Instuctional Design (ISD)
Instructional design (also called Instructional Systems Design, or ISD) is a process used to create educational or training "experiences" - programs or activities that result in some type of learning. ISD is much more than simply developing PowerPoint slides; it requires the ability to analyze a performance problem, determine whether lack of knowledge/skills is part of the problem, and find the most effective solution for the organization or its people. Many times, a performance problem - in any type of organization - has NOTHING to do with education or training. It may be the result of inadequate resources, lack of clear instructions, or a poor work environment.

The most commonly-used instructional design process is referred to as ADDIE:
  • Analyze the situation or need
  • Design a solution
  • Develop the instructional materials/experience
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate the results
To better understand ADDIE, think about the process used to design a product - a vehicle, for example. The company must clearly identify the requirements of the vehicle (size, weight, horsepower), design a vehicle to meet those requirements, manufacture the vehicle, put the vehicle on the market, and monitor sales and warranty claims on the vehicle.

The ISD process is very similar. The first step is to clearly define the required outcome - what do you want people to be able to do? The second step is to design a learning experience (or methodology) that will achieve the desired outcome. The methodology selected should be based on the type of learning required (knowledge, skills, or attitude) and the needs/capabilities of the learner and the organization.

Step 3 of the process requires building the "product" - developing instructional materials or tools. In some cases, materials are for learners - manuals, job aids, videos, or e-learning products. In other cases, materials for instructors or teachers also are required.

In Step 4 of the process, the solution is implemented. The program or course is presented to the target population. The last step of the process, of course, is to determine whether the solution was effective. In other words, did it work? Can people do what you wanted them to be able to do? A more important question at this point is, if not - why not? Is the lack of performance due to poor ISD or a result of other organizational issues?

Good instructional design is not easy. It's both an art and a science. It takes empathy and creativity to get "into the heads" of learners and create meaningful experiences to engage them. It also requires deep knowledge of cognitive-behavioral learning theories, instructional design methodologies, and the development of assessment tools. Writing skills are a must, too. Most important, ISD requires a genuine love of learning - a willingness to tackle any subject matter or content - and find a way for others to learn it!