Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is an Instructional Designer?

I was reading Inside Higher Ed earlier this week and there was an interesting list (similar to Educause's 7-things lists) about what define a learning technologists.

Out of this list these three points are quite interesting to me, and quite possibly define my weltsanschauung with regard to educational technology and my likes at work.

We learning technologists share a healthy skepticism towards the dominant commercial CMS, Blackboard. Put another way, our relationship with Blackboard is often ambivalent. Philosophically, I think many of us are drawn to open and community source platforms and business models. There is an important conversation going on in our profession about the advantages of sticking with Blackboard as our campus CMS (which there are many), versus moving in larger numbers to an open source alternative (with Moodle getting the most traction lately). This conversation will continue to dominate our profession.

Personally it's not like I hate Blackboard, it's just that it's the Microsoft Windows of Learning Management Systems. It tries to update its image and its functionality but does so in a half-hearted attempt, with it's own proprietary way, and tries to maintain backward compatibility - this can't end well. Other solutions seem to work better for some people.

We walked a wide and varied path to arrive at our profession. While many of us received graduate degrees in instructional or learning design, just as many of us are not formally trained in the discipline. [...] From my experience it seems that the diversity in our backgrounds defines us more than our similarities. I'd also say from personal experience that those of us not trained in our discipline heavily lean on our colleagues with actual degrees in what we do to teach us the theoretical and pedagogical fundamentals necessary to do our jobs.

The diversity is what really struck me when I started the instructional design program. There isn't just one type of background for practitioners in Instructional Design, but many. This diversity helps not just at work, but also to learn things from others that you wouldn't otherwise learn.

We are generalists in an age of hyper-specialization. To thrive as a learning technologist it is necessary to work with professional colleagues across academic disciplines and with technical, library, media and other administrative colleagues of varying temperaments and expertise. We like working across our institutions, getting to know folks who are passionate experts in their specialized fields. We enjoy learning about many different things, and try to bring that enthusiasm for learning to the process of designing, developing and supporting virtual and physical learning environments.

Well, here I agree and disagree. I do consider myself a generalist when working with subject matter experts, but at the same token, I do consider myself a subject matter expert in what I studied and what I did in the past, so if I do happen to work with people in my own discipline I can actually throw a few devil's advocate questions to help them better think of what they are trying to accomplish - something which doesn't come as easy when working with SMEs from other areas - just a thought
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