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The Changing Role of the Instructional Designer

by Tracy Bissette and Ian Huckabee on April 28, 2011

While the performance benefits of corporate training are well understood by most companies, economic conditions have forced many to look for quicker and less expensive training solutions. The bad news has been that in this process, the instructional quality of the training is often sacrificed. The good news is it doesn’t have to be.

Budgets may be getting tighter, but the advent and growing adoption of social tools is transforming the economics, and quality, of knowledge transfer within a company. Cloud-based training systems like Brainshark and Mindshare provide platforms for quickly implemented solutions that can be created entirely in-house by the expert for a fraction of the cost. Many companies are moving towards these types of tools to put training in the hands of subject matter experts.

Although learner expectations for high production value have lowered, companies should recognize that poorly designed and delivered training does not change behavior. And no training is worth creating if it doesn’t meet the intended outcomes. Subject matter experts are not necessarily good instructional designers.

Jon Matejcek, in a recent blog post, identifies the trends “pointing to the disappearance (or at least the dramatic shrinkage), of the traditional corporate training team” and suggests ways for learning professionals to secure their futures. His ideas include 1) understand your company’s business, 2) don’t become too aligned with any one single technology and 3) learn about social learning.

One of our clients recently used Brainshark to deliver leadership training. The learners enjoyed the shorter format, which was delivered by experts. But the L&D professionals realized that the bulleted text could be improved upon. So WeejeeLearning was brought in to work with subject matter experts in developing 30 micro-modules (25 to be delivered on Brainshark) on cross-cultural communications and customer service. Our flexible use of tools and our knowledge of the client’s industry allowed us to quickly jump in.

Our process is to interview SMEs about their customer service experiences and write a narration script that delivers this knowledge in an effective way. And instead of bulleted text on screen, we’ve developed PowerPoint slides with custom visuals and minimal text.

Each presentation is shorter than four minutes and consists of one-two minutes of professional voiceover talent interspersed with expert voices. We’re applying our understanding of social learning to engage the learners in the topics. We’ll be seeking relevant examples from employees prior to developing each topic and rewarding them for submissions. We’re also building in commenting tools and blogs around each topic so that learners can share their own experiences and learn from others. Subtitles in six different languages will be added for global understanding.

The role of the instructional designer is changing. But a learner’s needs are not. As companies transition into this next age of social learning, instructional designers will see opportunities to train the trainer by understanding the new tools and technologies and by keeping training on track.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Eboni DuBose April 28, 2011 at 9:52 am

Great Article! I’m in graduate school at Boise State’s Instructional and Performance Technology and just turned 30 (Millenial). I definitely think we as instructional designers (and L & D departments) have to listen to our learners, who ultimately impact performance and business results.

1) Millenials will make up 50% of the workforce in the next 5 years ( SOURCE:
2) Training Magazine estimates that $53 billion was spent on training in a 2010 Report. (SOURCE :
3 ) If we look at Gilbert BEM knowledge and skills (formal training) is only needed 11% of the time when performance problems are encountered. Yet, training makes up 90% of L & D’s budget (SOURCE: Marc Rosenberg, recent ISPI 2011 conference )

Web 2.0 has given L & D departments the opportunities to lower cost, extend learning, impact performance and productivity = business results, and ultimately sets the stage for on demand learning. This lowered cost could be put into other avenues such as converting from LMSs from a “course-centric” point of view to a ” knowledge-centric” point of view. Where employees would have access to knowledge (wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and other Web 2.0 technologies) when and where they needed it. As Tony Driscoll put it, we either “adapt or die” ( SOURCE: ASTD). It is an exciting time indeed!!


John Delano February 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Partnering subject matter experts (SME) with internal instructional designers (ID) (or third party resources) is an important step. In addition to “improving the bulleted text” and ID can learn from a talented SME as to whether the training will meet the real needs of the target audience.

We often find that the SME appreciates the ID’s creativity while the ID appreciates the “real life” feedback on what works and doesn’t with the target audience.

Good post Tracy and Ian. Thanks for sharing.


cherry March 13, 2012 at 11:29 am

Like this article!

Considering the information security guidelines of a company, it would be so wonderful if IDs will always have the freedom to use any technology or tool without being frowned upon by the IT department.


Lavada September 5, 2014 at 9:16 am

Very descriptive post, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part


Ian Huckabee October 14, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Indeed! Please stay tuned!


Social media Letchworth September 6, 2014 at 5:34 pm

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Reply October 7, 2014 at 4:46 am

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Elizbeth October 13, 2014 at 4:52 pm

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m88 January 17, 2015 at 4:58 am

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