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The Multi-Disciplinary Instructional Designer cover

Credit: Routledge

What is a Learning Designer, Anyway?

March 20th, 2024

by Megan Kohler

The field of Learning Design (also called instructional design) is still a relatively young and largely misunderstood profession. The perceptions of Learning Design range from the belief that we simply put an instructor’s slides into Canvas, while others think that working with a designer means we are a one stop shop and do everything including writing the content. While there are threads of truth to this, (yes, we can help you put your slides online and we can help with content revisions) it’s far from the heart of what our profession is dedicated to.

A learning designer’s primary role is to improve how information is presented to students to help them learn more efficiently and help them retain that new knowledge long after they have passed the exam.

A learning designer dedicates time to researching new pedagogical approaches to help an instructor who shares that their students always seem to struggle with a particular topic. We work with instructors to redesign quizzes and exams into meaningful assessments that allow students to demonstrate their learning rather than their ability to choose a single answer from list of multiple-choice options. We work with faculty to explore and implement new technologies to free up their time so they can focus less on grading and spend more time building relationships with their students. And lastly, we do all of this behind the scenes, allowing the faculty to be the ‘rock stars’ of their classes.

To be a designer means to have a robust set of skills with expertise in a variety of areas including learning theory, project management, user experience design, technology integration, copyright, accessibility, web design, and much more. Designers need to be able to share new teaching and learning approaches and communicate these in a way that is approachable to faculty and highlights value to their learners. We build these skills over a lifetime, not just within a graduate program. In fact, there are many skills that designers acquire outside of education that we integrate into our ‘toolkits’ that help us approach teaching and learning in new and interesting ways.

A new book, The Multidisciplinary Instructional Designer: Integrating Specialized Skills Into Design Toolkits, edited by Chris Gamrat (College of IST) and Megan Kohler (a member of the Dutton Institute), provides a glimpse into the personal journeys and skills that several members of the design community have acquired through other fields of expertise. This book provides insight into how skills from professions such as the military, dance, theater, and risk management can enhance a designer's skills to make them a more effective designer.