The Responsibility of the Instructional Designer

While doing some research on the AECT website, I came across a real gem of an article, Designers’ Dilemmas: The tripartheid Responsibility of the Instructional Designer by Michael K. Thomas. What I cherish about this article is the framework that which Michael describes the responsibility of our profession, i.e., “to  inform the world with good solid theory, while doing good to make the world a better place. Our job then is three fold: 1) to create good designs for our learners 2) these designs should be informed by good theory, and 3) … do good.”  This is the framework that he uses to discuss the ethnography of the serious game (i.e., edutainment), Quest Atlantis.  The design of the environment has changed quite a bit since this article was written in 2003. Anyways what I was interested in was Michael’s probing questions:

  • How do we actually do this? That is, what are the actual methodological approaches and procedures that the instructional designer should employ?
  • Is the effectiveness of our designs all that we care about? The call for cultural awareness must not simply be advanced so as to improve the effectiveness or marketability of our designed artifacts and systems. Our design work and what results from this work are inextricably bound with issues that are essentially ethical in nature.

Michael then attempts to answer the question by discussing that Instructional Designers should have the end in mind and we should all think about the effects that our designs might have on the world. Thinking about the learners and what they need to “do” at the end of their experience with the content is nothing new, but what if we are teaching someone how to make a weapon of mass destruction? Doubtful, but perhaps the more probable… asked to create a message that would be used to spread hate and violence? I personally have never been asked to design something that I thought could potentially inflict harm on anyone or anything. I suppose it I was asked to do so I would quit immediately.

He tells us that “it is the responsibility of the instructional designer to not only create good products but, in the process, develop sound theories and do work that is rooted in the notion that we must work to make the world a better place… We must work to develop better ways of exploring the nature of learning so that those who come after us can stand on our shoulders and ennoble our work by carrying it further still.


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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