Victoria Harbour, BC

On Sunday, I attended a very interesting meeting of about 50 instructional designers (what is a good collective noun for instructional designers?) from across British Columbia, at Camosun College, Victoria. This was a pre-conference workshop before the Educational Technology Users Group of BC’s Spring Workshop (more on that in another post). The group discussed several questions, and I’ve pulled together what I heard:

1: Is there a future for instructional designers? (Facilitated by Paul Stacey, BCcampus). This was prompted by the statement that if we properly trained instructors in post-secondary education, would we still need instructional designers? The main feeling in the group was yes, we will continue to need instructional designers, because all instructors are NOT going to be properly trained (not enough time, too expensive, no rewards for taking time to be trained), the demands of technology and teaching are increasing, and instructional designers have different skill sets from instructors (even when trained to teach): instructors have a focus more on content transmission rather than skills development, for instance.

HOWEVER: if we want instructors to be more like facilitators than deliverers of content, they will need to be trained and this may undermine the added value that instructional designers currently bring to the task. I also wondered what others outside the profession might have said to this, particularly academic administrators and faculty.

There was also some discussion about what was needed to get into the profession. Even people with academic qualifications in ID find it difficult to get jobs without experience. There was strong agreement that it was important for instructional designers to have both classroom experience and experience of teaching online as well as academic qualifications in instructional design. The need for a proper career structure was also emphasised, with opportunities in learning technology units for ‘apprentice’ instructional designers working with more experienced instructional designers. This required HR departments in universities and colleges in many institutions to create new categories of jobs and career and promotion opportunities.

There was also some discussion of demand, with a concern that there were fewer jobs going in the public education system. This view was challenged though. With a move to more online and hybrid courses and the development of learning technology units, there was in fact an actual scarcity of experienced, qualified instructional designers, at least in Canada, although this did not always convert into actual positions. Training opportunities for instructional designers were also limited, especially in central Canada.

2. Goodbye to ADDIE? This topic (facilitated by Roger Powley) looked at the attack on instructional systems design (ISD) by Gordon and Zemke (2001), who have argued that the instructional systems design model is a fake and doesn’t work, in that no-one uses it, and it is based on false or no science.

There was a lot of agreement that the detailed implementation of the ISD model doesn’t work, especially for constructivist or learner-centered teaching, and web 2.0 tools did not fit easily with an ISD model, but questions were raised about what one would use instead. Several people pointed out that the ADDIE or ISD framework was useful, because it forced one to look at teaching and learning from a systems perspective, and that approach was still important and valuable, although slavish adherence to all the detailed steps was probably futile. Nevertheless at the end, there was a general feeling that the issues raised by Gordon and Zemke were not being adequately addressed by the profession.

3. Learning theory and instructional design. Lisa Read facilitated discussions on the question: does instructional design use a particular learning theory? And does ID take account sufficiently of different learning modalities or learning styles? This topic resulted in some very heated discussions, especially around research into learning styles and differences between media.

There was some agreement that different learning theories can all be useful depending on context, especially the ‘state’ of individual learners and the nature of the subject matter. It was considered part of an instructional designer’s skills to be able to identify the most appropriate approaches to learning within different contexts, and not to be dogmatic about any single theoretical approach. There was some discussion about whether we needed new learning theories (such as connectivism) to account for social networking and other recent developments in media, but there was some skepticism about whether theories such as connectivism would fit easily with an instructional design approach.

4. Building engaging activities. There were two groups discussing this, one for post-secondary and one for k-12. I participated only in the k-12 group, facilitated by Maryjanne Yusyp. It was suggested that to build engaging activities, you needed to know your audience and what ‘fired them up.’ Some argued that social learning, and in particular listening to other people’s arguments and how they fitted with one’s own, was important for engagement. However, it was also pointed out that some students were not interested in social learning. They just wanted to know what to do and get the job done as quickly as possible. Finding ways to engage this kind of student was particularly challenging, especially in an online environment.

Building in success was considered important, but this was made unnecessarily difficult by the constraints of the ‘system’. School curricular are too restrictive and cut off student engagement, and in fact standardized curricula and testing inhibit the building of skills, such as risk taking, exploration and personal engagement in learning so needed in today’s society. The comment was made that the distance learning approach in BC was particularly restrictive, not allowing teachers or students flexibility in subject exploration.

What is NOT being looked at instructional design.

In summarizing the discussion, I also looked at some of things that are not being done very well (or at all) in instructional design. The glaring gap for me was theory or practice or research to determine the appropriate use of face-to-face and online activities in hybrid or blended modes. What’s best done online and what’s best done on campus, when you can do both, but within limited time? In particular, how do we make best use of a limited campus experience? What are the factors or conditions we need to take into account when making such decisions?

Another gap was the design implications of open educational resources. Surpirisngly, this was not discussed much at this workshop, yet there are major issues about how best to create and use OERs.

Although we don’t have good designs or models yet for the use of web 2.0 or hybrid learning, we do have theories of learning. Why are we not applying theory more rigorously to these areas and coming up with new models based on theory that can be tested? (Yes, I’m asking for more innovation in teaching again – and perhaps new theory as well!)


Would you believe that this all happened within three hours and I went to only one quarter of the discussion groups? What struck me was how intense this community of practice was. There was total engagement and excitement during the whole three hours. The room was buzzing and the noise of discussion, laughter and argument was deafening.

Instructional designers live in a weird no-man’s land between faculty, students and administrators. Their role is not well understood outside their profession, (and sometimes not even within it, as it became clear on Sunday!), yet they are, in my view, the essential component that ensures quality in the use of e-learning. Although I am not an instructional designer by training (although I have practiced it often!) I have the greatest respect for their work, and it was a really enjoyable afternoon for me, as well as for them.

If any of you who were there would like to add to or correct comments made here, please do – indeed, I’d like to hear from anyone who has views on these topics.


  1. Nice summary Tony.

    I’m curious … shouldn’t ISD/ADDIE (and thus the ‘art’ of instructional design teaching) be updated itself to include the elements of formal, informal and social learning?

    I can’t see how a formal class or eLearning module can be developed by ID’s these days without taking into consideration the informal, social (ok … blended) learning repercussions … and ultimately the educational benefits.

    Do you?

  2. I am from Asia and I notice you are not very involved in this part of the world :). I read this portion of your blog:

    “The glaring gap for me was theory or practice or research to determine the appropriate use of face-to-face and online activities in hybrid or blended modes. What’s best done online and what’s best done on campus, when you can do both, but within limited time? In particular, how do we make best use of a limited campus experience? What are the factors or conditions we need to take into account when making such decisions?”

    My background is in Engineering and I’m also in Education, I think this discipline requires students to have face-to-face mode to train them in some aspects. I find that it has not progressed as fast (compared to other disciplines) in using IT in education. Perhaps it is tougher (wonder if it’s the engineering trained people or the content itself that is pulling them back), I’m not sure. I would love to hear your views on this.

  3. Great summary. I find the position of instructional designer very interesting. Currently I am at OISE, the school of education at University of Toronto. I don’t think there is almost a single good course offered here, that would be useful to a future instructional designer in higher ed. (Well, everything you learn can be useful, but not very directly). I’m also often surprised that there are not more linkages between the school of education, and the office of teaching advancement.

    I absolutely agree that “what is best done online”, and “what is best done offline”, is a crucial question (one which I wish a lot of conferences would also ask themselves – what you did in those three hours sounds like a perfect thing to do offline though!). Also interesting to hear about how IDers are dealing with things like connectivism and OER. Would love to hear more about that in the future!

  4. Hi I really enjoyed the event and thought it was very well-organized. I have many year of post-secondary teaching and course development experience and just completed a certificate in instructional design. I would like to establish a career in instructional design and am finding it quite difficult to get into the profession, as noted everyone would like considerable ID experience.
    There was some discussion at the meeting about setting up a specific national association for instructional designers in Canada. Such professional associations exist for related professions; for example, educational evaluators. Is there a need for such an association or is it something that is redundant in light of the fact that there are other associations such as CNIE that represent those involved in the field of instructional technology?
    Such an association might provide a forum for networking
    Exchanging ideas about instructional design
    Possibly organize conferences, newsletters etc.

  5. Hello from Down Under – I work at Swinburne University in Melbourne managing the eLearning development of industry partnerships programs for community and health services employees. I have been a huge fan of Tony Bates for 20 years and was utterly delighted to read his wonderful summary of this workshop (on my iPhone while enjoying a Korean bento box and miso soup for lunch – like BC we are very multicultural in our corner of the world). I’d like to add my reflections to this discussion which have made me realise that while I have had a long career spanning teaching in public vocational courses, training in industry, developing distance learning in both print and online together with marketing and communication roles when required to state my profession on travel forms or other official documents I state: Instructional Designer as this is the discipline that I believe underpins all of my education, training, marketing and communication practice. I believe it is time we stopped the now time that we stopped defining ourselves by Titles but through the skill sets we bring. Mine remains the skills that reside within the practice of creating meaningful learning experiences. In many ways I see myself more as a movie producer than a teacher, more a guide than an authority or SME, seeing my work more from the viewpoint of the person pulling than the person pushing, inspired more by the Cluetrain Manifesto than Piaget. Best wishes to all my fellow IDers wherever you may be and the wonderful TB.

  6. Hello from a ‘learning technologist’, ‘online coach’, ’ementor’, instructional designer’, ‘tutor’ – all these apply at one time or another to me in any one day in my life. If we wrap them all up into a package that speaks volumes it would have to be ’21st century learning steward’.

    I like labels and categories and I like being clear with those I network with which one of those I am being at that time. So like today, my role was to help a group of new elearning tutors how to plan an ‘elearning design brief’ – that is part of the role of an instructional designer. Ideally the first point in which the ID gets buy in on a project is at the time when the model of learning is being discussed, explored and decided. This enables the rest of the ‘design’ to fall into place so that all team members know where their role fits and how they can do online. The ID is not the content expert but needs to work in tandem with that person, and in an ideal world that means that they form a team, along with the graphic designer and the project manager, and can work collaboratively towards preparing meaningful learning experiences for the learners.

    A really good book to read is Digital Habitats – stewarding technology for communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John D. Smith.

    Oh and BTW being an ID still enables me to get work in this educational industry from time to time, eh Irena? (Smiles)

  7. Hi, Tony. Thanks for sharing. I have recently fallen into ID work as academia is a bit slow in hiring right now. Looking to use my education (recent doctorate) I took the opportunity, from friends in the field, to redesign and design some online and blended courses for colleges.

    And I, too, am getting the same feedback that it is hard to find quality ID people. However, after umpteen years of schooling and experience I can bring subject matter expertise, educational training, and technology skills to the job. But, yikes, that is a tall order. Wouldn’t want anyone to have to wait this long to get work. But, I will eventually look for people to help develop parts of my work thus drawing on budding designers.

    As well, I put together some ID theoretical approaches to my work. Your article has inspired me to get feedback from the future instructors who will teach my designed courses to see what worked and what did not.

    Here is a post on my ID approaches, which I feel I accomplished when designing blended course:

  8. Thanks for a great summary of some of the ‘burning’ issues and questions around instructional design. I have been thinking about a lot of the points you raise for sometime, especially around something that will scaffold educators in their own design, development, facilitation, and evaluation of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching.

    Over the last four years I have been working on the ICTELT process model, conceptual design framework, mindmap and self-diagnostic tools, which I’ve developed to guide practitioners through the design, implementation, and evaluation process. The scaffolded approach is appropriate for small teams or individuals working with limited resources, as well as those working within highly-resourced environments. The structure of the ICTELT model is flexible enough for practitioners to blend approaches of their choice, while also encouraging the alignment of pedagogical perspectives and practice. Furthermore, an iterative approach is encouraged whereby a design is developed, piloted, evaluated, revisited, modified and re-evaluated over time.

    If you would like to read more try: ; if you are visual you could watch ; and if you would just like a quick overview .


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