Instructional Designer Existential Crisis

Hey all of you Instructional Designers, Educational Developers, Distance Education Online Learning Specialists! It is time to lay off with the complaints that the emergency response to online learning as a result of Covid-19 is not real online learning.

Because it is. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth regarding definitions and nomenclature, and some have been excellent, while many feel like they are an attempt to demarcate territory .

“But what about the QUALITY!”

I have heard this cry about ‘the quality’ many times from many different quarters over the last seven months. I am wondering about the sincerity of this cri de cœur. What I saw in response was management quickly rushing out and purchasing a subscription to Quality Matters, send out an email to our 2000+ instructors to let them know and how to get access, and then sit back and watch the quality roll in.

Has the quality rolled in?

At this stage, I don’t think that the issue is about the mechanics of implementing a quality agenda, whether that is via this rubric or that one. I think we need to start with the cri de cœur itself and where it is originating from. I hear it mostly from the cadre of professional instructional designers who see what instructors are doing online and are up in arms because these instructors are not following ‘the model’.

What I mean by ‘the model’ is pretty loose, but it essentially includes all the elements that go into a terrific fully distance-based online course that will increase instructor, cognitive and social presence and engender student motivation for student success. These courses typically require a project-based course development team from three to nine months to build and have delivery-ready an online course for a pilot. Feedback will be gathered from the pilot and rolled into a (controlled) next phase of development so that the eventual course has been pretty much instructor-proofed.

In contrast, what I have witnessed with our dedicated campus-based instructors as they switch to online delivery does not necessarily look like those full-meal-deal online courses. But that doesn’t mean that they are not hitting all of the elements of instructor, cognitive and social presences. It often means that they are relying heavily on the synchronous tools to manage the aspects of getting themselves out there as instructors, and to engage students. But that is changing as they get more experience.

Does that mean the quality is bad? I would like to think that a full-time normally-campus-based instructor muddle ahead with their access to an array of online learning tools is going to do a pretty good job because they:

  • know their students
  • are experienced educators
  • know their subjects well
  • not only already have a substantial body of work in terms of learning activities and assessments, but have refined it over time
  • know where their course(s) fit in to their overall programs

The above could not be said for the contracting of instructors to teach in online courses developed according to the full-meal-deal. I would argue that is why we have to bake into the ‘model’ so much of the instructional aspect, the area where dedicated instructional designers prove their worth, because these courses are being essentially tutored/facilitated by non-teaching people.

Let’s step back and respect our professional teaching faculty who have made the shift to online teaching. I am now at the stage as an instructional designer at my institute where I have a great deal to learn from them. Before Covid, me and my unit were the keepers of the special knowledge about online learning. After eight months, I am in awe of what my 2000+ teaching colleagues have learned as online teaching professionals. I think there is a critical shifting that has taken place and I think it is important for me and my ID colleagues to move over and make space for pretty much everybody, because everybody is now an online instructor.