Instructional Design: Still Kicking! 

Woman in pink giving rock and roll horns with fingers indicating excitement.

Instructional Design is NOT dead!

Back in 2017, I wrote a post about the importance of instructional design and its power to create impactful learning experiences. Since then, the world of learning has undergone a fascinating transformation. New technologies are constantly popping up, learner expectations are constantly evolving, and standard practices are being redefined.

So, I thought it was high time for an update! 

Some might think that with all this rapid change, instructional design itself might be fading into the background. But fear not. The truth is quite the opposite. The evolution of learning in the workplace isn’t rendering instructional design obsolete – it’s making it more exciting and giving us opportunities to flex our creative and critical thinking muscles. 

Let’s examine how instructional design is changing and how these advancements empower us to create genuinely effective learning experiences.

Key Areas of Instructional Design

While the core principles of instructional design remain timeless, the way we apply them has certainly evolved since I wrote this post, “Instructional Design is Not Dead,” in 2017. In fact, instructional design has seen significant transformation driven by a renewed interest in four key areas:

  • Emerging Tech in Learning: The use of AI, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality programs.
  • Learner-Centric Design: Shifting from a static experience to a truly engaging and effective learning experience for everyone.
  • Performance Support: Performance tools that are readily accessible at the point of need and support the person after training is completed. 
  • Business Partnership: Businesses rely on instructional designers to create engaging learning experiences that address immediate business issues.

While these four areas might seem to break new ground, they’re just a revision of current core principles. But here’s where it gets exciting – how we’re blending cutting-edge tech and innovative strategies into our work today truly sets the stage for the ever-interesting (and, yes, sometimes challenging) world of instructional design. This is where the magic happens, and the adventure begins.

New Considerations for Instructional Designers 

We now have the opportunity to put behind us the days of dry, corporate learning objectives and endless “click-next” elearning. We’re at an exciting turning point where the possibilities for creating impactful and interesting learning experiences are endless. Here are five key areas that are totally reshaping the way we approach instructional design.

  • Responding to the Digital Age: Let’s face it, people are accustomed to instant access to information and engaging online experiences. Instructional designers must create mobile-friendly learning experiences that are concise, engaging, and easily digestible on smaller screens. This focus on mobile learning further allows learning to come to the people when they need it and when the business needs them to have it. By prioritizing a digital-first mentality with accessibility and microlearning at the forefront, we can open up a new world by integrating learning without workplace disruption and directly addressing real-time business needs.

  • Data-Driven Design and Learning Analytics: Data is KING! And gathering helpful data extends well beyond the limitations of traditional LMS “butts in seats” metrics. By gathering analytics from a variety of sources, such as performance metrics (sales conversion rates), social learning discussions, and even productivity tools (are people using tools/techniques), instructional designers can gain a deeper understanding of the overall “need” versus “want.” Data-driven design empowers you to iterate, refine, and create even more effective learning experiences. Suddenly, you’re not just guessing – you’re wielding data like a magic wand, shaping truly impactful learning journeys.

  • Accessibility for All Learners: Instructional design can become incredibly rewarding when accessibility takes center stage. It’s no fun when you pour your creativity into a design that excludes a part of the audience. While closed captions, transcripts, and alt text are essential, true accessibility goes further. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides a framework to ensure materials are presented in multiple formats (text, audio, video) with adjustable features incorporating interactive elements to cater to various needs. Witnessing diverse learners engaging with your materials and achieving success sparks a unique kind of satisfaction. It’s a constant reminder of the positive impact your work can have

  • Learning Ecosystems: The focus on learning ecosystems is a game-changer for instructional designers. Certainly, there is a place for one-off courses (looking at you compliance training). Still, it’s far more interesting to you and relevant for the learner to curate a blend of resources, technologies, and social interactions. Doing so creates an immersive and adaptable environment reflecting learners’ real-world challenges. The result? Learning becomes more relevant and impactful and fosters continuous improvement and innovation. As an instructional designer, building learning ecosystems keeps you on the cutting edge, keeping your creative and technical skills sharp.

  • Ethical Considerations: With great power comes great responsibility! Adhering to ethical considerations, such as avoiding content bias, presents a new frontier for instructional designers. This shift not only brings relevance and accessibility of content to a diverse audience but also challenges you to think critically about the materials, perspectives, and narratives you incorporate into learning environments. Keeping your mind’s eye on ethical considerations turns instructional design into a more reflective practice where the goal is not just to build skills but to cultivate a workplace where critical thinking is a priority.

The Future of Instructional Design (A Glimpse Ahead)

The future of instructional design is packed with opportunities for those who are unafraid of change. This really is a time for true creatives! As technology continues to evolve and learner expectations shift, instructional designers will discover opportunities to experiment with different processes, modalities and learning experiences.

And as we move into a “new normal” for instructional design, regardless of industry, there are spaces that must be embraced to ensure the future of L&D. So fire up your curious mindset! 

  • Learning Support with Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is driving a significant transformation in the workplace learning industry. In just one example, we can now have AI-powered chatbots acting as virtual learning assistants to be study buddies. These AI companions personalize the learning journey for each person, tailoring content and pacing based on individual needs. If that weren’t enough, AI can analyze learner data to pinpoint knowledge and skill gaps. This allows for highly targeted recommendations of learning content, ensuring we get learning to the right people at the right time.  

  • Immersive Learning Experiences: Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are where the fun is at, and their impact on instructional design is undeniable. Imagine new hires entering a 360-degree interactive environment where they can explore the company’s culture, meet virtual colleagues, and familiarize themselves with workplace layouts through VR simulations or practice complex procedures in a safe, AR-powered environment. These immersive experiences are revolutionizing the way people learn and the way we design learning solutions.

  • Focus on Continuous Learning: Moving away from the old-school approach of standalone training sessions to a more fluid, ongoing learning journey is not the future. It’s the now. In today’s workplace, the ability to adapt continuously and learn new skills is a key pain point within organizations. This shift means that instructional designers are tasked with crafting learning experiences that are more than an afterthought. With a focus on continuous learning, instructional designers not only enhance the immediate effectiveness of learning interventions but also contribute to the long-term adaptability and growth of individuals and organizations.

  • The Learner as Curator: As we look ahead, the role of the learner is shifting from passive recipient to active curator of their own learning journey.  With the internet at their fingertips, people are piecing together the learning they need, grabbing what’s useful and skipping what isn’t. Where instructional design comes in is equipping people with the skills to curate their learning effectively, not just feeding them random bits of information but helping them learn, adapt, and grow independently. This approach doesn’t just fill knowledge gaps; it seeds the very skills that underpin lifelong learning.

Let’s Wrap This Up: Instructional Design in Transformation

It may seem as if the world of instructional design is in constant flux and don’t think for a minute that things are going to settle down. I’ll probably be updating this post again next year!

With new challenges like developing ecosystems, making learning accessible to everyone and embracing the idea of learners curating their own journey, we’re always in motion, tweaking and tinkering. And with cool stuff like AI and immersive tech coming into the picture, we can’t be satisfied by just going through the motions of course design. We must explore and experiment. By doing so, we’re set to create learning experiences that are downright cool and effective. And who doesn’t want that?

So no, instructional design isn’t dead – it’s just getting started.

A question for you: Are you ready to embrace the future of instructional design?

In the comments below, share your thoughts on what excites you most about the future of learning? What challenges do you see on the horizon?

At Learning Rebels, we’re passionate about empowering L&D Professionals with the tools and resources they need to succeed in today’s workplace. If you’re ready to take your skills to the next level, check out our library of resources within the Learning Rebels Community or check out Learning Rebels workshops to help your team continue to build capability.

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Let’s keep the conversation going and shape the future of learning together!

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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