So, what does an instructional designer/education consultant do? Let’s start with what these roles are not in the list below.
1. NOT a graphic designer
It happens a lot. A subject matter expert creates a 100 slide PowerPoint, then hands it off to the instructional designer to make it look pretty, or a request is made for the instructional designer to create a neat cover page for a report or handout. There are people who are gifted and trained in graphics, but instructional design is not about making a PowerPoint slide look good. Having background knowledge in Mayer’s multimedia principles helps, but it does not mean that we will be able to create cool graphics for you. We would be able to tell a client whether a graphic is effective in reinforcing information or if it will be a source of distraction or confusion.
2. NOT a product salesperson
A great salesperson can act as a consultant for a company, however at the end of the day that kind of consultant’s true job is to sell a product and earn a commission. An instructional designer serving as a consultant would see if there are readily available tools that will help achieve learning outcomes, and gather information on whether it would be more efficient and effective to outsource rather than develop instruction in-house.
3. NOT a learning management system administrator
Developing a course would be a role of an instructional designer. However, an organization may see that same person as the guy you go to for password resets, course reassignments, and uploading course records. Some companies may be small enough where the ID guy is also the IT guy running information technology.
4. NOT a “good presenter”
“Oh, yeah, he’s a great presenter!” could be a qualifier added to the introduction of a designer in meetings. Instructional designers come from all walks of life like many other professions. Some started as corporate training facilitators like myself, others came from an IT background, while others gained their experience in the Kindergarden through 12th Grade arena. We could easily rely on those past skills if needed, but that is not the core skill set that an instructional designer brings to the corporate table.
So, what is an instructional designer?
In short, an instructional designer is in a sense an education consultant who uses needs assessment to help an organization identify learning needs, then implement the appropriate learning tasks that will help meet those needs if any are needed in the first place.
When used correctly, an instructional designer can help a company effectively and efficiently utilize its training dollars to improve the bottom line. Correct use includes focusing on identifying gaps in performance, applying the right instruction if needed, and keeping the end in mind at all times. It is about creating the desired outcomes even if that means not using that cool video we saw on YouTube or holding back from creating a PowerPoint to upload into your learning management system to check a box. Many times, your instructional designer will help you recognize that training is not needed at all, and that it requires a change in tools, or process, or simply using what is already available.
When neglected or misused, you wind up with one of the roles listed above and do not truly effect change within the organization’s culture towards excellence. Your company winds up with someone who makes a living by convincing you that you always have to spend money on the next big thing in technology or education. A true education consultant with an instructional design background will work alongside your quality management team when they utilize the PDSA process.