Best Practice

So, what is Instructional Design?

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”

Rabindranath Tagore


In June 2015, the UCC Instructional Design team was established, bringing together three Learning Technologists and changing their job titles to IDs.


Technology offers us the possibility to broaden access to education and allow students to explore subjects in ways not previously possible. But technology is merely the means to an end and academic staff are not generally technologists. The role of the Instructional Designer in UCC is to help bridge that gap and open up possibilities for academic staff.

One of the challenges for academic staff in developing online courses is that of understanding the transformation process required. It isn’t as simple as putting existing face-to-face course materials through a technical process. There needs to be discussions around content appropriateness, duration, learning outcomes and expectations of both teaching staff and students. Technology is the means by which we can enable the learning to happen online but should not drive these discussions.

Ultimately, what Instructional Design is about is using a design approach to construct learning scenarios and content that reflects learner needs.

The job title ‘learning technologist’ focused too much on the technical aspect of what we are trying to achieve and not enough on the pedagogical discussions we would like to see happen. Outside of higher education, it is unusual to hear of this job title.

Ireland has been to the forefront of the elearning industry since the late 1990s and in those companies, the role under discussion here is covered by the job title ‘Instructional Designer’. This is true in companies such as Skillsoft (formerly Thirdforce, Electric Paper, Smartforce, Element K, Netg AV Edge) and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Learning Technology (formerly Riverdeep). The title of Instructional Designer has been long established in the wider training sector in the United States.

Indeed, within third level in Ireland, some institutes have also started using the title Instructional Designer to describe what their online learning development staff do.

It is also useful to use the title of Instructional Designer to differentiate very clearly between the functions provided by OVPTL and those provided by the Learning Technologies Unit within IT Services. The LTU services are largely about technical support.

It should be noted that the term ‘Learning Designer’ might also be used interchangeably to describe the role of the Instructional Designer in UCC.


What do IDs do?

Instructional Designers talk to Academic colleagues and provide advice on different ways of using technology to enable learning. In order to offer advice, IDs look at course and module learning outcomes, consider the target audience, and find out about digital skills of the academic staff involved. Ultimately, the ID team want to work with academic staff to design and develop sustainable online learning content. This means supporting academic staff to develop the skills to be able to manage content and associated online activities such as discussion boards.

So in a nutshell, IDs in UCC are educationalists, innovators, problem solvers, learning advocates, advisors, technologists, authors, trainers and guides.


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