Brainformative Blog

Will the Real Instructional Designers Please Stand Up?

I recently searched for Instructional Designer on a popular job site. I expected to find job descriptions that described what I do; however, what I found has me very concerned about the state of the industry.

I looked at six companies looking for an “Instructional Designer” and noticed some odd themes. For brevity I listed my favorites below.

First Company

  • Conducts needs analysis and partners with managers and supervisors to determine project needs, key deliverables and timelines.


  • Advanced to expert knowledge and skills with online and mobile delivery design techniques and strategies.


  • Actively coaches others and consistently models behavior reflective of team play and corporate values.


  • Manage external resources to maximize cost effectiveness and quality.

Every job post has to have this requirement, just to make sure everyone stays busy.


  • Other duties as assigned.

And my all-time favorite Instructional Designer requirement!


  • Knowledge of cable television products and services a plus.

Uh, what? Did I read that right?  “Knowledge of cable television products and services?” This is like asking an NFL quarterback to have knowledge of Papa John’s pizza franchises because people eat pizza during football games.

Anyway, the themes immortalized in the bullet points make it clear that companies think an Instructional Designer is a cross between a project manager, business analyst, multi- faceted subject matter expert, coach, technical writer, and an “e-learning technology” guru who can schmooze people into better performance.

The job posts tell me a couple things.

  • Companies are looking for a man/woman who does not exist. It is highly doubtful that one person would have professional level skills in all those domains, and if there was such an individual the company couldn’t afford him or her.
  • The business world has mistaken software and training industry buzzwords for Instructional Design.

Notice what is missing. Six organizations were looking for an “Instructional Designer” and none of them are looking for a resource that understands how people learn. It is telling that they are seeking to design “instruction,” but they aren’t looking for a candidate who grasps the foundations for gaining knowledge.

What IS Instructional Design?

The Essentials of Instructional Design, by Abbie Brown and Timothy Green gives a comprehensive historical review of educational science in the first chapter but here is a summary: Cognitive Neuroscientists, Psychologists, Psychometricians et al, have learned a lot about how the brain learns. Instruction is about learning, and “the purpose of any design activity is to devise optimal means to achieve desired ends.” (Charles Reigeluth, 1983.)

I have this observation, if “instruction” is about “learning;” if learning and instruction are corollaries how come so many business struggle to transfer knowledge?

The answer is obvious: Learning is not (necessarily) a consequence of instruction.

Will the real Instructional Designer please stand up?

The answer to the question is: they can’t stand up because in the HR definition shown in the job posts above, they don’t exist.

What organizations are really looking for are Insight Designers: men and women who can craft a facilitated learning event where learners explore, collaborate and discover their own insights.

If learners do not have deeply personal insights there is no learning. Period!

High-functioning Insight Designers are:

  • Empathetic—able to understand the learner’s perspective and needs.
  • Creative—able to integrate activities and performance based outcomes for the highest educational impact.
  • Excellent facilitators—able to choreograph the physical and intellectual dance essential for learners to have the freedom to learn.
  • Conceptualizers—they are masters of identifying core concepts and helping the learner grasp how to integrate each mental Lego to form his/her own understanding. They are not subject matter experts but are able to help SMEs identify the habits of mind required for mastery and deconstruction of the big picture for the novice learner.
  • Brainformative learning—they know how to leverage the primacy/recency effect, how to overcome the forgetting curve, why massed practice is far inferior to spaced practice—the essential need for cognitive priming before a learning event—and many more principles and techniques.

Start working with Insight Designers today.

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