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What Is It We Do, Exactly?

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

Reflection on Chapter 1: What Does an Instructional Designer Do?

Each blog post in this series (#WIWIK) will take a moment to reflect on the questions at the end of each chapter.

Feel free to join the conversation by responding in the comments with your answers to the discussion questions (with plain text or a link to your post).

Here is the question for the first chapter:

Think back to a time when you had to explain your role. How could you word the role differently to make your communication more effective?

Back in October, my wife asked if I'd be able to help someone with their job search with some tips on LinkedIn, resumes, and career transitions in general based on what I learned as a part of my job search. He saw from my LinkedIn profile that I was an instructional designer, but had never heard of that position before and was curious about what exactly it was that we do. I told him, "So, you know all of those training videos and courses you've done either in onboarding or because Bob three desks over can't figure out that he shouldn't say racist things? That's us. We make those classes."

Not surprisingly, this was met with a response of "... the ones at [company name] could use some improvement hahaha." I couldn't speak to his experience, but I felt the same way about many of the compulsory courses and trainings I had taken when I was a classroom teacher. Many of those are what I'd consider to be checkbox courses where a company doesn't necessarily care that you actually learn the content as long as they're able to say that you were given training on the subject to minimize their legal liability.

While my response was informal, it served its purpose by giving this individual the basics of what instructional designers do. That said, it's far from the description I'd want to give someone that I would be having much interaction with in the future, especially in a professional context.

I really liked Dr. Hobson's explanation where he described the job as "partner[ing] with a SME... to extract their knowledge in order to create a meaningful learning experience..." (Hobson, 2021, p. 22). He also described instructional designers as "the person who cares about why, what, when, and how learning is taking place" (Hobson, 2021, p. 25).

With all that in mind, I think the way I'd describe my job to others is that instructional designers are like baristas (or bartenders if that's more to your liking). We don't create knowledge, but we make it consumable. Our expertise and skillset is not in the subject matter itself, but in providing the ideal experience to ensure the desired outcomes are attained. To do this, we meet with subject matter expert to learn about the goals and content for the course; analyze the learning context and the learners themselves; design and develop courses, learning resources, and activities; and, after the course has been launched, evaluate the effectiveness of the course based on learner reactions, learning demonstrated, behaviors changed, and the impact on overall results (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2016, p. 35).


Hobson, L. (2021). What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Instructional Designer. Independently published.

Kirkpatrick, J. D., & Kirkpatrick, W. K. (2016). Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation (1st ed.). Association for Talent Development.

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