What’s in a name?

Posted on Jun 15, 2011

Or to be more accurate

What’s in a job title“?

You might say (and I wouldn’t neccesarily disagree with you)

not a lot, it’s what the individual ‘does‘ within that role that’s important

You might come back to me and say (and again, I may not disagree with you)

actually, a job title ‘does‘ matter, as it (rightly or wrongly) paints a picture in other people’s minds as to what you do and may often be the first thing that somebody discovers about you

Which brings me nicely to the job title ‘Instructional Designer’.


Does anybody, anywhere be it in the vendor, client or DIY community really Design Instruction anymore?


Surely we are all about creating an environment, be it physical, digital or virtual (or what the hell, a combination) in which to facilitate learning, aren’t we?

My organisation moved away from calling its trainers ‘trainers’ a few years ago and now they are called Learning Facilitators – sure it’s just a title but look at the difference between the two…..

…. they send out very different messages don’t they?

So why in the eLearning community do we use the term Instructional Designer?

Now that’s not a rhetorical questions. Regular readers will know that I am a self-confessed newbie in this field and I am genuinely interested as to why this title exists.

Is it a throw back to the early days of eLearning where we ‘did’ Design Instruction or is there some other reason that has passed me by?

If you know (or even if you don’t but agree or disagree with what I am asking) then please drop a response in the comments box below.

Image source.


  1. Good question Craig! I think job titles do matter, even if they shouldn’t because, as you say, they do paint a picture. The ID title is probably a bit outdated and doesn’t completely fit what we do these days. It’s also very hard to explainto someone outside the industry. But I think it still has meaning in the industry because I think people understand that what it encompasses has changed – just like the term e-learning used to refer almost exclusively to CBT but now most of us understand that it includes all kinds of learning technologies. Things in this area change so quickly, maybe we have to stick with slightly outdated labels otherwise we’d be constantly relabelling things! Having said that, one of my Saffron colleagues wrote a blog a while ago proposing ‘learning experience designer’ as a replacement for ‘instructional designer’: http://www.saffroninteractive.com/design-learning-experiences-%e2%80%93-not-instruction/. What do you think?

  2. It seems to me that certain job titles need to change on an increasingly regular basis (usually where tech or needs change), whereas others can safely remain the same for years. I also feel that in larger organisations, the job role and job title (they’re not always going to match…) will differ based on the perception of the person in the role, and that of their management or HR. For instance, I replaced the title ‘IT Trainer’ with ‘Technology Training Consultant’ a few years back to try and encompass more of the stuff I’m involved in. But management still refer to ‘IT Training’…

    Now I think about it, the ID title does seem a little weird, mainly because it could apply to any form of instruction but is only ever applied to elearning….

  3. @StephanieDedhar Hi @stephaniededhar Thanks for taking the time to reply to this post.

    I had to laugh when I read the excellent post from Nick that you directed me to as if I read that first I would have save myself a little time and just commented on his post! I understand what you say about how people within the industry understand that what the term ID encompasses has changed, however what about those from outside of the Industry?

    I came into the Industry by something of a circuitous route – a traditional L&D background – DIY self-paced elearning – and then realised there was an entire Industry doing it! My background in L&D had introduced me to the term ‘learning facilitator’ (or similar) and the connotations of using the phrases ‘trainining/trainer/instructor/instruction’.

    I wonder if I had been a typical L&D client whether I would have been put off by the term ‘ID’ due to the connotations of the title, before I’d even taken the chance to find out more about what the role encompasses…….?


  4. I’ve been working in the elearning field for 20+ years. The term ‘instructional designer’ wasn’t much used in the days of CBT – it was courseware designer or interactive designer. ID started to be be used in the early days of online learning in the UK (late 90’s, early 2000s), possibly to give the role some cache. It’s nonsense really as very few people can actually get a qualification in ID in the UK. It’s learning designer/architect these days, isn’t it?

  5. Personally, I think “Instructional Designer” is not about technology at all. It doesn’t mean that you design eLearning, ILT, WBT, CBT – whatever – it’s all-encompassing. It’s more about the design process – you use a systematic design process to create instructional content/materials/experiences. What you do with that title at your specific place of business and within your team could obviously vary a great deal – but ultimately, hopefully all IDs use some systematic design process (whatever it may be) in their work. I think @billcush said at DevLearn he likes “Learning Experience Designer” which I think works well if we’re talking about supporting learning – whether it’s instruction or not. Not that I don’t think Instructional Designer couldn’t change, but I think it does have merit. 🙂

  6. Thanks Craig for this timely reminder. This is a discussion which has been taking place for quite a while and each time we come back to ID. I agree with Meg’s comments and whilst Rob is quite correct in saying that in the UK it’s not easy to get a qualification in ID, I think it’s important to remember that the situation is quite different in the US where there are many ID qualifications and even chairs of ID at some universities. I use the tag ‘Instructional Designer’ and I haven’t found any clients who are put off by it; in many ways they seem to be reassured by it probably because it is something they can understand. Also, at the moment I’m looking for some ID eLearning work in the UK and have noticed a number of jobs advertised with ‘Instructional Designer’ in the job title. If the title was broke then we’d need to mend it, but I don’t think it is, well not yet anyway.

  7. @robalton Hi Rob, thanks for taking the time to comment and I’m pleased that you’ve been able to add in some of the background behind this term. I have noticed myself that the US appear to have various programmes set up to formally qualify an individual as an ID whereas in the UK it appears to be a much ‘looser’ title, which may actually bring some advantages and of course, may npot!

    Do you happen to know of any ID programmes ran in the US that are run online and thus would allow UK based people to undertake it?

    I agree that learning designer/architect is an emerging title, however a significant % of the UK eLearning industry still recruits for and markets as Instructional Design(ers).

  8. @megbertapelle Hi @megbertapelle Thanks for dropping by and commenting. It’s interesting that here in the UK, the only individuals that I have seen with the title Instructional Designer are those that work for eLearning vendors. Even those people (and I include myself in this) that create eLearning content within businesses/corporates/organisations tend to have a different title.

    I fall back to my original thoughts as to whether anybody should really be considering ‘designing’ instruction anymore, in fact your ref to the statement at DevLearn from @bilcush is making me think

    “can anybody really design a learning experience for others”?

    If learning is (as I believe it to be) a very personal thing, can anybody design the experience other than ourselves?

    I’m signing off now as all this reflection and joined up thinking is making my head hurt….. But I’d welcome your thoughts…..?

  9. @JudithCC Hi Judith, I guess if clients are happy with the title Instructional Designer then ‘Hey, let’s not mess with it’ but the purist part of me still can’t get away from the fact that despite having made such great strides in moving away from designing and delivering ‘instruction’ which has that very ‘top down’ connotation that we still hang onto a title that suggests that it still what we do.

    Food for thought…..

  10. @CraigTaylor74 Hi Craig, I don’t know of any US courses, but there’s a lot of traffic about Masters courses in one or two of the elearning groups on LinkedIn: Instructional Designers & E-Learning & Instructional Designers – mainly Americans, so I’d ask there.

    Do you really believe that people can’t design learning for others? I reckon I’d be hard pressed to put together a module or course on learning Mandarin by myself with no previous knowledge of the subject.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but when someone from a vendor introduces themselves as an ID, you can see them start to cringe with embarrassment at the label they’ve been given. Why not ‘designer’?

  11. @robalton Hi Rob, this may be a case of semantics but I genuinely believe that you cannot design ‘learning’ or others. I believe that you can provide resources, the environment, the facilitation, nurturing and guidance to increase the chance of learning occurring, but I truly believe that the ‘actual’ learning is an internal process within the learner and therefore outside of the ability for anybody to design per se.

  12. @CraigTaylor74 Oh definitely food for thought Craig. If you dissect the title ‘Instructional Designer’ then its application would appear to be very narrow, i.e. designing instruction irrespective of delivery method/media, with a very strong training connotation. However, I think what has happened over the last 30 years or so is that the title has developed to mean much more than this, as many contributors here have described. Therefore, for me, it’s a matter of whether we go with the flow/title for the sake of consistency of use and understanding, or throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water and start out over again, in the knowledge that it will take some time for a new title to enter into common parlance. As L&D is accused, and rightly so IMO, of inventing on an almost continual basis trendy/nonsensical terms which do little to convince others outside its silo that it knows what it’s doing, I am not convinced that spending the time and effort to find an alternative term for instructional designer is, at the moment, justified.


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  2. The Great Learning | Saffron Interactive - […] should be doing when creating a learning experience. Craig Taylor has made a similar point in his blog. And…

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