the broken sink included).

This practice is what leads to the next insight.

3. Instructional designers understand how they learn productively

Passion and practice will have created efficient and productive learners.

Instructional designers know how to learn. They know all of the tips and tricks on how to train the mind to remember, because they will have trained their own.

Just because you have a passion for something doesn’t mean that you are naturally good at it. But it is likely to mean that you will have found ways to ‘make it work.’

They will have looked up all of the best methods for learning and retaining information, adjusted their note taking skills and found which way works for them. They are also likely to have observed others extensively, to see how those people easily learned, or asked for advice. They learned how to learn.

4. Instructional designers can apply their self-knowledge on learning to other types of learners

Passion does not seem to stay quiet. The passion for learning will have leaked out to others. Instructional designers will have helped others learn at some point in their life.

For me, this was at every opportunity, even when people at a party don’t want to know the reasons behind the spread of Ebola (again, not that I’ve actually done that).

Instructional designers would have become mentors to their colleagues, tutors to their fellow students and even the fact spouting friend at a party.

More than just presenting further information, they will have helped with further learning techniques. Like sharing their favourite mnemonic device for remembering the Noble Gases (this one I definitely did not do, I swear!).

Most importantly, they can implement different learning techniques for others. They will even want to explore new methods of learning for those who may not be learning well.

5. Instructional designers will not stop learning

If you haven’t gathered already, instructional designers are learners. A career where learning happens as a nature of the job will not stop an instructional designer from learning or spreading learning to others.

They will continue to learn daily, they will find ways to research and apply new learning to the tasks they complete. Innovation will result because of their passion for learning. Don’t try to stop them.

 

As I said before, these are not all-inclusive, my insights are based on my journey. The insights about myself that I must have hidden (or not known about) before becoming an instructional designer.

After meeting a few instructional designers, and reading other blogs, I suspect that these also may ring true with more instructional designers than just me.

Let me know what you think makes an instructional designer!

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