Nuts and Bolts: The ID (Job Description) Bucket Overfloweth – by Jane Bozarth

The eLearning Guild’s annual salary report typically involves surveying members on a number of factors such as pay, geographic data, bonuses, and benefits. Across the span of a year specific data don’t change much, so rather than conduct another survey this year I took the data gathered in 2018 and looked to see how well it aligned with what the public job market showed. You can read more about particulars in the report itself, but briefly, I reviewed dozens of job announcements from the largest public sites (such as LinkedIn and Monster.com) to see what employers said they were looking for.

In what was no surprise at all, I found the term instructional designer encompassed an ever-expanding, soup-to-nuts array of tasks. The title has become a catchall for anything related to creating, launching, delivering, or even facilitating instruction in any capacity, and at any level of complexity.

A laundry list of job tasks

Cammy Bean, while researching her 2014 book The Accidental Instructional Designer, undertook a similar review of job postings advertising for IDs listed. Skills in high demand included:

  • Needs analysis
  • Task assessment
  • Writing learning objectives
  • Knows ADDIE process
  • Project management
  • Supplier management
  • Desktop publishing
  • Graphic design
  • Authoring tools
  • PowerPoint
  • Live and recorded webinars
  • Support the training database
  • Experience working with SMEs
  • Experience creating instructor-led training

Our 2019 review shows even more skills lumped into the ID category. In addition to the list above, postings for jobs focused primarily on instructional design included a desire for expertise in:

  • Video production and editing
  • Audio production and editing
  • Web design/HTML5
  • Game design/badges
  • Dashboard creation
  • Digital products
  • Mobile app design
  • Social and collaboration tools
  • Support assorted learning platforms
  • Data analysis
  • Content curation
  • Augmented, virtual, and mixed realities

Some ads, particularly those for jobs in higher education, had still more duties for training faculty in using new technologies and approaches. And while most postings included the cover-yourself “other duties as assigned” item, one specified that the instructional designer would be responsible for coordinating activities such as employee appreciation days and workplace blood drives.

Overlap between titles

On top of this was the overlap between titles. Designer and developer were often used interchangeably. This is supported by eLearning Guild membership data. Many of those employed as instructional designers say their work actually entails doing “a little of everything”, while those with more task-specific job titles (like multimedia developer) say they spend a lot of their time engaged in instructional design.

So what?

Apart from the job stress of trying to wear a dozen hats, the role confusion makes it very difficult to pin down competencies, educational and other background requirements, and correlating salary. As those of us in L&D continue to beat the drum about wanting to be taken seriously and getting a seat at the proverbial table, the everything-from-PowerPoint-decks-to-blood-drives task list isn’t doing us any favors. In the report I offer advice to managers and recruiters, particularly about making more effort to pin down exactly what a worker does all day, rather than just copying old job postings and piling on buzzwords.

We have a role in this too! Cut the cutesy, self-created job titles and push for more accurate ones. Calling yourself a learning experience wizard on Twitter probably isn’t helping, but calling yourself an instructional technologist, and being able to explain what that means, might. Don’t adopt a title just because it’s shiny: people doing basic ID work are already grabbing hold of monikers like architect and engineer.

Be careful of over-promising, and help employers understand the reality of work: a colleague’s department is still trying to recover from the fallout and delays that resulted from hiring one person who promised she could “do” virtual reality training for a medical school—by herself. Honestly, we need to do better at saying, “No.” A small shop primarily concerned with building HR-ordained, slide-based compliance courses cannot also be expected to create mobile apps, dashboards, VR experiences, 360-video—the list goes on and on—and do equally well juggling all those bowling pins. Pushing for more clearly defined roles and more realistic expectations can help remove some of the ambiguity from the employment frontier and support our goal of L&D being seen as a more credible business partner.

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