What If Your Association Can’t Afford an Instructional Designer?

Great news: you got the go-ahead to offer a new online course. Now, the bad news: you didn’t get the budget to hire a professional to design and develop the course. What are your options if your association can’t afford an instructional designer?

At least, we’ll save money…or will we?

You won’t necessarily save money in the long-run by handling instructional design yourself. It’s not always cheaper when you factor in how much time it takes staff to do what professional instructional designers can do much faster. Plus, the time staff spends on course design and development is time away from other responsibilities.

What’s more, you have to consider the budget you’ll need to build your staff’s instructional design skills—and any other skills required for creating course content, for example, visual design or multi-media skills. If you don’t already have an authoring tool, you’ll need to budget for that too.

Among the many benefits of outsourcing instructional design is their expertise in creating courses that provide engaging and effective learning experiences. If your team can’t deliver a course that meets those standards—or the quality level of your competitors’ course—it won’t be worth the money you might have saved designing it in-house.

So what do you do when the powers-that-be decide you can’t afford an instruction designer?

Ask for just one chance with an instructional designer.

It’s time for Plan B. Go back to the decision-makers and ask if you can work with an instructional designer (ID) just this one time. You want your team to learn from the ID what they will need to know to design and develop courses on their own in the future. You’ll get a new course plus professional development for everyone in one package.

If they agree to this approach, now you’ll have to find an ID who will agree to provide training and templates for your future projects. You’ll also need documentation of instructional design principles and practices so you’ll have them as a reference in the future.

If the cost of designing a new course is beyond the budget, perhaps you can get enough money to hire an ID to work with your team on improving an existing course. Make sure to include coaching and training resources in your contract.

get coaching if you can’t afford an instructional designer

Take a hybrid approach to instructional design.

What does your team know how to do? And what do you absolutely have to outsource? If you’re an ASAE member, download the online course development skills matrix shared by Catherine Conley in this Collaborate discussion about e-learning instructional design. Determine which skills you have (or can develop) in-house and which are beyond your capabilities.

For example, you may decide to outsource the development of content extenders (like worksheets) and multi-media assets because the quality of those elements will make a huge difference in the learning experience.

Once you’ve drawn up a smaller list of ID requirements, work up a new proposal and bring that to decision-makers.

Develop in-house instructional design skills.

If you’re truly left on your own, rise to the challenge. Your résumé will thank you. First, start connecting with other association e-learning professionals. If you’re an introvert, have no fear, many accidental and professional instructional designers (IDs) are introverts too—you’ll be in good company.

Some virtual and real-life places to meet other IDs include:

You’ll find an active community of IDs online. Check out the Twitter hashtag #instructionaldesign for conversation and posts to read. Many authoring tools have lively online user communities. The eLearning Learning blog aggregates posts on ID and other topics.

Subscribe to the Leading Learning podcast. Attend webinars offered by the eLearning Guild, ATD, and Training Magazine Network.

And, of course, you can read books:

  • The Accidental Instructional Designer by Cammy Bean
  • eLearning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer
  • Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen
  • E-Learning by Design by William Horton

Keep your eyes open for mentors. They’ve been in your shoes and can help you avoid rookie mistakes.

network with peers if you can’t afford an instructional designer

Put your SMEs to work.

Spread the work around by tapping into the talent of your subject matter experts (SMEs). Share instructional design and teaching resources with them to encourage their interest and improve their ID skills.

Hire someone to conduct a Train the Trainer session for your SMEs either in-person or through an online series of classes.

When SMEs are properly trained, ask for their help in developing pieces of the course content. Allude to the fact that this activity is a résumé builder.

Consider these DIY instructional design issues.

Invest in an authoring tool and set aside enough time (and money, if needed) for staff to learn how to use it.

Designing and developing a new course is a big project. You’ll need to appoint someone to serve as the project manager. Project management is its own area of expertise as well. Give your project manager the resources to learn the basics of project management so your new course has a chance to stay on schedule and budget.

Most likely, project team members will be adding the new course project to their existing workload. Something’s going to give—be prepared for that. Decide how people will manage to juggle existing and new responsibilities, transfer work to others, or put things on hold.

There is a silver lining. If you can’t get ID (instructional design), then argue for PD (professional development). With some ID training, employees will build a new valuable skillset, one that will make your courses more competitive in the marketplace.

instructional designer
Sign up to our newsletter to be the first to receive our blog and updatesSubscribe