Lately there has been a lot of discussion over at Cammy Bean's blog Learning Visions about whether or not someone has the "right" to be called an instructional designer or whether or not you even need to know instructional theories to be called an instructional designer.
The argument "I develop instructional design and therefore, I am an instructional designer" is like saying, "I have driven a car fast and therefore I am a NASCAR driver." Or, "I have skied down the same slope as many Olympians, therefore am an Olympic skier." Or, "I have read a lot of medical journals, I am a doctor."
Being involved and part of a field and a discipline means understanding, articulating and being aware of the underpinnings of the field. Can a doctor practice medicine without understanding the Hippocratic Oath taught in medical schools but rarely mentioned outside that environment...you bet! But I wouldn't want that person as my doctor. Can someone become a tax accountant through self-study and practice without being a CPA, certainly but would you trust that person to help you avoid an audit? I don't think so.
One person writes on Cammy's blog, "I have almost 20 years of experience and at this point, I don't know how much a master's degree would help me," the one thing I definitely know from being on the academic side is that in 200 years I'll never be able to know everything about instructional design (or any topic for that matter.) Yet this person can learn nothing new...nothing to help her become a better designer. Why? Because she has 20 years of trial and error experience and now knows everything. Let's hope it was the right 20 years or experience.
I wonder if this person was born with a divine gift of "instructional design" or did this person's learners have to "suffer" for the first five years with poorly designed mediocre instruction until the designer got it?
John Curry wades in with an academic perspective but then backs off and concludes that by reading one single paper by Dr. Merrill that one can become an instructional designer.
In fact several people claim that without a degree they are actually BETTER instructional designers. Then they claim it far more important to know the concepts and ideas of instructional design than the theories. They state that you really don't need to know the detail of who created what theory and what it actually means or when to apply that concept or idea over another. (What is the evidence that the techniques you learned "on the way" are indeed working?)
Maybe this lack or research-based practice is why evaluation is such a hot topic and so poorly done...I can't tell you how many instructional designers I've seen tasked with evaluating their instruction who can't even put together a simple comparative study design. I had an entire class in graduate school on the topic of "evaluation."
Clark Quinn wades in with a good posting defending theory in Theory Foundations for ISD. Please read it before continuing. I agree with Clark 100%.
As a professor of instructional technology and a consultant in the field who has written, reviewed and advised on ID projects for hundreds of organizations big and small. I have to say that in my extremely biased opinion...a degree is not only needed, it should be required!
If the field of instructional design wants to be taken seriously as a field there needs to be an entry requirement. Otherwise anyone can and will call themselves an instructional designer whether they are good, bad or just passing time.
Now before I go much further, I want to take the personal aspect out of this argument because this is where people become impassioned about the subject and then do not look at it from a wholistic point of view.
This is an argument about whether the field of instructional design needs degrees and/or certificates, not whether Cammy Bean is a better instructional designer than Karl Kapp or anyone else.
On an individual basis, it is possible to learn enough, be smart enough and talented enough to eventually become a top notch designer (as Cammy is a great example.)but this doesn't benefit the field as a whole. And, I would argue those cases are rare.
Additionally, just because a few people can achieve that level of expertise without a degree doesn't mean the field should not require a degree in instructional design. The cost of "trial and error experimentation" while a non-degreed designer figures out how to design effective instruction within an organization is too high a price for the field to pay.
There is far too much bad instructional design, half-baked training programs and ill-advised content masquerading as "instruction" for us to turn a blind eye and say, hey if you've designed enough of this stuff, then, by golly, you are an instructional designer.
I think people believe that if they understand ADDIE then they understand Instructional Design and so they don't need a degree.
The real value of an instructional designer is knowing when to apply what instructional strategies to what type of content. How to use elaboration theory to teach a fact or how to use metacognition to help learners develop problem-solving strategies. What should seperate an instructional designer from a subject matter expert is the designers ability to apply instructional strategies to the appropriate content and being able to articulate those strategies to the stakeholders so they understand why you are not just writing down everything the Subject Matter Expert says and placing that content on four different screens of intense text followed by a multiple choice question.
Additionally, the goal of instructional design (and this part addresses ASTD's January Big Question) is to change behavior or attitude.
If you just want to make someone "aware" of something, no need for instructional design (in fact, just send a link.) If you want to consiously work to change an attitude or behavior or increase the velocity of performance then you must design the instruction to achieve the desired result.
We can't really be viewed as a discipline or a field unless we have standards, techiques and codified practices that are enforced and followed by everyone and that are emperically based. (This is the work done by Will Thalheimer.)
Instead of standards, we have a good sales person promoted into a training position who designs, develops and mointors the creation of instruction for a 2 year stint on his or her way to a manager position. Not acceptable for any other field but good enough for ours?
I've written about this before in Value of Instructional Designers
So, do I think a degree is need. Absolutely, now is the time to start requiring degrees. Degrees, like the one at Bloomsburg University, that blend theory and practice, that build the bridge between what is happening in the field and what is happening in the research side. But to say that you can develop instruction without understanding the underlying theories, developments and ongoing research trends is not believable to me.
I've seen too much bad instruction which has pointed me in the direction of saying that a degree is needed.
Organizations can't wait 20 years for someone to work their way into designing good instruction...and neither can our field.
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