The Science of Instructional Design

In today’s fast changing world, with diverse applications of technology and changing cultural dynamics, unique combinations of skills are sought after in the job market. A recent job posting I saw was looking for candidates with an background in education, experience with IT and a strong love and knowledge of coffee!  The skills that you wouldn’t immediately see as relevant  are often the ones that set you apart and make you successful. For example, a psychology major can help you understand the nuances of user experience design and a business education can help you build a sustainable campaign at your NGO. 

As I look at people around me, I see friends with degrees in business, science and history now fiercely pursuing work like pranic healing, gender rights activism, even food photography. These aren’t traditional careers that one dreams about. Yet, one step at a time, experimenting with their creative talents and reflecting deeply on their core values, these individuals have created niches for themselves.  

My path to instructional design was a similar process of experimenting and self discovery. While you may wonder how someone working in R&D can turn into an instructional designer, to me, this was the most natural of transitions. You can read more about my path to instructional design on my about me page(Opens in a new tab). On the face of it, these two areas of work may seem very different, but I  notice a number of skills shared between them,  so much that I believe I acquired my strengths as an instructional designer  from my experience as a researcher.

1. Pay attention to detail.

 These are some of the similarities that I have noticed between the two areas of work:

Paying attention to detail makes the difference between average and exceptional, in both R&D and instructional design. While setting up and running lab experiments, a researcher must  pay close attention to the type and amounts of materials being used, how results are measured and data is analyzed. Overlooked details can make a big difference in the validity of one’s study findings. In instructional design, paying close attention to detail at every step of the ADDIE process, sets the designer up for success. Paying attention to specific client needs, design requirements and delivery strategies ensures an excellent end product and greater customer satisfaction.

Creative problem solving is an essential skill in both R&D and instructional design.  Despite the variety of specialized equipment at one’s disposal in innovation-focused organizations, researchers are constantly faced with the problem of not having  equipment with the right functionality at the right time. To make things work we were always thinking “What is the most effective way of getting the desired result with what we have?”  I find myself asking this same question as an instructional designer. While the edtech space is filled with software and tools to help designers and educators create interactive and engaging learning experiences, not all organizations have the latest and greatest software. Designers must be willing to constantly try new things with what is available and explore creative ways to utilize existing software.  

Whatever you do,  you must give credit where credit is due. While presenting research findings or writing papers, it is extremely important to cite references and peer work. The same holds true for instructional design – sharing your source of inspiration, and giving due credit is what keeps the creative learning cycle going. That said, my customized illustrations in the image above started with this great template from e-learning heroes (Opens in a new tab)!

A strong desire to learn new things keeps you ahead of the game. There is no R&D if you are not willing to learn new things. Sometimes through tireless research all you find is a 100 ways that something does not work. Yet, you learn from what you did,  brainstorm with peers, read more papers and try something different. A similar relentless  search for ideas and constant learning has helped me grow as an instructional designer. Even experienced designers work on picking up new skills everyday.

Collaboration and sharing  is a smarter way to work.  In both R&D and instructional design, a sure way  to work more effectively is to collaborate and share your work and ideas with others. While it can be unnerving to put your work out there, it is the resulting  feedback, expert advice and tips that help you and your peers grow.  Sharing your research findings or your creative work can not only  inspire others but also save someone from re-inventing the wheel and wasting incredible amount of development time.

Another key benefit I notice from being a researcher turned designer, is that I am able to interact with stakeholders with ease. Having been a technical SME myself, I understand their needs and can often speak their language even if it’s in a different industry.

The more instructional design work that I do, this unexpected transfer of skills surprises and empowers me. It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss quote:

dr seuss quote

How did you get into instructional design and what skills have you brought over from previous work experiences that help you in your role? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

2 thoughts on “The Science of Instructional Design

  • Great post. Enjoyed reading more about what you are doing these days. The idea of transferable skills is so important in this new job market, where people are switching careers more often and going after more creative non-traditional jobs. I have semi-transitioned into nonprofit work, after having worked solely in the business world all my life. What you have listed in this post, is exactly what any person must do who is looking to transition careers. What I did was: list what I do in my current line of work, pull out the core skills, determine where those skills apply to the nonprofit sector. I found plenty of overlap.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Swati – you are exactly right about the overlap. It makes me think that we use our natural talents and strengths in any area that we work. As we identify what exactly those talents are and gain a deeper understanding of our purpose, we seek out work that aligns better with where we want to be. We apply those same skills once again and find it a great deal more rewarding. I can definitely see your personality and skill set finding more fulfillment in the non-profit (for impact) sector. Good luck and hope to see you soon so we can talk about our careers and more!

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