A blog about instructional design for eLearning may seem out of place in 2021. We’ve spent a lot of time recently speaking about the birth of the learning experience designer. And the new skills that L&D professionals need thanks to the evolution of the digital learning industry. So a discussion about instructional design, a concept which dates back to the 1950s, might feel a little left field. But it’s not. The skills and qualities of an instructional designer are as important now than ever before – especially if you’re a freelancer
 

What is instructional design?

According to the ATD (Association for Talent Development) instructional design (ID) is:
 
“the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills”.
 
And it is an instructional designer’s role to apply ID models such as ADDIE or SAM, to make this acquisition and application happen
 
But as our working world continues to change and the talent marketplace becomes increasingly utilised in L&D functions, freelancers are being asked to branch out and  look at the entire learning experience. Which is why in recent months we’ve seen a boom in demand for freelance learning experience designers
 
Many sceptics in the L&D industry assume learning experience design (LXD) is a clever rebranding of ID. But that’s not the case. In fact, LXD combines the roots of an instructional designer with the principles of User Experience Design. And as such, is an evolution of the traditional ID role. But with that in mind, it’s clear to see why ID skills are still hugely important to the role of any learning designer.  
 

Think about your client’s unique needs

In business, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to anything. An IT infrastructure that works seamlessly for your competitors may fall short on meeting your needs. A marketing tactic that garners hundreds of prospects for one company, might be a failure for another. And the same goes for learning. 
 
As a freelance instructional designer, you’ll be working with a range of clients throughout your career. That might mean one or two clients a year, or it could mean three or four a month. But no matter how many clients you have, you must always ensure you understand the unique needs of that client’s learners. Which also means understanding exactly what the learner needs to learn, and what they already know about the subject matter
 
Of course, as a learning expert, you know understanding your learners’ needs is the only way to create a sound piece of learning content. However, it will also help you manage your client relations process. Asking for clarification and avoiding assumptions at the start will help you to eliminate rounds of iterations further down the line
 

Consider the bigger picture 

If your client has hired you as an ID, they probably aren’t expecting you to consider the wider learning experience. Such as the resources given before or after the eLearning, or the experience the learner has making their way to the learning platform. But the best instructional designers will.
 
When it comes to instructional design for eLearning, the module you’re creating will not stand in isolation. So as a freelance instructional designer, make it your business to understand the full learning process. Understand your client’s learning platform and the quirky nuances it comes with. Explore the learners’ existing feelings and attitudes towards learning. Do they want to learn? Or is it compulsory? 
 
By exploring the bigger picture in this way you will not only ensure you contribute to a fantastic learning experience. But you will set yourself apart from the other freelancers on the market, creating a great reputation for yourself – and repeat business is what we all want, right?
 

Encourage learning transfer 

Following on from looking at the bigger picture, is encouraging learning transfer. Learning transfer is the art of taking skills from a training environment and applying them to one’s role. And it is the ultimate goal of any learning or training experience. So, when you’re designing an eLearning course, you should always be considering how to aid the learner in taking this information back to their day job. Some great ways at encouraging learning transfer include:
  • Tell your learner to walk away from the computer and practice the skill in the real world, or create a simulation that allows the learner to practice without the fear or risk of failure
  • Align with business goals, and focus on the change the learning experience will have for the learner
  • Spread out the learning and encourage learners to come back to the module when they need refreshing
Apply some of these tactics to your eLearning and you’ll prompt learning transfer – and put yourself in a great light with your client
 

Is instructional design for eLearning still relevant?

The lines will continue to blur between Learning Experience Design and Instructional Design. And we expect that these job titles will be used interchangeably by clients for the foreseeable future. But here at Jam Pan, we think it’s important for all learning professionals to have exemplary ID skills, as well as the UX skills needed to delve into LXD. By branching out and acquiring these new skills, you will provide a better experience to your clients and their learners, and you’ll stand out from other freelance instructional designers.
 
If you want to learn more about the role of learning experience design, check out this on-demand webinar from our friend and senior learning strategist, Lori Niles-Hofmann from Niles Nolen