Death of the Instructional Designer

Fifteen years ago when I joined the profession, Instructional Design was a new profession. Friends and family asked about what I really did for a living. Customers were surprised to find Instructional Designers in India and after a few years of struggle, getting business was not so hard. We were grudgingly accepted as Instructional Designers without any formal qualification in Instructional Design. As Instructional Designers we spent time in learning about the underlying theories of instructional design, did our research on the project content area and spent hours in brainstorming instructional strategies.

Over the years instructional design became less of a mystery. Many more companies were vying for instructional design projects. Setting up a new instructional design company was and still is easy. Type of projects over the years changed. Entry levels lowered. Instructional Design transformed into more Content Development and less Design. Design became user interface and media elements. Visual appeal overshadowed fundamental instructional design.

Last few years has seen the emergence of Subject Matter Expert (SME) as the absolute key role in content development projects. And rapid development tools are in. Tool product companies wooed customers with rapid development tools showing samples that could be created in less than an hour. So technically SMEs could create one hour of content in only a few hours. Companies preferred to hire pure Content Developers with knowledge of various tools instead of Instructional Designers. Customers questioned about what value the Instructional Designers add to their projects. After all the SME provides content and graphics designer and programmer add media elements and integrates using various tools.

With content development commoditized, Instructional Designers needed to transform into Solutions Architects and move up the value chain. So if you aren’t solving large corporate problems like improving productivity of 50,000 people across 10 countries, you aren’t really adding value. That takes care of about 1% of Instructional Designers. So what do the other 99% Instructional Designers and Content Developers do? Do we even need Instructional Designers today? What value do Instructional Designers add in content development projects today? What are the key skills in an Instructional Designer that are required and valued by organizations today?