Most Important Qualities of an Instructional Designer

Hi everyone!

I'm engaged in some conversations about the roles on my team, and I'd love to hear from others. We're a small team of three: I lead the strategy and project management, we have a developer, and an instructional designer.  

We're passionate about breaking the mold and designing powerful learning experiences, and we're moving towards simulations one day, but have a long way to go to get there. For now, we're successfully using SL2 to create the right visual context and use scenarios and branching to guide learners.

With that in mind, we currently have an opening for the ID role, and we're trying to clearly articulate what the most important skills are for an ID and what skills are "teachable" versus innate. 

For my role, I think vision and communication are critical. For our developer, curiosity and tenacity are crucial. She never stops learning and always finds a way to make the design work.

For an ID, what would you say is the most important quality or skill? 

9 Replies
Allen VanBrunt

Most Important Skill:

The ability to facilitate clients/stakeholders/SMEs to clearly define learning/training outcomes as soon as possible in the product development cycle. 

Most Important Quality:

Flexibility - IDs need to be able to do many things, especially, as a member of a small team. Kim's team consist of a team leader, Kim, who will manage the team's operations, a developer who will most likely wait around for things to do, and the instructional designer. The ID will have to design the learning product, develop leaning objectives, collect/create/review/revise content, design storyboards with images, videos, animations, audio, text, and navigation requirements. The ID will need to work closely with the developer throughout the development process in order to complete the product on time and at budget. In other words, the ID will do much more than just "design instructional-sound product."

Bob S

At the very heart of ID is the ability to take something complicated and break it down so others can understand it; often in ordered steps or related chunks. This sort of process thinking "can" be taught, but the best IDs always seem to have a natural proclivity for it.

One of the key interview techniques I used to use when hiring IDs.....

  • I would ask them about a hobby or pastime they were personally into (to remove the SME concern).
  • Then I would ask them "If I wanted to try that activity for the first time, what are the key things you would tell me to help me get me started?" The details of their answer were of course less important (I wouldn't know if it was correct anyway!), but I wanted to see if they go from A to B to C naturally.
  • Then I would sometimes ask about why they choose to order their response in that order. I wanted to see if they truly thought about starting with first things first from the newbie's standpoint, or were they thinking about pieces they were passionate about.

If someone can't take a topic they are familiar with, and break it down for others in a logical way that provides a path towards (limited) success...  the other important skills for the ID role may not matter.

Hope this helps!

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Kim: A tough question to answer because it really depends on what you are trying to deliver. But here goes. In general, most important qualities of an ID:

  • Ability to analyze a situation and get at the root of the problem
  • Clear communication (can't do much without that)
  • Drive (and by that I mean specifically, the desire to keep on learning, keep on getting better, especially after they've created something that turns out to be not effective.)
Mark Shepherd

Hi Kim:

Very good question! We've recently had a lot of discussion regarding this sort of thing in our own organization, as there appears to often be differing opinions as to what this role encompasses.

Here's *my* take on it, as a developer who has had to deal with good (and not-so-good) instructional design over the years:

  • Clearly, CHUNKING and SEQUENCING of a TOPIC or CONCEPT, with clear VISION, EXAMPLES, along with general COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS, and IDEAS is KEY. 
  • A critical foundation to this is VISION.  If you don't have the vision, or at least some IDEA of what given content might be, as a developer, at best I am going to be shooting in the dark as I try to fill in any potential blanks in your design.
  • Use an ID MODEL/TEMPLATE.  We have a pretty good template that works well in asking for and delivering what developers need to build in the final learning product. 

One interesting exercise might be to give a potential candidate/interviewee a description of a simple eL project and ask them to create x sample slide(s) of content in a draft format/level per section.  Let THEM decide how many sections they want to use, letting them fill in the blanks of your established model, or let them sketch out a model themselves (not recommended).

This on its own will reveal how much ID and/or development experience they've had in e-learning, because if this number is TOO HIGH or LOW, then you can easily say "please continue," or "thanks for coming in, we'll call you".

Hope this helps!


Mark Shepherd

Hi Kim:

I think Vision CAN just boil down to understanding that you need to put together comprehensive content in your design, but you're right, it can be a tricky item to pin down in some cases.

Some IDs just phone in the text content and fail to flesh out the details of what needs to go in to a given course design or requirement, such as interactions, graphic or visual elements, or other interesting instructional components.

In other words, a given ID candidate can be a really good SME, but if they can't "articulate" what needs to be ID-blueprinted into a given course, then this often ends up being the developer's issue, and ultimately item, to call.