EMDT & Instructional Design
Posted by Lisa Smith

Digital Media & Education Applications Course Director

Among the career options that are open to graduates of the EMDT program is as a professional in the field of instructional design. Instructional designers differ from many professionals in the education world in that they are not on the “front line” of the classroom, but rather behind the scenes planning and building effective learning experiences. As one of a handful of EMDT faculty who come from an Instructional Design background, I am often asked about the nature of the work and the essential skills needed for the profession.

The duties of an instructional designer can vary widely depending on where you work. In a smaller training department, you may find yourself wearing many hats. You could be responsible for the design (planning, writing, etc.) as well as development and implementation (graphic design, programming, and publishing or delivery) of training. That was the case during my time at the Lockheed Martin Corporation. My department there was small – only six individuals. I was one of the few with web design or programming skills, so my duties focused on developing web-based training. We didn’t have dedicated artists or programmers, so I made due with what skills and resources I had available. More often than not, I relied on clip art or stock photos, backed up with my limited background in graphic art.

In larger training departments or e-learning design firms you will likely work in more of a multi-function team environment. In these cases, the instructional designers do the curriculum development and lesson writing. The lessons are often composed in the form of highly detailed storyboards that describe all of the visual elements that go along with each piece of content, as well as the navigation structure and any interactivity to be built into the media. The instructional designers would then hand their storyboards off to artists and programmers who build the media to our specifications. They will usually come back with questions, or to negotiate our ideas if our plans are just too ambitious. I found that having some art and programming background went a long way in helping me communicate with the artists and programmers on my team. I could speak their language, so to speak. The products created in this kind of team environment are invariably of a far superior quality to those created by a single multitasking professional.

Another job title related to instructional design is that of "instructional technologist." The instructional technologist’s job is more abstract, in my experience. This title can include experts who set up technology resources such as SMARTboards, computer workstations, etc., in the classrooms. Sometimes the title is applied to designers who create instructional media to support online classes, or experts who assist instructors in moving their class to an online format. There is usually less curriculum writing involved and more direct hands-on with the technology. Since my work at Lockheed included helping set up workstations in the training center, as well as administrating a company learning portal, I tend to use the “instructional technologist” title to refer to my work there (Plus, my official title was "Project management and planning operations representative". "Instructional technologist" is just easier to say).

What skills are most valuable to an instructional designer? First and foremost is a good understanding of how people learn. Specific design processes and standards will vary from place to place, but human learning will be the one constant. EMDT provides a good foundation in this area through examination of brain-based learning, multiple intelligences, cognitivist learning theory, and behaviorist techniques. You will also have encountered Bloom’s Taxonomy and behavioral learning objectives, both of which play key roles in instructional design.

In addition, familiarize yourself with the principles of adult learning. The majority of your audiences as an instructional designer will be professionals in the corporate, government, or military arena. Knowing what drives their learning choices will help direct your design efforts. This website provides a good synopsis of adult learning principles.

Next, get to know the ADDIE model. There are many instructional design models out there. Some are more complex than others, involving dozens of steps and phases. In my experience, they all can be boiled down to the five phases of ADDIE – analysis, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. I’ve encountered some training companies add “plan” to be beginning of their process, making P-ADDIE. Some add, “revise” to the end, making ADDIE-R. But really, planning is already key part of the analysis phase as it is, and ADDIE is meant to be a repeating cycle. After evaluating the training, you go back to the analysis, and design improvements. So revision is already assumed. Dr. Deason does a thorough job of covering ADDIE in the Education Design & Evaluation course, but you can find a good refresher here.

Another important standard to have at least an awareness of is SCORM. SCORM stands for “Sharable Content Object Reference Model”. It is a set of technical standards that allow e-learning assets to communicate with other software. This way each asset is reusable across many different systems. You don't need to know the technical details of SCORM, but just be familiar with what it is, and its purpose. You can find a good summary (i.e. “enough info for an interview”)  here

Extracted with permission 6/30/11 from

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