Pro and Con: Combining Instructional Designers and Educational Developers

Learning professionals and the potential advantages and downsides of a campus reorganization.

December 18, 2019
 

At some schools, the educational developers and instructional designers are part of a single campus center for teaching and learning. At other institutions, these learning professionals are homed in separate organizations, with IDs in academic computing units and EDs in CTLs.

Across the U.S. postsecondary ecosystem, there is an active conversation going on about the wisdom of integrating these learning professionals into a single organization.

In this piece, I provide arguments -- both for and against -- putting EDs and IDs under a single campus learning organization.

Arguments for ED/ID Integration

  • The distinctions in the work that educational developers and instructional designers do on campus have largely eroded. Both learning professionals collaborate directly with faculty on course redesign, both run workshops and faculty development programs, and both read the same learning science research. Integrating these two groups of learning professionals within a single campus organization only matches and mirrors the evolution of the professions.
  • On many campuses, educational developers have historically worked most closely with faculty who teach face-to-face courses. In contrast, the growth of instructional designers has been driven mainly by the development of new online programs. Integrating EDs and IDs into a single group can help ensure that the capabilities developed through creating and running online courses get translated into face-to-face teaching. At the same time, faculty teaching online would benefit from the resources and expertise of campus educational developers.
  • With the growth of flipped, blended and low-residency courses and programs, the traditional dividing line between “face-to-face” and “online” courses is fast disappearing. Almost all education nowadays integrates technology in some way, and every course taught can benefit from being designed around learning science and core instructional design principles. Given the evolution of teaching and learning in higher education, it makes sense to create integrated campus learning organizations that allow faculty to draw on the expertise of both educational developers and instructional designers.
  • Integrating instructional design and educational developer professionals within a single campus organization is a faculty-friendly move, as it provides a one-stop shop for professors to visit. In instances where the learning capabilities are spread across separate campus organizations, it can be unclear to faculty where they should go for assistance in their teaching, or where departments or schools should look to partner.
  • Integrated campus learning organizations can run more efficiently than separate units, as the overhead of both management and support can be streamlined. Rather than needing discrete structures for reporting and administrative support, integrated units can invest scarce campus dollars in learning professionals and programs to support teaching and learning.

Arguments Against ED/ID Integration

  • While there is undoubtedly a growing overlap between the work of educational developers and instructional designers, it is essential to remember that these are separate and distinct disciplines. Educational developers are part of a cohesive community of practice, as instantiated in the POD Network’s professional conferences and resources. Similarly, instructional designers are integrated into their own communities of practice and professional associations, such as OLC, ELI and WCET. Educational developers and instructional designers have divergent paths of training and professional advancement, and the skills and abilities of EDs and IDs should not be thought of as substitutable or fungible.
  • The hands-on, day-to-day and on-the-ground work that educational developers and instructional designers perform significantly differs. At many schools, it is the instructional design team that is the service unit that must be responsive to immediate and urgent faculty requests. IDs work closely with professors on utilizing a suite of learning technologies, from the LMS to classroom response systems (clickers) to lecture-capture platforms. While instructional designers work to meet the objective of building long-term relationships with instructors while giving faculty skills to self-service on the technologies they use to teach, it is also true that much of the work is still responsive and just in time. In contrast, educational developers tend to prioritize deeply planned workshops and the facilitation of faculty learning communities.
  • To the extent that instructional design teams are integrated with campus information technology units, IDs enjoy the benefit of working closely with both colleagues in the campus IT unit. As much of the work of instructional designers is mediated through digital platforms, there are substantial advantages in having close ties with the IT group. Digital teaching and learning platforms must be integrated with campus systems (authentication, SIS, etc.). Campus IT units are also often in the best position to pilot new technologies. A campus reorg that combines the ID and ED groups will almost always entail the instructional designers leaving the IT unit, as educational developers are unlikely to join IT.
  • In theory, joining campus learning professionals into an integrated learning organization sounds like a great idea. In practice, the experience of schools that have attempted this sort of reorg has been messy. Educational developers and instructional designers come from different traditions, have different training and have different professional communities. While there is overlap in the goals and values of these two professions, they are not identical. Merged groups are likely to suffer through a period of organizational imbalance and cultural discomfort. In an environment of growing needs and scarcer resources, the benefits of a reorg are unlikely to be worth the costs.

What do you think? Have you experienced the integration of ED and ID teams into a single unit? How did it go? Are you contemplating merging your campus ID and ED groups? What are your reasons for doing so?

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