Forty thousand years ago, Palaeolithic man started drawing pictures of bison and deer on cave walls, and no one really knows why. Some theories suggest that these were part of a shamanistic ritual to bring luck to the hunt; others posit the idea that they were recording elements important to their lives. Yet a third interpretation is that they were practicing the earliest ever form of blended learning. The blend, you see, was the mix of oral and pictorial methods for teaching new generations of hunters about what makes the tastiest dinner.
The Instructional Designer role has never been considered particularly cool. But, just like mainstream indie or double roundabouts, the only reason it hasn’t been replaced is that no one’s agreed on a suitable alternative. Come to think of it, it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what an ID is meant to be doing. Wikipedia quotes Utah State’s University to say that Instructional Designers create “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” That’s a start, but this kind of definition feels problematic. For example, what’s an ‘instructional experience’? Presumably it’s one that instructs the learner in their topic of choice, but how can this be effective and appealing without the presence of an instructor to breathe life into the words? And why does the definition put such emphasis on efficient acquisition? Surely learners must be able to acquire knowledge at their own pace in order to retain new skills and information in the long term.
To be effective, elearning has to be on a par with the best face-to-face training in its engagement, memorability, and potential for behaviour change. It has to put the learner’s needs at its heart while living up to their employer’s expectations. It has to prove its own worth through creating measurable change. The world is awash with compelling digital media and new generations of professionals have a world of choice at their fingertips. How, then, is elearning going to make an impact? Well, we could lose the Instructional Design title for a start. And let’s face it, the market’s already flooded with alternatives. People are being as creative with their job title as they are in their design. Here are just a few options to pick from. Do any of them apply to what you do?