June 20, 2014

e-Learning and Instructional Design in a nutshell


Most of us have heard very vaguely about e-Learning and very less about Instructional Design. This article is an attempt to clear few myths about this highly popular domain and describe e-Learning and Instructional Design in a nutshell.

Myth: Any web content is e-Learning.

Reality: Any web content is not e-Learning. It’s a highly specialized field.

Myth: The primary job of Instructional designers is to replicate content.

Reality: Absolutely incorrect. This is the highest form of insult to a highly creative and skilled domain. Never ever try to undermine the capabilities of an Instructional Designer (ID). Highly passionate about their creative and out-of-the box thinking capabilities, this light-hearted comment about their profession is not taken very well by the IDs.

Myth: Instructional Designers and Technical Writers are same.

Reality: With due respect to Technical Writers, Instructional Design is a different function altogether. Though we are basically writers, we focus on creating learner-centric content and applying various theories of learning.

Statutory Warning: Challenging an ID to a verbal duel can be injurious to your vocabulary ego.

What Is e-Learning?

e-Learning has been around for more than a decade, but it has seen an exponential growth over the last few years. It can be either in the form of Computer-Based Training (CBT) or Web-Based Training (WBT). CBTs are delivered to the prospective students in CD format while WBTs are hosted on a Learning Management System (LMS) where the learners taking a course are tracked and their scores are managed.

In e-Learning, few things are very important:
  • Self-paced: Looking at the busy schedules of corporate life, these trainings can be taken at learners’ own convenience.   
  • Absence of the trainer: The training has to be interesting to keep the learners engaged. How many of us wouldn’t actually doze off in a classroom training? Then, a training without any trainer needs to be engaging to hold the interest of the learners.
  • Media rich: These courses are media rich with animated graphics to explain concepts and contain interactive practice session in a simulated environment (for application based-courses).

Who Are Instructional Designers (IDs)?

IDs are people who design, develop, and visualize a course. They work in collaboration with graphic designers and multi-media programmers to create a WBT/CBT. Take the example of an architect who designs a building. They visualize and create the skeleton of the building which is then materialized with the help of the builder and other workers who actually put them into shape. The architect monitors every phase of development of the building and sees to it that the building is turning out to be the way he visualized.
We, the Instructional Designers, popularly known as IDs are the architects of a course.  When designing a course we understand the need of the learner, the knowledge gap, their role, and the purpose of learning. Following are the questions we ponder over when we design a course.

  • Who are we teaching?
  • Why are we teaching?
  • What are we teaching?
  • What is the expected outcome?

What Do We Do?

Our task involves lot of procedures and sub tasks. In a nutshell, we create training materials.

Though we create training materials and online training, we are not trainers. Apart from creating WBTs/CBTs, we also create Instructor-led Trainings (ILTs). ILTs are used by actual trainers in classroom training. Complex content requires direct interaction between the trainer and students. For example, back-end configuration of a complex application needs lot of explanation and hands on training and hence a classroom training would be more beneficial than a WBT.

Depending on factors, such as complexity of the subject, availability of trainers, and cost-effectiveness, we suggest a WBT/CBT, classroom training, or a mix of both (Blended Learning).