Have a question about developing your instructional design skills? Maybe it's answered below.
Please see my long answer to that, along with links to other perspectives.
I receive so many emails asking for advice that I can't answer them. Instead, consider asking your question on one of the instructional design groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Reddit. There, you'll get quick responses and answers from more than one perspective.
Here are some other resources you might consider. These aren't endorsements. They're just suggestions of places you could look.
Career & business advice
How to become an instructional designer page on my blog with links to more info
Articulate Elearning Heroes career tips tag
Need to learn about the market?
- The Elearning Guild (US) publishes research about elearning use and needs
- Josh Bersin (US) publishes research about corporate training needs
- Kineo (UK) publishes reports and includes market updates in their blog
- Towards Maturity (UK) provides research about the needs of UK companies
- ISA, a US organization, helps learning providers build their businesses
Not earning enough? Read Overcoming Underearning by Barbara Stanny.
Working too hard or for the wrong clients? Read Built to Sell by John Warrillow, even if you don't plan to sell your business.
Workshops & conferences
- Australasia: ElNet, Learning@Work, LearnTech Asia
- UK: Learning and Skills Group and Learning Technologies conferences, Elearning Network
- US: ATD, ISPI, and the Elearning Guild
Elearning design or tools; LMS selection
- Elearning Guild LinkedIn discussion group or Learning Exchange; there are many other LinkedIn ID groups as well
- Articulate Elearning Heroes "Building Better Courses" forum discusses elearning design in general, not just Articulate products
- LMS reviews by Talented Learning
See my list of recommended books about L&D strategy and training design
Here are some of the bloggers I follow, starting with ones you might not be familiar with already. All write about L&D strategy or instructional design except where noted.
- Pedro De Bruyckere, one of the authors of Urban Myths about Learning and Education
- Arun Pradhan
- Mark Britz emphasizes social and informal learning
- Dawn Mahoney
- Adam Weisblatt
- Emily Short writes about interactive fiction and tools
- Mike Taylor
- Michelle Ockers
- Neurobonkers debunks pseudoscience
- Ryan Tracey
- ATD Science of Learning summarizes research
- Shannon Tipton
- Dave Ferguson
- David Kelly
- Karl Kapp
- Donald Clark
- Clive Shepherd
- Jane Bozarth
- Connie Malamed offers podcasts in addition to blog posts
- Donald H. Taylor
- Clark Quinn
- Julie Dirksen
- Christy Tucker
- Allen Interactions
- Roger Schank
- Jane Hart
- Learning Solutions magazine
- Dick Handshaw
- Will Thalheimer
- Charles Jennings
I'm unfortunately not familiar enough with any degree programs to be able to recommend them.
For recommendations from former students, you might ask in one of the many LinkedIn forums for instructional design. If you're a member of the Articulate Elearning Heroes forum, they also have regular discussions about specific degree programs.
For general information on how to become an instructional designer and whether a degree is necessary, please see How to become an instructional designer.
I recommend the books that I list on this page.
My focus is on design rather than development, so I don’t recommend specific tools. You’ll get lots of helpful opinions if you post your question in one of the LinkedIn groups for elearning. You'll find several groups and other resources in Where can I get advice about tools, my career, or my business?
Here's a quick summary of what I learned in my career, which led me to a major change in mindset that I think we all need to make. A lot of training designers have taken a similar path. Maybe you’re one of them.
Technical training: Job aids rule!
I started out in the early 1980s as a technical trainer, introducing people to the newfangled IBM PC. It was also my job to provide tech support. If people didn't learn something well, they called me with questions, so I quickly learned which training techniques worked.
Creating job aids and practice activities became my favorite way to help new PC users become independent.
Education: Stuff knowledge into their heads, but don't let them think
Next, I got a university job creating "distance learning" materials, which turned out to be written lectures. Then I got a job designing elearning for US schoolchildren, and then I wrote activities for standardized tests.
Each activity I wrote for children had to cover an item in a long list that specified what kids should know at each age. School systems in the US use such a list to design their lessons. Standardized tests determine whether the kids have "learned" each item.
The items were so specific that each activity presented one bit of knowledge divorced from other knowledge. The student spent ten minutes on chlorophyll and then ten minutes on magma. We delivered snippets of information with no connecting concepts because our goal was for kids to pass test questions about each snippet.
Emotionally charged, pseudoscientific claims about how children learn dominated the scene. Feelings seemed more important than clear thinking, and clear thinking seemed impossible thanks to the stream of disconnected bits of knowledge we created.
In 2001, I switched to the corporate elearning market.
Corporate elearning: Stuff knowledge into their heads, part 2
I happily worked for award-winning elearning development firms and then independently, with clients who ranged from consultants to global corporations.
I loved my work, but as I looked at the larger field of corporate training, I began to see barriers to good design. They reminded me of issues I had seen when I worked in education.
Often, the client saw a performance problem and assumed that a course was the solution. Like in education, the course designer's job was to cover the information that someone else had specified and then test learners' ability to recall it.
As slide-based elearning took hold, the information was increasingly delivered as unrelated bits of content, a few bullet points per slide, just like the disconnected bits of knowledge I had helped deliver in my education jobs.
Finally, the pseudoscientific beliefs I had seen in the education world were increasingly used as rules for training design. For example, redundant narration became popular out of a misguided belief that "auditory" learners couldn't learn from pictures or text.
The practical job aids from the beginning of my career had almost completely disappeared. The prevailing belief was that a course would inject people with what they needed to know.
As I looked around our field, I saw only well-intentioned people who were trying to improve performance or improve the world. But the “knowledge transfer” mindset meant that we created materials that weren't very different from the materials I had created in education, and they seemed likely to fail.
It was hard to tell if they actually failed, because usually no one checked. Like in education, often the only measurement was the final test, which just checked to see if bits of knowledge survived in people's short-term memory five minutes after the training was done.
Trying to deprogram myself
I no longer agreed with what we designers were supposed to do, and I wanted to propose alternatives. However, I had trouble imagining any alternatives until I read Michael Allen's Guide to Elearning in about 2004. He pointed out that we need to move from "tell, then test" to "test, then tell."
I also learned from a client who wanted to use a simulation to help people practice using his sales model. Working with him showed me how we can let people learn by doing, even in self-paced elearning.
When I moonlighted with marketing firms, I saw that marketers have the same goal as trainers, to change people's behavior. However, good marketers create business goals to justify the expense of a project, and they measure (in a million ways!) whether people actually change their behavior.
Finally, I still remembered my early days, when I gave new PC users practice activities and created help screens and job aids. I had seen those work well, so I couldn't agree that a course was always the best solution.
I developed action mapping to give designers a ladder down from the clouds of knowledge to the real world. The model is intended to help everyone involved in a project clearly see the real-world change they need to create, identify the barriers to that change, and, when appropriate, to design practice activities, not just information, to create that change.