Learning and development professionals face a harder task than most people realize.
Their mission is not simply to present information. The mission is to capture learner attention, rapture, and retention—all while creating a positive brand experience in the process.
Information that’s presented carelessly may get the job done, but it does little for effective learning. Instead, educational experiences must be structured, strategic, and well thought out, with the learner’s point of view considered at all times.
This is where instructional design comes in. In this article, we explore what instructional design is, one of the most popular instructional design models, and the unique challenges that learning and development professionals face in this ever-evolving field.
What is instructional design?
At a foundational level, instructional design is the creation, development, and implementation of high-quality learning experiences. While teaching is focused on instruction and interaction between mentors and students, instructional design is about curated experiences that help people learn. By using what we know about how people retain knowledge and acquire skills, instructional designers can create effective strategies for real education and growth.
Building an engaging curriculum is a tall order, especially because each learning style is so different. Poorly designed learning experiences fail because they cannot hold attention or engage learners properly. Well-constructed learning experiences guide students, helping them stay goal-orientated and focused.
What is the ADDIE model?
A positive learning experience does not happen by accident. Instead, learning and development professionals must lay out a comprehensive plan focused on the learner before a student ever sets foot in a learning environment. While the world of instructional design integrates many different strategies and ways of thinking, the ADDIE Model is often vital for success.
This ADDIE Model has five steps: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. This strategy provides a useful formula for effective independent or group learning.
During Analysis, instructional designers focus on target students, using their background to shape the structure of the course.
During Design, instructional designers lay out objectives and actionable goals. Good instructional design has specific and measurable milestones in mind, acting as guiding stars throughout the process.
After a learning plan is in place, the following step is Development. In this stage, instructional designers write and design content (or work with subject matter experts to do so). The content should be designed with the learner at the forefront so it’s clear, engaging, and memorable.
Once the course is developed, it needs to be Implemented. The learning experiences should be accessible to the right audience, with instructors caught up to speed and prepared. Regardless of the quality of educational content, it suffers if presented in the wrong way.
The final stage of the ADDIE model is Evaluation. Instructional design should always be data-driven, guided by feedback and results. No educational strategy is perfect for everyone, so training content always benefits from honest evaluation. This kind of examination and feedback is an important part of improving instructional designs for the future.
Changes in Instructional Design
As data and research improves and expands, best practices for instructional design have shifted over time—particularly in the past five years.
The Analysis stage of the ADDIE Model, for example, should never be considered set in stone. The understanding of individual learning styles and psychology keep evolving. Additionally, surveys and test results can be beneficial tools in learning and development for fine-tuning a curriculum. Then, it is necessary to iterate as learner needs evolve.
Especially as technology advances and more people study and learn remotely or on their own, instructional designers are more important than ever. Learners have developed expectations and standards for engaging online education. Learning and development content is often a first touchpoint with a brand or employer, reflecting its quality and professionalism to trainees.
Additionally, many teachers are experts on their subject but may lack proficiency in self-guided or remote learning. As instructional design advances, educators have had to change alongside it. We’ve seen growing collaboration between experts and designers as they seek creative solutions for today’s educational needs.
But there are still many challenges for instructional designers to overcome.
Top 10 Challenges Faced by Learning and Development Professionals
Below are 10 common challenges for instructional designers.
- Lack of preparation time
Instructional design teams need time to plan and create engaging courses. If the Analysis phase is sped up or skipped over, learning experiences will be based on the most basic strategies and methods. Instead of considering a specific audience, designers will have to cast a wide net. Unfortunately, this lack of focus often leads to bland educational content and frustrated learners.
- Restrictive budgets
Creating effective learning experiences requires time and money. Tight budgets can lead to less preparation and shortened schedules. A good instructional design team should plan carefully and avoid wasting resources or setting up unrealistic expectations.
- Changing technology
As online learning advances, instructional designers have more tools than ever at their fingertips. However, this can also be a challenge. Training content should be consistently updated and streamlined to take advantage of new technology, avoiding becoming outdated or superfluous.
- Poor personalization
People learn and reinforce skills in many different ways, especially when they come from different backgrounds and generations. Instructional designers must thoroughly research and understand their intended audience. Using adaptive feedback and interactive learning tools, courses no longer have to be one-size-fits-all.
- Rigid lesson plans
The time for rigid, timed-out lesson plans is coming to an end. Especially as remote work and learning become more integrated into daily life, education and training need to be flexible and adjustable. Learning experiences should facilitate learning at different paces, allowing students to find the best rhythm for their own growth. This requires a flexible and creative design, pushing learning and development teams to think outside the box.
- Lack of focus
Efficient instructional design pushes for goal-orientated learning strategies. Instead of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, modern learning experiences need to make clarity a top priority. Overloading students with information just for information’s sake can move the focus away from the actual goals of the experience. It is not always easy to find clarity in a complicated subject. Instructional designers must research and fully understand their topics, identifying which key points must remain. Learning experiences, however, are more effective when they are clear and concise.
- Learner motivation
With busy lives and distractions ever present, modern learners are fighting an uphill battle to stay motivated. Instructional designers should keep this in mind, using immersive tools to keep informational content fresh and engaging. Through media integration, personalized content, and smart design decisions, inventive learning experiences can help students of all ages and backgrounds stay motivated and focused.
- Traditional expertise
Learning and development professionals often need to bridge the gap between subject matter experts and learners. Expertise does not guarantee the ability to communicate and train. This is where trained instructional designers can step in, helping experts hone their message and find the best way to translate their knowledge to learners.
- Constant improvement
Since the final step in the ADDIE Model is Evaluation, it is inherently important for learning and development professionals to be able to track and refine their strategies. Online learning offers much better tools for gaining insight than old-school physical surveys. By creating a feedback loop of testing and improving learning experiences and results, instructional designers can continue to improve and expand their content.
One of the biggest challenges for instructional designers is also a huge potential benefit. Online learning has opened up accessibility to countless students since there are no limitations of physical supplies or teachers. However, it can also be overwhelming to provide limitless access and tailor content for unlimited learners. Balancing what is best for the project, alongside accessibility for as many learners as necessary, can be a tough balance to strike.
Resources for Overcoming These Hurdles
Fortunately, with today’s high-tech tools, there are ways to minimize the impact of these hurdles. We have compiled a list of resources that we’ve written that may help.
- How to Create the Perfect eLearning Voiceover
- Learning and Development for the Modern Organization
- Webinar Replay: eLearning Instructional Design Toolkit with Paul Wilson
- The Ultimate Guide to Voice Narration in eLearning
- Adobe eLearning World Conference: Keep Your Creative Motivation High
- Instructional Design Tips for Remote Training Development
The Future of Instructional Design
Learning and development programs are constantly working to keep up with advancements in both technology and learning styles.
For example, emerging technology, like human-sounding text-to-speech, offers learning and development teams a way to create content more efficiently and cost-effectively with engaging voiceovers. Whereas online learning promises to become ever-more integral to training content and learning formats across both the educational, collegiate, and corporate landscapes.
Learning and development offers massive benefits for people across all sectors, from training employees, providing new skillsets to job seekers, or helping students study remotely.
Through thoughtful instructional design, curated learning experiences can open up opportunities for people around the world to learn, engage, and retain content better than ever before.