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  • Vicki Kunkel

Sometimes, when trying to explain what I do to friends, I feel like an IDiot.



This past Christmas, I met up with an old college friend for coffee. It was a great conversation--until he asked what I did for a living. Here is a loose transcript of that discussion. FRIEND: So…I read your LinkedIn profile. Says you’re an Instructional Designer and Learning Experience Designer. What is that? What, exactly, do you do?

ME: I design and develop instructional products. Mostly digital products—such as elearning.

FRIEND:  So…you’re a writer who  limits your practice to writing courses?

ME: That’s part of what I do, yes; I do create eLearning courses. But I also create learning apps, instructional videos, virtual reality environments, educational gamification platforms, Alexa Skills, and even interactive podcasts. As you can imagine, that involves not only writing the content, but also creating the graphics, animations, and audio and visual components. In some cases, it even involves programming and setting up a 3D virtual environment.

FRIEND: So...you’re in marketing, then?

ME: No. Learning and development.

FRIEND: Oh.  You’re an online teacher?

ME: No. Although virtual instructor-led training is one component of the learning and development field. I don’t teach. I am the one who creates learning products.

FRIEND: Like e-books then. You’re an ebook writer.

ME: No. I have written ebooks. And e-courses. And video and podcast scripts. But I don’t just write ebooks. My purpose is to create learning products –in whatever format is appropriate—to convey knowledge and either train or education people.

FRIEND: [Furrowed brow. Confused look.] So do you or don’t you teach?

ME: Well, indirectly, I suppose I do teach—through the learning products I create.

FRIEND: We’re back to where we started. Why don’t you just call yourself an online teacher, then?

FRIEND: So if you aren’t a teacher, and if you’re just developing these—what do you call them, learning products?—then how can you say you are in the learning field? You’re actually in the content creation field, which is the realm of either marketing or journalism. In your case, because they are more educational products, it sounds as if it’s an offshoot of journalism. After all, journalism is just informing the public through informational products, which is what you do.

FRIEND: So if you aren’t a teacher, and if you’re just developing these—what do you call them, learning products?—then how can you say you are in the learning field? You’re actually in the content creation field, which is the realm of either marketing or journalism. In your case, because they are more educational products, it sounds as if it’s an offshoot of journalism. After all, journalism is just informing the public through informational products, which is what you do. Granted, it's digital journalism, but journalism nonetheless.

ME: There’s a bit more of a science to creating learning products than journalism products. In instructional design, we determine what the learner knows and what he or she needs to learn, then define the end goal of instruction, and create  some "intervention"—the learning product-- to assist in the transition. The outcome of this instruction may be directly observable and scientifically measured or completely hidden and assumed—depending on the goals and the topic.

FRIEND:  Then it’s like a hybrid of marketing and journalism where, like marketers, you identify what you want people to do, and then create a content product—the journalism piece—to get people to do what you want to them to do.

ME: Well, I certainly use the skills of marketing to make the courseware or app or virtual environment interesting and engaging, and the research and writing skills of journalism, but the end result is ideally behavior change.

FRIEND: [Pensive. Long pause.] Ohhhh….behavior change. You’re like an online psychologist then? Don’t you need a degree for that?

ME: I am NOT an online psychologist.  I’m an instructional designer. I design and develop learning products that result in behavior change.

FRIEND:  But…that’s what I still don’t understand. What is an instructional designer?

ME: [In frustration]:  I’m part writer, teacher, marketer, psychologist, journalist, animator, graphic artist, and programmer.

FRIEND: Don’t you think it would be more helpful to just choose one field and focus on that instead of trying to do so many different things?

ME: [Face palm]

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