Instructional Design Student

As a Naval Aerographer's Mate (meteorology) I have recently decided to continue my education in Instructional Design. I was pursuing a similar degree (Technical Communication) at a small school in Michigan before I joined the navy a year and half ago. Being in the training/instructional design community I know it definitely helps to have background knowledge on specific subjects such as electronics, engineering, computer science, medical, etc.

So my question is....what do you think are some good fields to possibly minor in or earn a certificate that would compliment a Bachelor of Arts in Instructional Design?

17 Replies
Saenna B Ahman

hello Kelly and welcome to Elearning Heroes! I think it is great to have a background in a technical field or operations, like you do - it will realy serve you well in the ID field, especially if you end up creating technical courseware. As for your minor, have you considered perhaps graphic design or something related to the visual arts? i have noticed that while many of the IDs I work with have a great understanding of their authoring tools and have developed good skills for explaining and communicating technical content, sometimes their design skills are really lacking. I know some might disagree, but in my experience, a little bit of graphic design know-how can go a long way in getting your work noticed and appreciated (both by clients and by your learning audience).

Eric Nalian

Seanna,

I totally agree.  Throughout my education, Undergrad - HR minor in Instructional Design and Grad School - Learning & Development, the graphical design of how to make captivating courses/presentations was heavily lacking.  In my current role, I have worked heavily with our Marketing Dept. to learn things that I think are really basic that designers should know - Colors, Graphics, Fonts...

The courses I have been creating with the graphical/design knowledge I have now, compared to what I was doing 3-4 years ago(When I graduated..).

Steve Flowers

I think it depends on what you have affinities for. It takes a lot of time to develop a skill. It's harder to spend time developing skills you don't have a passion for. In my opinion, taking classes in things you aren't willing to spend evenings and weekends sharpening after you've already finished the class are a waste of time.

Things I think dovetail nicely with ISD and, coincidentally, have some domain overlap among themselves:

  • Psychology
  • Human Factors (usability and human side engineering factors)
  • Any design domain (graphic, architecture, web, etc.)

A quick note about any tool classes (courses commonly labeled as design) you'll take at practically any college or university: These classes are entry level. MOST of the skills you'll pick up in these classes can likely be matched or exceeded with self-study. It could be better to strategize your course schedule to obtain only what you cannot through self-study methods.

Steve Flowers

Let me add one more HUGE recommendation:

Human performance technology - look up Thomas Gilbert or better yet pick up a copy of Human Competence to get a taste of what this looks like at the foundation. There's some rigid and clinical stuff in there - Gilbert was good friends with B.F. Skinner but don't let that dissuade you It's good stuff if you can cut through the cult of performance to see the value. A few other books you might want to take a look at before you start hunting for specific courses include anything by Robert Mager or Geary Rummler. These three are performance authors with Gilbert laying the engineering model and framework for the entire practice.

Ali Ahmed

Kelly, I would recommend you to take to courses, these Organizational Leadership, it has nothing to do with Instructional Designing but helps alot in developing thought process and leadership skills. Secondly, I would recommend you to take Adult Psychology Course. Your Elearning course should always reflect these two important domains.

Heather Steckley

I strongly recommend graphic design.  Whatever you're developing (eLearning, instructor-led training, videos, job aids), they all need good design to enable effective communication.  It will build your portfolio to help you get a job, and then even the most basic skills in design will wow most employers.  Odds are you'll be a team of one or two, and they'll need someone who knows how to "make it look good" as well as design effective training.

Susan Horsey

Hi Kelly,

I see lots of great suggestions posted here already. Definitely, learning about graphic design is really helpful--especially if you'll be designing eLearning. (I can't tell you how often I wish I had better graphic design skills.)

One thing that I haven't seen in this discussion is any mention of writing or storytelling. If you'll be designing eLearning, then the ability to write well is important. As IDs, we need to be able to tell stories and convey information in a clear and engaging way--whether that's text on-screen or writing for audio or video. A minor in creative writing, journalism or screenwriting could be really helpful.

Steve raises an important point about your interests. There are so many different areas for IDs to explore: make sure it's something that you'll enjoy.

Good luck!

Bruce Graham

Personally - Business Studies.

If you need some design work - hire a designer.

Psychology - I could have earned my degree by reading a few books.

BUSINESS - that's the audience you are facing, and who will earn repeat business for you. Learn what a P&L is, learn about ROI, learn about how a boardroom measures SUCCESS, and then work within those confines.

All the others will come, but if you learn "business" you are much more likely to be treated as "one of the team" (and get more respect as a fellow professional when you have to tell them "No!", than if you are "the person from training".

Just my 2p worth.

Bruce

Heather Steckley

I really agree with the Project Management suggestion, too.  I'll add that to my graphic design comment.  I think they both have one thing in common -- being practical.  If you're going to take classes on something, I think it can help to learn a practical skill that most people don't have.

Graphic design isn't really about making graphics.  It's more about layout out and designing a page/screen/video well.  Project management is an incredibly useful skill.  It's very hard to learn from a book.  Some of the other suggestions on theory are absolutely good ideas, but they're much easier to get the hang of by reading a couple books.  Other practical suggestions could be around video production and multimedia development, depending on your interest.

Maybe it's just a testament to my experience, but usually you'll be hired where it's just you having to do everything.  You'll need a portfolio that looks good to get the job.  And usually you won't have the luxury of hiring a designer or anyone else to help you.  If you end up in a position where you can, that's great.  Just not likely.

Bruce Graham

Apologies to comment about "hiring" above, I am coming at things from the perspective of a freelancer.

BTW - it's amazing what you can get designed from sites like fiverr.com!

Project management is an excellent suggestion too, (as well as business studies...!)

Recommended read is The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams.

Many times, (if you are working for/in a corporate), you will get frustrated of you are too "into" graphic design, as you have to use the corporate "standard" anyway (assuming a PowerPoint build).

If you want to build a portfolio, there is nothing wrong with getting some help from cheap designers etc. because perfectly correctly you can say you project managed a team of associated.

Something not mentioned so far is take a good, solid course on questioning skills, and also negotiation. These are (IMHO), incredibly useful. Learn, and practice the HUMAN skills as much as you can, the other stuff will always come and can be learned, byt the human elements require so much more practice.

Psychology courses will always just present the lecturer's particular favourite, or be so general you can learn it from a book, (in my experience).

Bruce

Steve Flowers

Couldn't one learn practically anything, at a basic or intermediary level, through self-study methods? Including business. Particularly with the resources available today. Lots of stuff available to pile on skills and perspective at some level. 

My business courses were right out of the book, taught by a fellow that didn't mind sharing stories of his borderline ethical experiences. Same can be said about graphic design or any of the above mentioned topic areas.

From project management all the way down the line. The basics can be acquired through readily available resources. Mastery matters. Mastery comes from application. 

As a field we've perpetuated our own mediocrity by trying to become jack of all trades while mastering none. For new folks entering the field, I'd love to see focus to a level of mastery in the primary discipline area BEFORE attempting to master peripheral task areas (however important they might be). Being a good designer isn't about finishing a graphic design class, having a degree, or holding a title. I know plenty of mediocre design types that have all of these things. Those extra skills may get you in the door, but if you never master them or can't demonstrate expertise eventually you'll meet a jerk that doesn't have the patience for mediocrity. Or a lot of jerks that care enough about the discipline not to see practitioners wasting time on things that won't ever be pushed to mastery.

I'm in the boat of folks that is often called upon to serve in a variety of roles. I do it but I've also grown to see the value of resource trade-offs. Why would I spend half a day producing something at the amateur level when I could ask for a consult or hire to do it professionally for half that resource cost. That's where I think we're losing the bubble on the jack of all trades expectation.

Back on topic, and this is a great one (one I have quite a bit of passion for.) Maybe the right classes to look for are those that will give you practical exposure to real work, real problems, and real folks that really know what they're doing. Just like you'll (hopefully) get once you arrive at the worksite.

Bruce Graham

Steve,

I find myself agreeing with you...(again!).

I guess my point is this, and it's similar to my other love - being a close-up magician....the "Trick" is only 10%. You need to get the people to like you before they will like what you do. Don't forget the "people" side of the equation, and what is important to THEM when you are an instructional designer.

I agree with the whole "Jack of all Trades" thing. When I decided to create "Story Lion", (see here for the uninitiated!), I wanted to see if I could push the acceptable boundaries of "eLearning", and in fact this uses a lot of ID techniques. Saying that, I cannot draw for toffee - so I hired someone to do it for me.

If you need design assistance in many organisations, you will find Marketing are there.

The learned Steve said:

"...practical exposure to real work, real problems, and real folks that really know what they're doing..."

This is the nub of it - all the learning in the World will not prepare you for what it is REALLY like in this role we call an "Instructional Designer". All the useful lessons I have learned about ID, and what is MY personal differentiator were learned in the Boardroom, and by listening to Boardroom conversations where those people wanted "measurable business impact" from training.

When I tout for business, I very seldon EVER discuss "learning stuff", I discuss "business stuff".

Many people do not give two hoots about ADDIE, or which one of Gagne's principles you want to use, or what font it is.

All they care about are 4 things from training:

1> Increased revenue.

2> Reduced loss.

3> Reduced business risk (which includes risk of failing complaiance or other statutory issues) and ...

4> Increasing customer loyalty.

...whilst doing all of this in a way that attains the measurable result at the lowest cost that is PRACTICAL, (not necessarily POSSIBLE).

Those are the reasons we train - our job is to use our skillset to support those core activities in the workplace, very little else really matters. One of the reasons we (training) are are so often not taken seriously as a part of the business is that we foget about the core activities of business. If you are ever an ID who presents to a Board/Senior management Team, it's good to remember the realities of business - ADDIE can go to the wall for a few minutes, it's an irrelevance to many decision makers, as are so many other topics we tend to spout on about as IDs talking to IDs.

Take care, and I hope it all works out for you.

May the road rise up to greet you.

Bruce

Dave Neuweiler

Susan Horsey said:

Hi Kelly,

I see lots of great suggestions posted here already. Definitely, learning about graphic design is really helpful--especially if you'll be designing eLearning. (I can't tell you how often I wish I had better graphic design skills.)

One thing that I haven't seen in this discussion is any mention of writing or storytelling. If you'll be designing eLearning, then the ability to write well is important. As IDs, we need to be able to tell stories and convey information in a clear and engaging way--whether that's text on-screen or writing for audio or video. A minor in creative writing, journalism or screenwriting could be really helpful.

Steve raises an important point about your interests. There are so many different areas for IDs to explore: make sure it's something that you'll enjoy.

Good luck!


I heartily agree with Susan. The ability to write well -- and thereby communicate well -- serves as a foundation for much of what we do as instructional designers. Even if not pursued in a formal curriculum, a lot can be gained form two books: The Associated Press Style Guide, and The Elements of Style (Strunk and White).

Adam Truckenmiller

I believe it depends what exactly you want to do with your Instructional Design Degree and what your strengths are. I wanted to try and end up on the e-learning side of training so I received a minor in graphic design, I found out I am a quick learner when it comes to computer applications as well so that was very helpful.

Besides graphic design, project management would be a great minor to have. Depending upon what university you attend, they may/may not teach project management as part of the ID program. I know where I attended, Western Illinois University, Project Management was part of the curriculum and we were taught how to use Microsoft Project as well.