Addressing the Gaps in the Professional Development of Instructional Designers

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Addressing the Gaps in the Professional Development of Instructional Designers

When you think of the learning and development field, training is the first thing might come to mind. However, in a field where the professional development of others is a priority, many learning professionals find that their own professional development is not a priority. An article published by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), New Study Delves Into Unexplored Professional Development Benchmarking for Instructional Design and Technology Teams shared key findings of a study conducted by UPCEA eDesign Collaborative. According to the post, the 2017 study titled Instructional Design and Technology Teams: Work Experiences and Professional Development establishes benchmarks for experience and salaries among members of instructional design team members, and also reveals the professional development priorities.” Prior to this study, there has been no studies benchmarking in these areas for Learning and Development teams.

As an Instructional Designer, I have first-hand insights into my own professional development and that of many of my peers. But before we dive into the key findings of the study, we need to define two key roles found in Learning and Development tech teams, these are, Instructional Designer (ID) and Instructional Designer Developer (ID Developer).  

An ID is a person who completes the analysis and design of a learning solution. They provide the blueprint for the development of a learning solution. An ID Developer is person who builds or programs learning experiences based on the provided blueprint using an authoring tool, like MS Word, PowerPoint, Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Trivantis Lectora; these platforms, give the ID Developer the ability to customize their course builds further by using advanced features and JavaScript code snippets.

It should be noted that there are a lot of IDs in the industry that are both ID and ID Developer providing an organization with end-to-end services – from Analysis through Implementation and many times, also take part in the evaluation phase. I should mention that many organizations do not invest the time and money to engage in a formal course evaluation, according to Evaluating Learning: Getting to Measurements That Matter, only “35 percent of 199 talent development professionals surveyed reported their organizations evaluated the business results of learning programs to any extent.” This results in many IDs not having the opportunity to engage in this important instructional design phase; but I digress. For this post, we will be grouping these two roles into the ID bucket and you may see me refer to them as the ID tech team or tech team.  

Today, many IDs face challenges as they begin to build learning solutions, such as heavier workloads, SME management, and demand for integration of emerging technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Many organizations are raising their expectations as to the types of interactions, features, functions, and technologies they expect to be integrated into a learning solution. However, these same organizations are not providing their IDs with the professional development support they need to up their skills to be able to deliver products that meet these expectations. We are not alone in this struggle, Develop Intelligence, creators of Developer Academy published the results of their  2017 Software Developer survey revealing that “As the technology industry changes, engineers and companies are continually challenged to keep pace” also citing that in order for organizations to maintain a competitive edge software developers, research & development (R&D), and learning & development (L&D) must all be aligned.

Unfortunately, IDs tend to engage in sparse professional development. This leaves many IDs scavenging for opportunities to keep their hands on the pulse of emerging trends and actually developing enough knowledge to be able to at least design for trends and emerging technology inclusion.

According to the UPCEA study,

  • When looking at future professional development opportunities, free webinars and in-person conferences were the most sought-after development opportunities for both team leaders and team members. Team members were much more likely to seek paid webinars and courses associated with a degree program than leaders.
  • Almost two-thirds of respondents (both team leaders and team members) indicated that the frequency of professional development within their organization is determined more by the cost than the number of opportunities.

I wanted to dig a little deeper, so I created my own survey and asked all IDs in my professional learning network on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook who work across a number of industries to participate and share their experiences and thoughts on their own professional development. Over a one week period 93 IDs responded. Not surprisingly, I received many messages from IDs telling me how ironic it seems that they don’t really think about their own professional development. In fact, the average ID spends about 10 hours a month of their own time on their own professional development. According to Develop intelligence, the average software developers spends about seven hours a week of their own time learning new skills to do their jobs. This clearly signals that organizations need to provide on-the-job professional development opportunities which can help reduce attrition and overall job satisfaction.  

Back to my survey, I began by asking IDs about their experiences within their organizations and there are some interesting insights, for example, 43% indicated that their organizations offer regular professional development; however based on the complete data story it’s not focused on helping IDs learn new technologies to do their jobs effectively.

I was curious as to how IDs keep up with current trends in the ID space like augmented reality, virtual reality, machine learning. My survey results show that 94% go to digital media and 93% use social media to learn about industry trends.

However, when asked what type of professional development media was preferred 73% stated they preferred self-direct, self-paced learning.

The survey also found that only 33% chose local/national conferences. Anecdotally, I discovered that the cost of conference prohibits many from attending, the average national conference registration (i.e. DevLearn, ATD) cost is on average $1,695. A large number of IDs believes conference is the most difficult form of professional development to get sponsorship from their employers. My survey results also showed that that 75% IDs complete their professional development outside of business hours citing workloads, time, and money as the big barriers to professional development in general.

As part of my research, I also took to  Twitter to find out what IDs in my professional learning network thought would or needed to change as far as ID tech team training in 2019. It seems that most of the IDs in my network didn’t believe that anything would change in the way organizations train ID Developers in 2019, here’s a small sample of the responses I received:

As the Learning & Development industry evolves with new technologies, methodologies, and metric-capabilities there is a critical need for the roles and skill levels of ID tech teams also evolve. The question is, what do organizations need to do in order to ensure their existing tech team are able to stay up-to-date with this evolution?   The National Bureau of Labor Statistics expects there to be an 11% job growth for IDs between 2016 – 2026, stating “Training and development specialists will need to modify their programs in order to fit a new generation of workers for whom technology is a part of daily life and work.” In my survey I asked all IDs an open-ended question, “If you could change how your organization trains or provides professional development for instructional designers, what would you change?”, the 12 answers below sum up the theme of the answers I received,

  1. Make it a priority to invest in at least one course/conference a year.”
  2. “Encourage all of us to upskill. Make time at work to share knowledge”
  3. “Provide more time and resource to them [professional development]”
  4. “Acknowledge that we don’t know everything and have gaps as a L&D function. Provide more resources and info on latest trends. Give professionals more time built into our week for development.”
  5. “A weekly boot camp to learn new technologies and trends and how they fit with business needs would be awesome. More and more project-related experimentation to test new ways and new technologies to develop learning would also help”
  6. “Provide training at different levels—beginning, intermediate, expert—and make it clear which training materials support which level. “
  7. “I would add internal ID certification track”
  8. “Allotted professional development days or budget for professional development “
  9. “Stop the culture of order taking and become consultative business partners instead. “
  10. “I wish there was a bit more guidance on what professional development options are out there. I’m happy to look for opportunities myself, but it would also be nice if there were more curated recommendations from the organization as well.”
  11. “That we be given the same ability to learn and grow as we give all the rest of the employees – we are designing and developing their learning experiences but nothing is designed or developed for us. “
  12. “Speak the language of the value of people development. Invest in the growth and development of their people. See the value of those investments, not just in the skill building of their employees and adding those skills to THEIR business, but in the ensuing outcomes in the value to their PEOPLE – more confident, more satisfied, feeling invested in, more committed to their work, etc. “

We all know that professional development initiatives can be expensive. However, it’s crucial that organizations invest in upskilling and reskilling their ID tech teams to ensure apply innovative  training methodologies and technologies to support them as they move towards cutting-edge solutions and technologies

Here are five strategies every organization can implement today:

  1. Set time aside for IDs to engage in their own professional development. Giving an ID at least 2 hours a week, allows them to attend free webinars, watch industry-specific recordings, attend discussion sessions like TLDCast and experiment with what they’ve learned. $
  2. Partner with vendors – If your organization is using a looking to or currently using a vendor platform (i.e. Articulate Storyline, Go Animate!, Camtasia), ask the vendor to come onsite for a demo or workshop. $
  3. Sponsor ID membership to join local and/or national Learning & Development associations like ATD and The eLearning Guild. These organization provide live local events, free webinars, blogs, articles, and more that will help you IDs stay current.  $$$
  4. Offer monthly ID workshops by inviting internal experts and experts in the local community to come in facilitate a workshop on trending topics and general technology topics, these can be put together on a very low budget. $$
  5. Sponsor a local Learning & Development Conference through sponsorship of a local conferences offered by organizations like ATD local chapters organizations can work double duty providing professional development opportunities for their IDs and marketing their business to a local audience. $$$$$