Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'll say it again...instructional design is dead

I've been perusing blog posts written by other instructional designers and their thoughts on learning conferences and this one from Ellen Wagner struck a particular chord.

You see, I don't go to learning conferences to learn anything. Wow, yep, I said it. I go to the learning conferences to talk to other people who are in the learning space, sure, but mostly I go to talk to people about what I've been learning by rubbing elbows at OTHER conferences. What are these other conferences? Virtual worlds conferences. Serious games conferences. Design conferences. Next week, for example, I'm going to GDC. I'm so excited about the sessions that I don't know if I have time in my schedule for a bathroom break. To be honest, I'm not interested in networking too much at GDC. I don't think I'm going to sell any training there. But I know for a fact that I'm going to learn. A LOT. And the anticipation of being at a conference where people will be talking about user design, user engagement, gender issues, generational barriers, narrative and motivation...yeah, I might need a moment. Whew.

So listen up instructional designers and learning conferences! Instructional design is dying a slow death. Young talent are going in other directions. The kids get gaming and use technology without thinking about it...its not a question of if, its a question of how. And how to do it better. And how to make it more effective. Instructional design should not be lagging behind the curve...we should be leading the way. We need experienced mentors but we also need young leaders. More importantly, we need people with vision. This is what learning conferences should be about: inspiration and innovation and brave new ideas. They shouldn't be about trying to play catch up with the sexier industries.

If you're on the slow boat to the ADDIE model, it might be time to change boats. I'll be taking the speedboat to GDC next week, thank you very much. And I'll thank you not to suck my wake.


  1. Great post, I think more people need to stand up and start saying stuff like this. The idea of the traditional course is almost dead, but there will always be a need for instructional design - maybe not ADDIE, but something. The tools and strategies are changing at a frantic pace, but you still need to focus development on defined objectives or goals. ID helps you figure out what content and outcomes to focus on.
    People often learn in spite of instruction. That won't fly these days.

  2. Its not just dying. Its being re-warped. Since when does an ID need .asp net or programming skills? Well, as per new adverts, ID's in the gaming industry need that....or programmers need to have ID knowledge. Yep! ID is no longer enough as a skill by itself, You have to be able to sell or be a sales or business development guy with ID skills, or something more,like an HR background.

  3. While traditional ISD needs a serious makeover, ADDIE as a model isn't dead or dying. It can't be: it's the basic process of building ANYthing (in other words, it's not unique, nor has it ever been). You gotta "analyze" and "design" a solution before you "develop/build" it. It's just that Agile and iterative models have proven to be more effective. That just means re-wiring ADDIE, not tossing it.

    I recently attended Elliot Masie's "Social Learning Lab & Seminar" and while we explored the relatively untapped area of social learning, one thing I took away was that it's "nothing new." We as instructional designers just need to look at ISD in a new light and leveraging new technologies.

    But individuals who are thoughtful about learning design (with some background in adult learning, cognitive psychology, etc.) will always be in demand. I am part of a team of trainers, all of whom are smart and talented, but no one other than myself understands learning design...and it shows when they try to come up with a new activity or curriculum (that invariably falls flat with our students).

  4. Great comments and I feel the need to clarify, because I surely don't think ADDIE is dead, or dying. In fact, I think its an essential basis for ID and if anything, essential steps (namely the A and the E). What I think is lacking in ID as a field are visionaries. I personally believe that designing learning is as much art as it is science, but too often I think ID's focus so much on the science that they forget the art.

    When the learning community starts informing technology development instead of vice versa, I'll find another drum to beat. Until then, I'll keep reaching out to other industries for my education and inspiration.

  5. How many conferences do you get to per year? When I worked for corporations, a good year meant getting to one; a fantastic year meant a conference and some other outside professional-development experience--like Joe Harless's job aid workshop, or the performance analysis workshop developed by Rummler and Gilbert.

    Those weren't half-bad. Nor were they common.

    The majority of people working as instructional designers, I'd guess, work for large organizations, not for training/learning consultancies. It's always been hard to make the business case for conference-going--something those who go as vendors or as marketers tend to forget.

    I can't argue with the idea of learning at conferences not directly in your field. Heavens knows, there's far too much inward-looking at a lot of ISPI, ASTD, and similar events.

    For me, the value in ISPI's conferences (and I've been to 10 or 12 of them) included: a focus on data (how did we decide this was a problem worth addressing?), a recognition that training was not the only or even the primary solution, a relative lack of people selling themselves and their service-marked solutions, and a lot of "this is what we did, this is what we've found, and this stuff we still haven't figured out."

    As an independent practitioner, though, I can't easily justify the $2,500 it would cost me to attend. That doesn't have anywhere near as much to do with the straw man of the ADDIE model as it does with the membership/conference model.

    I can't argue with the potential value of immersive environments, though I have to say I don't think people learn the basics of the reservation system, or the inventory-control system, or the clinical-trials system, from such a platform. Once they've got that essential grounding, yes, those could serve as a way to integrate the fundamental processes with the larger world of passenger service, effective inventory management, or pharmaceutical manufacturing.