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Survey: Instructional Designers 'Pivotal' in Tech Adoption

Managing projects is the most common task instructional designers undertake during their days, followed by technology and pedagogical training. Their biggest obstacle to success on the job is faculty resistance. The most important expertise they possess as a whole is the ability to learn new technologies, followed by project management and learning science or theory. Their favorite tools to work with are Camtasia and Adobe products; their least-favorite are Blackboard and learning management systems in general.

Those are some of the findings that have come out of a new survey undertaken by Intentional Futures, a self-described "strategy and design studio," undertaken on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's "Next Generation Courseware Challenge." The results of the survey are based on responses from 780 people who work in a higher education institution in the area of instructional design, instructional technology, course design or a related field. Eighty-three percent are in the United States. Based on its results, the company estimated that about 13,000 instructional designers currently work in U.S. higher education.

Why instructional designers? As the report's authors stated, these people "have positioned themselves as pivotal players in the design and delivery of learning experiences," bridging the gap "between faculty instruction and student online learning." Ultimately, the report explained, the work undertaken by instructional designers has a big impact on student success.

The typical instructional designer is female (67 percent), aged 45 and highly educated (87 percent having earned at least a master's degree).

Respondents said they wear "many hats," doing design, training, support and management activities during a workday. For example, 54 percent reported that they manage projects multiple times a day, and another 19 percent do so at least once a day. Sixty percent said they perform technology training at least once a day, and 49 percent said they performed pedagogical training just as often.

More than a quarter (28 percent) of survey participants said faculty resistance topped their list of obstacles to success. As one respondent reported, "Faculty don't really understand what instructional design is and have a tough time realizing that I can help them in lots of ways. Most folks think of me as LMS help." A lack of time came in second (19 percent), and a lack of resources came in third (15 percent). "I'm a one-person army," noted one participant.

At least four in five respondents (82 percent) said learning new technologies was the most important skill they could possess in their current role. Project management expertise was cited by 75 percent; and learning science or theory was referenced by 64 percent.

A solid fifth of participants (21 percent) referenced TechSmith's screen recorder, Camtasia, as their favorite digital tool. Also on the list of favorites: Adobe software, Canvas, Google Docs and its other productivity apps, PowerPoint and Articulate Storyline. Some of those same programs — Adobe's software, PowerPoint and Articulate — showed up on the list of least-favorite tools as well. At the top of the least-favorable ranking, Blackboard was mentioned by 17 percent of people. Almost half of respondents (47 percent) said they have a lot of say in the digital tools they use; another 41 percent said they usually just provide feedback on the digital tools in use.

The report offered several recommendations to help institutions tap the potential of their instructional designers more fully:

  • Consider adding more resources in the area of instructional design. If that isn't possible, at least consider involving instructional designers "early" and "often" during technology transitions."
  • "Incentivize" faculty to work with instructional designers "from the get-go" in order to help them learn how to engage with their students and expand class time through the use of online tools.
  • Technology providers should work closely with instructional designers in the selection of digital tools.

"Textbooks and lectures are giving way to new kinds of active instruction supported by online courseware," said Greg Amrofell, co-founder of Intentional Futures, in a prepared statement. "These advances stand to engage millions of learners who are poorly served by higher education as long as instructors can get help making the leap to these promising approaches and tools. In this study, we posited that instructional designers are the key to unlocking a new wave of effective education."

The report, "Instructional Design in Higher Education," is freely available on the Intentional Futures website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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