Instructional “designer”?

think outside the box


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What do I want to be when I grow up?

An instructional designer!

hand shows a book of concept of “think outside the box”

This is not the usual statement from a child, rather a mid-career instructional technologist. I have been thinking about the differences and similarities of instructional “designer” versus “technologist” for more than two decades. My recent musings were triggered by an EdSurge article, “So You Want to Be an Instructional Designer,” which I highly recommend reading. Until that article, I had identified myself as a “technologist” because my master’s degree diploma states that I am one. Considering the main word “technology” has a zippy appeal in Silicon Valley where I live and perhaps most of all because people outside of the instructional technology field do not really understand the foundational concepts of it. I’ll save that definition for another post.

I want a different professional label as I launch into a new career as a consultant. I can define myself any way I wish! I really do like the term “designer” much more than “technologist.” I fancy myself a designer of anything and everything since earning an undergraduate degree in art design. So, I can legitimately claim the title of “designer.” But why abandon the “technology” term if I also claim to be an advocate for effective use of technology in instruction?

I am foremost an advocate for education, which, in my viewpoint, is for the benefit of the student to help them understand themselves, master learning, and nurture their ability and desire to learn in perpetuity. Education can be really helpful for developing a student’s passion for lifelong learning, whatever age they may earnestly start their new learning journey.

Technology is a tool for learning, not just an adjective or defining concept for instruction. The real power of technology is unleashed in the careful design of an instructional experience, whether in an education or training setting. The experience should never blindly be about the technology, rather focused on the learning outcome. Technology, as a term in common use, creates a defined box of concepts in one’s mind. I would like to further twist an often misquoted phrase to make a point, “…we don’t need no stinkin’ ‘boxes’.” I think boxes restrict and confine how instructional professionals can define the nature of teaching and learning. Designers, by nature, are inclined to creatively break the paradigm of the box. I like that idea.

If we take the focus off of technology, it becomes another tool, like chalk to the chalkboard, simply used to achieve a higher goal. It is no longer a novelty, a new concept to be added on to education, or a way of sounding modern and hip when defining learning activities. Technology may or may not be an effective tool for each learning outcome, that is why the skill of the instructor is needed to determine which tool best facilitates the learning of a particular concept or skill. In this scene, the instructor moves away from being a technology tool picker and becomes a designer craftsman of learning, using different strategies to accomplish the goal. Technology may or may not be a part of the solution. To clarify, I am not moving away from technology. I am choosing to define the field and my professional self in terms of what really matters…learning and teaching…not technology.

Imagine if learning is an experience, then I want to be a designer of learning experiences. Imagine what might result in an education system where the same type of careful thought and consideration for the end-user that goes into designing living spaces, automobiles, phones, dinnerware, and software interfaces, were used to craft a learning experience for students. The learner (i.e., end-user) becomes the focal point of the design ideas for the instructional activities. I bet the activities would be made better for ease-of-use, last longer, and become more relevant as they better meet the learners’ needs.

That’s why I want to redefine my professional label. Yes, I’m convinced I want to be an instructional designer.

Wait, on second thought, maybe I really want to be a “Learning Experience Designer!”