Everyone knows “the way we’ve always done it” is not usually the best way to move forward. Yet, many associations continue to have staff and volunteer subject matter experts (SMEs) design and develop online learning programs because that’s been the default mode of operation. To provide a more engaging and effective learning experience for your online students, consider outsourcing instructional design.
What Instructional Designers Do
Instructional designers (IDs) design and develop online and face-to-face educational programs: courses, curriculums, workshops, sessions, and training materials. These professional designed programs, grounded in learning theory and cognitive science, deliver the desired outcomes for their target audience.
To get a sense of the skills IDs bring to their projects, take a look at this list of Instructional Design competencies. Do you have those competencies on staff?
10 Reasons for Outsourcing Instructional Design
Some IDs refer to themselves as Learning Experience Designers. If your association would like to provide a learning experience that keeps online students engaged while building new knowledge and skills, consider these ten benefits of outsourcing instructional design.
#1: Take advantage of an instructional designer’s specialized skillset.
Day in, day out, instructional designers use their specialized knowledge and skills to create engaging learning experiences. They simply have more tools in their toolbox than the typical jack-of-all-trades association staff.
IDs are experts in:
- Adult learning theory
- Cognitive science
- Behavioral change
- Curriculum design
- Course development
- Instructional practices
- Learning technology
In this quickly evolving field, it’s tough for association staff to keep up on all the research, strategies, and tactics available to people who make their living in instructional design. IDs have experience working in a wide range of organizations and industries with diverse groups of learners. They’ve seen it all so they can anticipate potential challenges and know how to overcome them.
IDs are constantly exposed to new ideas and innovations too. The fresh perspective brought to your association by an instructional designer along with their mastery of new strategies and tactics might be just what your programs need.
#2: See expertise in action.
A recent survey of online education leaders found that programs supported by professional instructional design had more consistency in and adherence to online teaching pedagogy. With instructional designers, you’re getting both best and “next” practices. IDs put their expertise in action to:
- Identify what’s important for the student to learn, and how to organize that information, i.e., “scaffold” the learning.
- Determine the best methodologies to deliver information.
- Design learning interactions—a mix of lessons, exercises, and activities that guide learners through new information and build upon existing knowledge.
- Produce or oversee the production of videos, audios, and presentations and assemble it all with an authoring tool such as Storyline or Captivate.
- Plan the use of online learning communities and other interactive activities that keep isolated learners engaged.
- Design activities that help learners practice what they’ve learned, put it into context, and understand how to apply it in the real world.
- Create assessment tools to measure progress.
#3: Eliminate unrealistic expectations of SMEs.
Subject matter experts are not qualified to design learning experiences. They’re experts in the subject matter at hand, not adult learning or course design. Unless SMEs have had training, some aren’t even qualified to deliver the learning experience—but a Train the Trainer program can help with that.
It’s the instructional designer’s job to take the SME’s knowledge and translate it into a learning experience. It’s the SME’s job (or volunteer duty) to be a resource for the ID while they design the program.
#4: Increase your speed to market.
Instructional designers have a proven framework for new projects. They’ve refined their process and can adapt it to your association’s needs. Because they do this work all the time, they can go from start to finish much more quickly than your staff can.
If new regulations or issues emerge in your industry, you don’t have to worry about having enough staff bandwidth to develop a new program. With an ID, you can respond to market needs and get something going much faster than if you were relying solely on staff to get the work done.
#5: Reduce costs.
You might be wondering how cost could be a positive factor since outsourcing ID is an additional expense. Or is it? Tally up the hours staff would spend working on a new program and what those hours cost in terms of salaries and benefits.
Then think about program quality: the learning experience and effectiveness of a program developed by an ID will be superior to one developed by staff and volunteers. Learners receive a better value for their money and time—resulting in return business and positive word-of-mouth marketing.
Also, IDs develop content so it can be more easily updated, i.e., programs don’t get stale. Overall, you will come out ahead when working with an ID.
#6: Allow staff to focus on what they do best.
Staff often become “accidental” instructional designers because they’ve had to evolve into that role, yet they don’t have the extensive formal training and knowledge of IDs. When you take program design off your staff’s plate, they have more time and energy to focus on learning strategy, program management and administration, marketing, and customer support.
#7: Increase learner interaction.
Unless online learning programs are designed with care, online students can feel isolated. The aforementioned survey also found that student-to-student interaction increases by nearly 30 percent when instructional designers are involved in online course design.
#8: Get more ROI from your LMS.
The survey report also said instructional designers “implement the full potential of their learning management system (LMS) and other online tools.” IDs, particularly the ones who specialize in association education, are familiar with the leading learning platforms in our marketplace. They know how to best leverage an LMS’ features and functionality.
#9: Elevate staff skillsets with coaching.
When you work with an ID, you will see best practices in action. During the project, your staff will have the opportunity to learn about adult learning principles, dispel adult learning myths, and get exposed to new content delivery formats.
#10: Differentiate your online learning programs from the competition.
Online learning programs designed by experts are going to be better than most of the competing programs in your marketplace. But your target audience won’t know that unless you tell them. If they have to spend their money and commit their time to an online course, they want it to be enjoyable and engaging. Most importantly, they want it to make a difference—unlike so many educational experiences.
You’ve probably experienced this phenomena: a few months after attending a face-to-face program, like a conference, or an online learning program, your new knowledge has disappeared. The program wasn’t designed in a way to make it stick. When an online course is developed by an instructional designer, knowledge sticks and learners’ lives are changed.