Instructional Designer/Developer/Learning Experience Designer - What’s the Difference?

When you begin to grow a community of eLearning industry peers or are interested in joining the industry, you may come across a range of job titles. All of these titles seem to be related to designing and developing eLearning. The question is, “What’s the difference between them?”. Does each position require different skills? If so, what are they? 

We were asked this exact question by someone in our community (thanks so much for inspiring this blog), so we decided to explore the difference between the roles and share our views and findings. We hope that this adds value to anyone out there who is scratching their heads in confusion at the similarity of the titles and how they could realistically be different.

For us at Belvista Studios, these roles do differ from each other. Whilst we don’t list each of these job titles one after the other on our LinkedIn pages, we have had experience in each role. These experiences aren’t spread over significant amounts of time either, within each project we attempt to put on the hat of all three roles. To us, they have slight differentiations in skills and this enables us to deliver a well-rounded learning experience.

Let’s explore each role and when we at Belvista Studios utilise the skills associated with it.

1. Instructional Designer

If there was a project to build a house, the instructional designer would be the architect, understanding the new homeowner's needs, drawing and designing the plan for the house, prior to it being built. This job is extremely important as it sets the quality and tone for the whole project. Imagine building a house with a poor plan, or worse no plan. You could guess that the result wouldn’t be great. 

In the context of eLearning, the instructional design process involves solving the right problem and and deciding what is important for the solution. Then they can begin to plan how the content will be trained and presented through a storyboard.

At Belvista Studios, we use PowerPoint to roughly present how the training will be designed for the course.

An important part of this role is having knowledge of instructional design methodology that can support you to create effective learning, such as Action Mapping (Moore, 2018) or the CAAF Model (Allen Interactions, 2018).

2. Developer

When the house plan is created and it’s time to build, you need someone who can be on site connecting beams, laying bricks and doing everything that is involved with building a house (we didn’t have a builder friend handy to make us sound like we actually knew how to build a house - you get what we mean!).

The same goes for an eLearning project, once the storyboard/plan is created, it needs to be brought to life and this is where the developer comes into play.

A developer does not choose the information that will be used or how it will be designed, they use the storyboard to develop what has already been designed by the person wearing the hat of the instructional designer.

Although the instructional designer and developer have different skills and responsibilities, they do need to communicate and understand each other’s world and the solution they are trying to create. Some things might not be possible and some things may be interpreted differently, which a little communication can help navigate.

In our terms, developing is the functional side of the project, where ideas are brought to life using an eLearning authoring tool such as Articulate Storyline. Don’t get us wrong, in our team, being in the role of the developer doesn’t mean that you should switch your instructional design brain off, it just means that it’s not your primary role at this iteration of the project. As the developer, you may notice opportunities for improvement or have ideas for the learning design, this is when you can collaborate with the instructional designer again who designed the initial storyboard to iterate and end up with the best possible experience for the learner. That’s teamwork right there!

3. Learning Experience Designer

What about a learning experience designer?

This is the role where we see the most value added and we’ll explain why.

Learning experience design acknowledges that we design experiences rather than modules (Tucker, 2015). The term ‘experience’ shifts the focus away from “instruction” and focuses on a valuable learning experience (Tucker, 2015). This term for eLearning design links with one of our top priorities as a team and that’s understanding who the learners are and how they will experience what we design. This is where user experience (UX) comes into play. Rather than just designing learning to meet the objectives of the module, we design for the end-user. This involves gaining a deep understanding of who they are so that you are able to design not just an effective module but an effective learning experience.

Wearing the hat of a learning experience designer at Belvista Studios is interwoven into every stage of our projects. If you can keep your attention on your learner, you can ensure that you are designing a valuable experience for them that really makes a difference. This observation of the difference between the roles is based on what we have perceived from how the market views the roles. We believe that instructional designers and learning experience designers should both operate as one (and perhaps they do in your role).

That’s it for this blog on the difference between an instructional designer, developer and learning experience designer. This blog reflects our experiences and views at Belvista Studios and we hope that it added value to you in some shape or form. How do you see each of these roles? Have you experienced the differences between the three or do you think they are similar?

                                                              References

Allen Interactions. (2018). eLearning Design with CCAF. Retrieved from https://www.alleninteractions.com/elearning-instructional-design-ccaf?utm_campaign=elearningindustry.com&utm_source=%2Fcreate-effective-elearning-interactions-using-the-ccaf-model&utm_medium=link.

Moore, C. (2018). Action Mapping on One Page. Retrieved from http://blog.cathy-moore.com/online-learning-conference-anti-handout/.

Tucker, C. (2015). Learning Experience Design: A Better Title Than Instructional Design? Retrieved from https://christytucker.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/learning-experience-design-a-better-title-than-instructional-design/.

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