The instructional design profession—models, theories, tools, technologies, and practitioners—has been overtaken by a virtual tsunami of change over the past decade. And not a year goes by without a renewed discussion about the inevitable “death” of instructional design.

Our newest research report—Is Instructional Design a Dying Art? Renewing the Conversation—discusses the future of instructional design (ID) and the evolving role of instructional designers. We believe that this conversation is essential for the Guild because of its continuing impact on our industry, not to mention that a significant segment of our global member community works in this profession.

We asked 13 instructional design thought leaders to provide us with their practical and forward-looking insights. Reaching out to this constituency was important because connection with thought leaders—as well as dialogue with the practitioner community—is one of the Guild’s primary research goals. We not only wanted to hear from the best and brightest ID practitioners, but also from those in academia who currently write, speak, and teach about the evolution of instructional design.

In this research report, you will learn:

  • Why we are seeking to reinvigorate discussions about the “death” of instructional design
  • How this research contributes to the Guild’s overall efforts to examine insights from industry thought leaders, academics, and practitioners from our global Guild community
  • About the important insights and advice that ID thought leaders provided in response to key questions
  • Most importantly, how you can take action on the insights, advice, and guidance that these thought leaders offered

Also included in the report are extensive resources, from the Guild and others, that provide a historical perspective on this topic as well as essential best practices for instructional designers.

The learning leaders who contributed their insights to this report are Julie Dirksen, Matt Dunleavy, Diane Elkins, Joe Ganci, Karl Kapp, Connie Malamed, Tracy Parish, Clark Quinn, Marc Rosenberg, Shawn Rosler, Kevin Thorn, Megan Torrance, and Chad Udell.

Following are excerpts of key takeaways from their responses to our questions. Download the report to read the full responses.

How is the instructional design profession evolving?

Connie Malamed: This is an exciting and unpredictable time to be a part of the instructional design profession. Now that the modern workforce has a wealth of information at its fingertips, instructional design paradigms are changing. As a result, instructional design is becoming less prescribed and more fluid as we try to meet the needs of the 21st-century worker.

Tracy Parish: I believe we have been, as a whole, slow in our collective approach to providing modern instructional design solutions. … I do not think we have been necessarily providing the best solutions or access that our learners and clients need or even want. Many IDs who are producing groundbreaking designs and others are still stuck on the “bums in seats mean learning” and “click the Next button to advance” types of courses. Every month, it seems, there are new, amazing, and interesting ways to provide learning solutions.

I see the need for the profession to start moving much faster at learning, mastering, and adapting [new learning] tools, apps, and trends so that we can use them effectively and in creative ways to engage our learners more deeply.

How are instructional design skills changing?

Parish: The global technology landscape is evolving faster than ever; and within that environment, as always, trends come and go. Instructional designers need to keep very aware of these trends and [anticipate] which may last and which will fade quickly.

Marc Rosenberg: While design skills will remain important, future practitioners will need more skills in areas including, but not limited to, content curation, knowledge management, performance support, testing and measurement, social networking, talent management, information science, project and program management, analytics, and business case development. It may not be necessary for every instructional designer to have all of these skills (and more). Rather, just to assure that those skills are manifest in the project team and/or support services staff.

What are the pain points impacting today’s instructional designers?

Megan Torrance: Instructional designers face many of the same challenges that everyone else in the organization does: Do more, faster, better, with less time and fewer resources, while everything is changing. If you asked [whether ID is a dying art] at any other point in history, I think you’d get the same answer. This stresses us out and drains creativity.

Chad Udell: First, I sense a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt coming from a wide swath of the ID community, unfortunately. People have shifted in how, when, and why they access information to do their jobs better, more safely, and more productively. The move to the always-on, ubiquitously connected workforce has tilted the power equation firmly in favor of the learner, and the ID community is largely still reeling in a Who Moved My Cheese? type of fashion.

Second, I see tired old refrains like “We’ve always done it this way,” or “We’re not allowed to use that type of process or tool,” or “I’m just not that good with technology to do something more advanced.” These tropes must be removed from your vocabulary if you are to remain relevant. Reexamine processes and rationales, find alternate paths to success, and … familiarize yourself or hire trusted team members to guide your organization through this transition.

Will current challenges ultimately result in the “death” of instructional design?

Joe Ganci: Instructional design is no longer what it once was, but neither is the English language. We don’t declare English to be a dead language. In fact, it has evolved, it has expanded, and it is more important than ever. So it is with instructional design. Heaven forbid that instructional design be dismissed as no longer needed. Considering how bad so much of the eLearning in the world is today, it is needed more than ever.

Having to evolve does not mean that instructional design is dying, unless you specifically mean the old ways of delivering lessons to learners. Even then, the old ways still work in many cases. Instructional design, in other words, is not dying; it is evolving, it is expanding, and it is encompassing new technologies that bring exciting new possibilities to what [instructional designers] can do for learners.

Staying ahead of the curve

We concluded this research report by asking each of our thought leaders to provide practical suggestions for how practitioners can stay ahead of the curve in the rapidly evolving field of instructional design. Download and read the report to get their essential advice and insights.