Exploring the World of Instructional Design

Exploring the World of Instructional Design

February 21, 2001
Forum organized by Lisa Carlson
Notes By Rachel Markowitz

Often when Lisa Carlson mentions "instructional design" to her editor friends, they respond with blank stares. It isn't until the BAEF member explains that instructional design is just a fancy term for developing and writing courses that she gets nods of recognition.

And now even more of Lisa's colleagues are hip to the phrase—and its implications for writers and editors—thanks to the panel discussion she led on current trends and resources in the field.

The most exciting aspect of instructional design is its integral role in e-learning (internet-based education), a growing branch of Web-based services. As more and more companies turn to e-learning as a timesaving and cost-effective way to train their employees, instructional designers will be called upon to design, write, and edit course materials.

Carlson, an editor, writer, and instructional designer, was joined on the panel by several of her colleagues at DigitalThink, a leading e-learning company: Tamara Nicoloff, an instructional designer and technical writer; Jessy Keiser, an organizational performance consultant; Judy Phegan, an instructional designer; and Nicole Sy, a Web designer (and the only noneditor on the panel).

How does a mild-mannered writer and editor become a cutting-edge instructional designer? Carlson answered the ad for a "copy editor" DigitalThink had posted on craigslist—and got the job. While she had no experience designing courses, her skills as an editor made her a prime candidate for the job and continue to support her in her work. These skills include excellence in grammar, spelling, and punctuation; sensitivity to language; attention to detail; an ability to break down complex technical terms into something palatable for the masses; adaptability; an understanding of the power of graphics; and a good handle on publishing tools and software. Add to the list an ounce or two of creativity—educating is, after all, about engaging people—and you're ready to apply for that job as an "ID."

Nicoloff used one of her former projects to illustrate the instructional design process. The client was a software company whose customers had complained about not being able to get through to tech support. The goal was to shorten call time so all customers could be served.

Nicoloff applied the five steps of instructional systems design to her task: analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. She began by analyzing the problem (tech support personnel spending too long on each call) and devising a solution (a filing system to expedite answer-searching). Next, she designed a course for teaching personnel how to use the filing system. The course was then developed—in this case, sculpted into a Web-based tutorial (an instructor-led class and a CD-ROM are other potential options). The next step was implementation, where Nicoloff drafted a "storybook" for the course. Then the course was evaluated by the client. Completing all five steps meant Nicoloff could then write (and edit) the content of the course.

Keiser stressed the importance of knowing the goals of the client and being clear on who the audience is. "It doesn't matter if your course is beautifully designed," she said. "Clients want results."

But a good-looking course can't hurt. Web designer Sy described her job as "taking content and making it zing." Sy briefed attendees on Web graphics techniques such as mouseovers, flip books, and animations—all designed to "entice the learner."

You've gone from glaze-eyed to pie-eyed. How to get a job in instructional design? Panelists recommended visiting the Web site of an e-learning company like DigitalThink; picking up a copy of an industry magazine such as Inside Training; and doing an Internet search using the keywords "e-learning" and "online training."



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