What Does a Learning Designer Do? #learningdesign #instructionaldesign #ISD

Ever seen the terms “Education Specialist”, “Instructional Designer”, “Learning Designer” or the likes?  Ever wonder what they do?

In tiny Singapore, these roles are rather unknown… even to professionals who have the skills to do the job!

Who can become Learning Designers

In my years as a Learning Designer, I have come across 3 types of designers:

  1. One who is a Subject Matter Expert (SME).  This Learning Designer is typically so expert in a specialised field (e.g. wealth management), and has a knack and passion for passing that knowledge to others, that designing courses of his area of expertise comes so naturally.  Such Learning Designers only design courses whereby they are also the Subject Matter Expert.
  2. Another type of Learning Designer is the one who has knowledge of learning sciences, psychology, sociology, education, human development and learning technologies.  Such Learning Designers know what methods are best for learning what types of subjects and for what type of learners.  They are typically trained educators who are Subject Matter Experts in a certain subject as well.  However, their passion for the learning sciences outweigh their passion for a particular subject.  Unlike the 1st type of Learning Designer, the 2nd type of Learning Designers choose to be subject matter-neutral and enjoy designing courses for all types of subjects.
  3. One of the common types of Learning Designers are those who started as multimedia developers creating learning objects (e.g. documentary video) for organisations or schools.  They picked up Learning Design ideas in the process.

No matter how their careers started, when they become Learning Designers, they typically become professionals who are engaged by organisations or schools to design courses to meet certain needs.  Tools used could include learning technologies like Learning Management Systems like Blackboard or authoring tools like Captivate.  For highly customised courses, it could include a larger suite of software like the Adobe Creative Suite or even a larger range of professionals like multimedia designers, programmers, photographers and videographers.  Of course, it could also be as basic as producing a Trainer’s Guide and the Students’ Course Book.  Basic here does not mean that the learning design is basic – it just means that the form of the output is simple (e.g. course books).

Skills, Attitudes and Knowledge Required

Besides knowing about and knowing how to apply learning sciences, Learning Designers need to be good at stakeholder  management, organised, systematic, meticulous.  Having Project Management skills is almost a must.  Working knowledge of various software, technologies and latest trends (e.g. social medial and mobile apps) are also essential to design engaging courses for the learners of today.

A Learning Designer is a type of solution consultant, a practitioner and an information worker.

She cannot be one who simply collects head knowledge but must also be able to face and solve new and unique problems every time.  While theories are important, it is most important that she designs solutions that work.

There must be resourcefulness and resilience to enjoy this job – the same resilience required of any project manager.  Stakeholders can be uncooperative or even downright nasty at times especially when they are unwilling parties involved in the project.  If you are not able to hold your cool (or hold your ground), your projects may not go well.  You must also be resourceful in making things work via alternative means.

What a Learning Designer Does

A Learning Designer works with SME(s), multimedia designers, videographers, photographers, programmers, learning technologists (and possibly others), and is like the nucleus of an atom.  She makes sure that everyone and everything works together.

Many times, SMEs are not instructors and do not have knowledge of the best practices in designing and delivering courses.  The Learning Designer guides them through the process of designing a course.  The Learning Designer starts from the analysis phase where they gather the purpose of the course, review the content, propose pedagogies (e.g. games, TBL, PBL).  She then storyboards the entire course before moving into developing the various elements with other professionals and the SME (e.g. animations, texts, activities, questions, videos).  She conducts editorial checks, quality checks, learning design checks along the way and also at the end to ensure nothing was missed.

Depending on the job contracted, Learning Designers can begin even earlier (e.g. doing Gap Analysis and curriculum design) and deliver even more (e.g. actually conducting, evaluating and refining the course).

Challenges the Learning Designer Faces

The challenges faced by Learning Designers are similar to what any Project Manager of other types of projects faces.  She faces time constraints, manpower constraints, budget constraints, uncooperative SMEs/stakeholders and is yet expected to deliver high quality product covering a wide range of deliverables.

While the Learning Designer does not need to keep abreast of the latest technologies like the IT professionals, she still has to keep up-to-date to a certain extent.  SHe needs to be aware of the latest technologies and their affordances in teaching, training and learning.  There is so much out there and each keeps evolving too.

Pedagogies are also evolving but not as fast as technologies.  So there is some breathing space in this aspect. 🙂

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