Designing Instruction

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. –Herbert Simon, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, 1978

Instructional design is the process of creating effective training in an effective manner.  It is, as Piskurich (2015) writes, “the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure quality of instruction”.  To design instruction, then, is to conceptualize and create a program of study that progresses a learner towards a preferred outcome.

To consider those who practice instructional design as “designers” leads to a fuller understanding of both the field and what skills are necessary to succeed in it.  Common understanding of design is of an object or end-result.  However, design is more completely a process; one that involves imagination and creation, thought and research, collaboration and production, conceptualization, revision and refinement, and more.  A designer, therefore, must be skilled in both the specialties of their discipline and so-called “soft skills” –the more intangible transferable/professional skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Narrowing our focus back to instructional design, the skills therefore needed to be a professional in the field include:

  1. The ability to create and/or curate content: Instructional designers must be able to devise, develop, and produce effective and engaging content which supports achievement of learning objectives. Additionally, instructional designers should also have up-to-date knowledge of existing resources that will support attainment of identified goals.  Content is often written, meaning instructional designers must be skilled in writing; however, content may also be in the form of audio, video, web, or multimedia resources.  This leads to another required skill, which is:
  2. Technological literacy: Instructional designers must develop and maintain up-to-date skills in web and media design and development, course development software, Microsoft Office Suite, G Suite, and other related tools.  As Walker (2014) writes, “Thanks to a convergence of creativity, technology, and big money, the Golden Age of Design may finally be upon us… it’s a new and exciting moment for design.”  Technological skills are therefore non-negotiable in contemporary instructional design.  Keeping up to date with those competencies, though, requires skill in:
  3. Research: Instructional designers must know how to find, analyze, synthesize, and apply discovered knowledge to course development and content creation. The ability to research effectively and think critically about what is discovered are itself part of a larger skill set necessary for instructional designers, which is:
  4. Project management: Instructional designers must be able to stay on time and on budget, facilitate effective communication between the client, oneself, and other team members, and solve problems as they (inevitably) arise.  Along the same lines, instructional designers should also be skilled as:
  5. Facilitators/Teachers: Instructional designers must understand the needs of learners and how to effectively address them while delivering instruction in a manner that is engaging, exciting, and excellent.  This includes development of both broad cultural competencies as well as broad interdisciplinary knowledge.   Whether the instructional designer will deliver instruction, skill in “real world” teaching will inform course design and development in a manner that increases the likelihood of learning objective attainment.


Piskurich, G. (2015). Rapid instructional design. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Walker, R. (2014, Sept 28). A golden age of design.  T: The New York Times Style Magazine.  Retrieved from

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