My philosophy surrounding instructional design, and therefore my approach to design tasks, is influenced by my varied background experiences. I entered the instructional design world with an eclectic mix of training and experiences including training as a classical musician and conductor, education and experience as a public school teacher, and a significant interest in 21st century technology and technology integration into learning generally. I have always viewed myself as somewhat of a generalist and have enjoyed the incredibly broad and varied nature of work as an instructional designer. As part of our coursework, students were charged with creating our own definitions for instructional design as a step toward developing our own philosophies. After much deliberation, and heavily influenced by the Richey, Klein, and Tracey (2010) book The Instructional Design Knowledge Base: Theory, Research, and Practice, I created this definition:
Instructional Design is a field concerned with updating, evaluating, and applying a body of knowledge to best design experiences and resources which improve human performance.
Instructional design is an incredibly broad field and can be found in higher education, public and private schooling, healthcare, business and industry, military, nonprofit, and informal learning settings. My definition, and ultimately my philosophical approach, focuses on how instructional design principles and ideas (the body of knowledge) are maintained and applied, regardless of the context or situation.
I often view the world as being deterministic, scientific, and logical, so my philosophy and design approach is similarly rooted in concrete knowledge and deterministic evidence. I strongly believe that all designs should be rooted in evidence-based methods and systems in order to ensure the best possible experience for the user. Creating learning experiences without a solid basis in learning theory and educational research is irresponsible and unethical. We exist to serve our learners as best as possible, and that means using the best practices as they are currently known. When our body of knowledge expands and changes, the designer must continue to learn and adapt to the new concepts.
Designers in Multiple Roles
My view of instructional design, and therefore my philosophy and approach, incorporates designers working in two separate roles: practitioners and researchers. In my view, the practitioner has the responsibility of taking the body of knowledge and evaluating it to determine what methods, approaches, and frameworks are suitable to a given design context. Then, they apply that knowledge to design tasks in the field to best serve learners and performers. By doing so, they create value for the corpus and our field. The researcher's responsibility is to add to the body of knowledge by conducting scientific research to validate and verify new approaches, methods, and ideas. They will also evaluate the body of knowledge through peer review and replication. The researchers create tools that practitioners can use in the field. As someone who moves between academic and practical roles in my work, it's surprise that I have a view of the instructional design field which incorporates both researchers, practitioners, and the body of knowledge generally.
Professionally, I am seeking to become a researcher in the instructional design field. I have therefore created a definition of instructional design that highlights the role I play in the field as a researcher. I do not want to suggest that there are two separate camps of ID members, nor do I want to elevate either role above the other. The function of my definition is to explain how these two roles work together to support the field of ID, the corpus of research, and ultimately learners and performers in their own lives. My detailed philosophy, available for download below, includes a more thorough explanation of the interactions between these two roles as well as a diagram illustrating the relationships.
The Human Element
I have also been heavily influenced by design thinking, especially as it has been used in fields of product design and UI/UX. I include the word "human" in my definition for very specific and intentional reasons. First, I want to emphasize that the field of Instructional Design should be in service of humans, not to the body of knowledge itself. While we do update, evaluate, and apply that body of knowledge, we do not do so for its own sake. We create value for the corpus and for our field by improving the learning and experiences of people. This idea comes from design thinking, where designers first work to empathize with the user first in order to better understand what the user experiences and how they will react to a design. From there, the designer works to create a solution to problems in order to improve the life of that user in some way. As designers of learning and training materials, it's important that we always strive to improve efficacy, efficiency, and ease.
A more detailed and academically cited example of my philosophy can be downloaded below: