What Does An Instructional Designer Do?


When I tell people that my job title is Instructional Designer (ID), I am often met with a blank stare and the following question: “What’s that?”. I don’t blame people for not knowing what an Instructional Designer does because there was a time in the not-so-distant past when I would’ve had the same reaction. I’ve since come to learn that what IDs do is critical to ensuring organizations have a properly trained workforce. Instructional design is a great field to have a career in; globalization and evolving technologies have created an ongoing need for well-designed and effective training materials.

Read on to find out what the duties of a typical Instructional Designer include.

Analyze and Assess Training Needs

One of the key tasks that an ID will carry out is a training needs analysis. This is when an ID gets a clear understanding of what training is needed, why it’s needed, and what the business goals are.

The ID also assesses the training audience, to determine their background and demographics, in order to develop training that is audience appropriate.

In addition to this, the ID will interview stakeholders, employees, and managers to gather source content. The ID might also review existing training materials, create a project plan, and develop the learning objectives.

Work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

The ID does not necessarily have any knowledge or expertise in the subject that learners need to be trained on. IDs are experts in training design… they can’t be experts in everything!

The job of being the expert actually belongs to the appropriately titled Subject Matter Expert (SME). The SME is an expert in his or her job or domain; the ID works with the SME to extract the knowledge and information that needs to be imparted onto others.

Working with SMEs usually involves meetings where the SME explains a process or demonstrates how a task is done accurately. The ID will record this information and include it in the training. Read More: 20 Helpful Tips for Working with Subject Matter Experts)

Develop Training Materials

Instructional designers apply ID methodologies such as the ADDIE model and Adult Learning Principles, to create instructionally sound training materials. Whether it be a PowerPoint presentation, a one page job-aid document, or a highly interactive e-learning module, instructional designers often are the ones to not only design but also develop and create the final training materials.

Implement Evaluation Strategies

One of the most important aspects of the instructional designers job is evaluating the effectiveness of training. An organization cannot measure the Return on Investment (ROI) of training without proper evaluation techniques that provide insights into what performance changes and metrics have changed.

Instructional designers use principles such as Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation and Keller’s ARCS Model to measure training effectiveness. Common methods of evaluation used by instructional designers include feedback forms, using metrics and KPIs to measure change, and using pre- and post-training evaluations.

These are just some of the tasks that IDs carry out as a part of their job. Depending on the project and their skill-set, they may do more or less of the things identified here.


3 thoughts on “What Does An Instructional Designer Do?

  1. Bob Byrne says:

    Hey Nicole – thanks for this succinct summary of the ID role. I’ve sent it to my parents so that they can quit asking me 😉

    I come from the public post-secondary world, specifically online learning, and in my experience the “development” tasks are split between the ID and various technical staff (web designer, multimedia developer, graphic artist, technical writer). To be effective, the ID must be very familiar with the technologies that are used to create the learning environment, so that they can converse fluently with technical staff. Their role as “project manager” is emphasized because of the number of people they are dealing with and the (usually) large scope of their projects (I realize that in the private world it’s often necessary for the ID to be the master of all tasks).

    In case any of your readers are interested, Athabasca University has released a free eBook (.pdf format) with a great chapter on developing online learning: http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120146


    • @nicole_legault says:

      Thanks for the great points Bob! You’re right that often (usually??) the development is split amongst different roles…. I guess I was just thinking of myself (so selfish!) and the role I do… which is all emcompassing, because, as you mentioned, IDs who work for small companies tend to do all the tasks.

      Also, another really good point you make is the one about the ID being familiar with the technologies used… So true. This definitely helps the ID understand the degree of effort involved, time, complexity… etc, etc, when they won’t be the ones doing the development.

      Thanks for commenting, glad you enjoyed it!

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