Monday, May 14, 2012

Have We Lost the S...in ISD? What Should Workforce Learning Graduates Hear from You?

Allison Rossett posted a fabulous fake commencement address 2 days ago.  I loved it.  She nails a point I'd like to emphasize here.  The work we do at one level is extremely focused on the micro solutions we call courses, but more than ever we need to be thinking about, and designing, systems.  And I'm not talking about Learning Management Systems.  Just reading her post made me realize that so much of our industry is focused on the ID, Instructional Design. And back when I first started in this business it was mostly referred to as ISD, Instructional SYSTEMS Design.

I'm not sure what happened to the focus on systems but it seems to have faded. According to Wikipedia the terms are synonymous.  From a purely academic perspective I might agree.  But from many years of observing our industry as a whole I'm not so sure. I see two very different practices emerging within our industry: 1) The Instructional Design of Courses, and 2) The Instructional Systems Design of Enterprise Solutions.

The Instructional Design of Courses
For the most part, this is the work of creating the final product. The instructional design required here helps developers work with SMEs, understand the content, create the media, and design the flow in which the content is presented, as well as creating some form of assessment.  Much of this work is seen as requiring one technology for the solution.  You might choose to design a classroom experience, or you may design a fully interactive immersive simulation.  But no matter what tool you choose, for a certain period of time your sole focus is on creating that solution and implementing it successfully. You may also need to make sure it conform with a larger system design that is part of your enterprise and that is where ISD comes in.

The Instructional Systems Design of Enterprise Solutions
Mostly defined as the strategy and management issues of training and development, there is a certain level of Instructional Design that seems to have been lost at this level.  My feeling is that those with the power and authority, and responsibility, to implement enterprise systems solutions do not take instructional systems design into consideration.  After all, "I have instructional designers that do that".  I believe it's a rare manager today that thinks about instructional systems design during the many times that decisions need to be made.  It's far easier for me to see a manager interested in buying an LMS because legal, IT, or HR asked them if training was being tracked or "managed" in some way. Legal needs the information to fend of legal action. IT needs to know because their enterprise vendor has one that could be thrown into the deal. HR needs to know because of compliance, new hire training, and employee development.

So, is there a difference between Instructional Design and Instructional Systems Design? Should they be two different roles within the training team? What does this mean in the corporate world vs. higher ed?

I don't know the answer, but I know what I see and hear from so many colleagues managing training departments, and creating eLearning course solutions.  I hear the terms of the industry being tossed around in various communities with different meanings attached.  I participate in frustrating conversations because many use the same words, but mean different things.  Maybe parsing ID and ISD will help.

I love it when the veterans of our industry talk about our field at a very high level as Allison did in her post. I wish more would do so.  Perhaps Allison's fake commencement address will kick off a trend.

If you had to give a commencement address to a class of graduating learning professionals, what would you say? If you post it, let me know.

UPDATE: I got a couple twitter responses to this post and I wanted to share some interesting content.  Donald Clark retweeted my post and when I checked out his stream found this gem on design models. Reuben Tozman also reached out and reminded me of his post on systems titled 7 Metaphors for Experience Design.
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