Essay: In Search of the Secret Handshakes of ID

Author: Ellen Wagner, Sage Road Solutions, LLC.

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14 Responses to “Essay: In Search of the Secret Handshakes of ID”

  • Betty Stevens:

    I like your essay. Reminds me of the old saying that if you can’t teach, you teach teachers. However, I think even greater and more adaptable skills and knowledge are necessary for teaching teachers. The Instructional Designers I have known have not only the knowledge and skills you describe, but also great creativity, innovation, and an artistic eye.

  • Thanks for your note. I know that this point gets a little sticky with some, because it sounds as if I don’t value scholarship. And I do. But I am pretty well convinced that the thing that sets IDs apart from others is that IDs are doers. That speaks to your point, too.

  • Jason:

    Ellen, I love this essay.

    I, too, often struggle trying to explain what it is I do as an eLearning, online learning, distance education, or instructional design specialist. I have given up trying to explain it to my mother. She just tells people that I am a “computer professor.” So, I guess that will have to do. :) I have discovered that when you work in dynamic fields, it is often hard to encapsulate or explain clearly what you do.

    I couldn’t agree more with this sentence: “Many of the things that academic instructional design programs prepare people to do are not necessarily the same set of skills that employers look for when hiring an instructional designer.” I was trained in more traditional ID graduate program, and I value that training, but over my relative short but action-packed career, I have found creativity, leadership, communication, technical savvy, and an ability to just play nice and get things done to be more valuable than any degree.

    I am often stunned by how many ID professionals from an academic background have NO real tech knowledge beyond web surfing, email, and MS Office and often, no desire to learn. A few are even proud of it. Admittedly, when it comes to technology, there is a bit of the old adage: “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with B.S.” Still, I have seen many ID experts, with a theoretical knowledge base greater than my own, get caught up in the “wow” factor of technology, many times very simple tech for those in the know, and throw learning/instructional theory out the door for tech coolness. Always walking that fine line…

    So, I agree that our work cannot be separated from the need to stay up with emerging tech though I am not sure you take it far enough with your call for a “moderate” level of tech proficiency. At least not when it comes to the next gen of ID. You don’t have to be a programmer, but you have to be curious, tech savvy, and you have to be willing to push yourself beyond moderation.

    I have seen these same ID experts crash and burn trying to work with others to get real world problems solved (say starting a new online program) because they cannot “speak the language” of the current tech generation to bridge the gap between theory and dynamic practice. Theory is important, as you say, but so is the ability to get things done. Forward momentum counts for a lot.

    So I guess, I fall into the camp of artist meets engineer, meets psychologist, meets tech god, meets everything in between. I am a modern instructional designer, and with technology’s rapid advances, I must become a master of building the plane while I fly it. And, I know I am not alone. But, I will say this, I love the job specifically because it challenges me and is never boring.

  • A very enlightening and though provoking article which left me pondering…sometimes I think [us] IDs are our own worst enemy. Although we may not generate our own acronyms and new words, well OK, I guess we are partially guilty, as evidenced by the ADDIE model, but we certainly propagate some well meaning terms (at least to us), e.g., e-learning, m-learning, blended learning, online learning, distance learning, distance education, and so on. After being in this profession for almost 3 decades, whenever a new technology arrives on the landscape, then the flurry of new terms are added to our lexicon…and it all started with CAI, CMI, CBT, CML, etc. So it’s no wonder that new entries into our profession are thoroughly confused even before they get started…but that’s the nature of our business–it survives on new/emerging technologies. And every new technology is accompanied by new set of terms to describe that “specific” technology. When I tell my graduate ID students that the application of a Podcast is decades old, that it’s the same old candy bar but with a new wrapper, I’m met with blank faces, or in the case of a virtual class, no chat pod responses. You get the idea, but they don’t. I try to explain that, in its simplest terms, a RSS feed/podcast is pre-recorded audio, and that has been around for a long time (probably before their time as well). They “might” relate to a Sony Walkman and cassette tapes, but the application of recording audio and distributing it via an electronic device is not new, although the current playback devices (ipods) are light years more advanced. Over 25 years I had the opportunity to review the Teleteach Expanded Delivery System (TEDS), an integration of an electronic white board and audio conferencing, commonly referred to back then as “audio graphics”. It’s odd that word is not in the current ID dictionary, and probably the closest thing to it is a webinar. Another oddity is blended learning…over 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to combine CAI with classroom instruction, and it was referred to as “exporting education”…now it can be known as blended learning–same candy bar, different wrapper. The point is this…our profession is complex. It is not intuitive nor is it an art…it is science. The challenge is to make the complex more understandable so more SMEs (and lay persons) can better appreciate our profession. So this is how my park bench scenario would play out:
    a young/middle age/older/experienced individual sits down next to me on the park bench as we both feed the pigeons.

    “Excuse me young man, but I’m curious, what do you do for a living”?
    Responding with a warm and inviting smile, I reply “I design learning”.
    “Oh my”, says my new park bench friend, “that sounds so interesting…how do you design learning”?
    “Well”, I reply, “now that you asked…”

  • Don Robison:

    I agree with Jason, this is a great essay. Thank you for it.

    I also agree with both of you in saying “Many of the things that academic instructional design programs prepare people to do are not necessarily the same set of skills that employers look for when hiring an instructional designer.”

    The real world of work and design is one where our human experience, training, and potential must all be brought to bear on the challenge of the moment… It isn’t usually very “clean” is it? Most of us have to work in organizations–or with organizations–that have missions, values and actual problems, and we need to be able to operate in those arenas. And when organizations use technology to help solve their problems (as most do), we need to go there with them. I’ve seen instructional designers argue the philosophies of learning with people who really don’t care, as they say things like “let’s not get caught up in the bells and whistles.” …A great discussion to have around a table with other instructional designers, but a foolish discussion to have in an operational context with a manager who just wants to get things done. We cannot afford to come across as the technology contrarians.

    Thank you for this great essay.

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