What is an Instructional Designer and What Role Do They Play in Elearning Development?

Designing Digitally


Designers come in all shapes and sizes, with graphic and web designers as the most well-known. Many people have never heard of an instructional designer (ID), which plays a huge role in eLearning development. So, what is an ID exactly?

An instructional designer is a lot more involved in the creation process than other designers might be. An instructional designer's role spans planning and analyzing, visual designing, structuring, implementing and evaluating eLearning content. An ID's ultimate goal is to deliver a solid learning experience based on learner needs and desired learning objectives.

Comparable with other forms of design, instructional design has its origins in psychology, specifically the cognitive and behavioral branches. The U.S. military was actually the first institution to use instructional design as a means for an all-encompassing training method. Instructional designers were the people who would view an issue from all possible angles. They needed to see the inner workings of something, how these connect to outside influences, and how to best explain a concept in context. eLearning instructional designers are the backbone of a successful employee training program.

So, What Exactly Does an ID Do?

In today's eLearning development context, instructional designers are indispensable. ID's are highly knowledgeable and possess a variety of skills. They need to ask the right questions, understand learner needs, and align the training objectives with those of the business. Also known as eLearning designers, these creative professionals can also become SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). If you can find an ID that is also an SME, you've hit the jackpot. Otherwise, you'll need to pair your instructional designer with a subject matter expert to create the ideal employee training course.

According to the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction, instructional designers are in charge of, but not limited to: 

Effective visual, oral, and written communication

  • Finding instructional design applications for prevailing theories and research results

  • Continuing their own education in the instructional design field

  • Using their research skills for improving a design project

  • Being aware of ethical and legal design implications

  • Planning and analyzing a training course; this includes: initial employee assessment and determining their learning needs, designing the curriculum, determining what techniques are needed for implementing a specific content plan, and choosing the right technology for learning delivery

  • Customize the design and development plan based on each project's individual requirements

  • In charge of creating, selecting or adapting the learning model, as well as the techniques for delivering the content

  • Developing, choosing, or adapting didactic materials

  • Understanding individual and team-based design and delivering the appropriate solutions

  • Evaluating the training method's efficiency and making improvements

  • Managing the instructional design project

  • Helping to develop a collaborative workflow amongst design team members

  • Possessing knowledgeable business skills

  • LMS (Learning Management System) design capabilities

The Instructional Designer's Role

The ID's role in creating and developing a training program very much depends on your company and employee needs. If you need a designer who can actively manage the project, you'll need to make sure the person or company you hire for this role is competent in team management and has the right business and leadership skills.

While SME's focus solely on their area of expertise, instructional designers are a new and improved version of Jack-of-all-trades. They need to be able to acquire skills and knowledge faster than your average designer, see the intrinsic technical and soft-skill employee issues, as well as have the capacity to offer multiple solutions from various angles.

eLearning Advancement Agents

A great instructional designer is passionate about their domain and will push for innovation. They'll take what you have and transform it into an engaging, motivational, goal-oriented, and result-driven employee training strategy. They'll follow the newest trends and will know what learning solutions to recommend based on your budget, learner needs, and company goals.

A top ID is someone who can see the big picture and foresee eLearning trends. He or she will be wearing many hats:

Creating optimal learning environments

  • Connecting learners through social media

  • Enabling new technologies and theories to permeate the eLearning world

  • Providing consultancy for teaching professionals

With rapid advancements in technology comes the solidification of the ID's crucial role in the creation and implementation of training strategies, products, and programs. Self-titled 'learning architects', these designers will play a key part in your company's growth and employees' development.

At Designing Digitally, we have the top ID talent. With our expertise and the passion to better learning, we create training solutions that will truly make a difference. Get in touch with our team today to learn more about our approaches to custom online training and how our team can assist you!