Is Instructional Design Obsolete?

Question: I wondered if is there a line, we have crossed, that separates learning solutions from performance support or knowledge management solutions. It seems the technical elements of these complex learning solutions have so little traditional instructional content; we may have left the discipline of instructional design and crossed into another discipline. What are your thoughts?

Answer: Instructional design historically has been, and probably always will be, rooted in the simple concept that someone needs to know or learn something, and you have specific tools at your disposal to communicate the message and you can use your own creativity and skill to construct the actual message however you see fit. For example, the current tools at your disposal may be your voice, a chalk board, a classroom, etc. These tools require that the learner be physically present. Along comes local and international mail. Now you can incorporate asynchronous distance learning techniques. Now comes along the telephone.  You can teach your students in real time and via distance learning. Now comes along video technology. You can record yourself and ship audio/visual presentations around the world. Watch out, here comes the Internet. You can now have students post homework assignments online, chat with you and each other, etc. Now here comes really great do-it-yourself eLearning tools so you can create audio/visual interactive online self-paced training.

What do all of these advances in technology have in common? They all require instructional designers and training developers to construct quality training experiences, but anyone with limited skill can perform even the most rudimentary training exercises. The quality of the experience is based upon how well the instructional designer understands the subject matter, how to communicate the subject matter in an effective and memorable way, etc. In other words, good instructional designers equipped with powerful tools can do amazing things, while poor instructional designers with limited tools can do less amazing things by comparison.

What else do these advances in technology have in common? None of them rendered the instructional designer obsolete, but those who did not embrace and incorporate new technologies simply lost out on jobs/teaching opportunities that required them to do so.

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