Instructional Designers, and Research
Anyway, Paul posted an IHE story about a research study which indicates that instructional designers (IDers) think that they would benefit from conducting research in their field (teaching and learning), but they don't necessarily have the tools to do this. This got me thinking, and it made me ponder a bit about the demographics of IDers in this research. These IDers were in higher education. I do wonder if IDers in corporate settings don't value research as much.
When I was a student and studying for my MEd in instructional design (about 10 years ago), I was interested in the research aspects and the Whys of the theories I was learning. I guess this is why further education in the field of teaching and learning was appealing to me, and why I am ultimately pursuing a doctorate. I digress though - my attitude (inquisitiveness?) stood is in contrast with fellow classmates who were ambivalent or even annoyed that we spent so much time on 'theory'. They felt that they should be graduating with more 'practical skills' in the wizbang tools of the day. We had experience using some of these tools - like Captivate, Articulate, Presenter, various LMSs, and so on, but obviously not the 10,000 hours required to master it†. Even though I loved some classmates (and for those with who are reading this, it's not a criticism of you! :-) ), I couldn't help but roll my eyes at them when such sentiments came up during out-of-class meetups where we were imbibing our favorite (hot or cold) beverages. Even back then I tried to make them see the light. Tools are fine, but you don't go to graduate school to learn tools - you go to learn methods that can be applied broadly, and to be apprenticed into a critical practice. As someone who came from IT before adding to my knowledge with ID, I knew that tools come and go, and to have a degree focus mostly on tools is a waste of money (and not doing good to students....hmmmm...educational fast food!). I know that my classmates weren't alone in their thinking, having responded to a similar story posted on LinkedIn this past summer.
My program had NO research courses (what I learned from research was on my own, and through mentorship of professors in my other masters programs). Things are changing in my former program, but there are programs out there, such as Athabasca University's MEd, which do work better for those who want a research option.
Anyway, I occasionally teach Introduction to Instructional Design for graduate students and I see both theory-averse students (like some former classmates), and people who are keen to know more and go deeper. I think as a profession we (those of us who teach, or run programs in ID) need to do a better job at helping our students become professionals that continually expand their own (and their peer's) knowledge through conscious attempts at learning, and research skills are part of that. There should be opportunities to learn tools, for the more immediate need of getting a job in the field, but the long term goal should be setting up lifelong learners and researchers in the field. Even if you are a researcher with a little-r you should be able to have the tools and skills to do this to improve your practice.
As an aside, I think that professional preparation programs are just one side of the equation. The other side of the equation. The other side is employment and employers, and the expectations that those organization have of instructional design. This is equally important in helping IDers help the organization. My conception of working with faculty members as an IDer was that we'd have a partnership and we'd jointly work out what was best based on what we had (technology, expertise, faculty time) so that we could come up with course designs that would be good for their students. The reality is that an IDer's job, when I did this on a daily basis, was much more tool focused (argh!). Faculty would come to us with specific ideas of what they wanted to do and they were looking for tool recommendations and implementation help - but we never really had those fundamental discussions about whether the approach was worth pursuing anyway. We were the technology implementers and troubleshooters - and on occasion we'd be able to "reach" someone and we'd develop those relationships that allowed us to engage in those deeper discussions. When the organization sees the IDer role as yet another IT role, it's hard to make a bigger impact.
On the corporate side, a few of my past students who work(ed) in corporate environments have told me that theory is fine, but in academia "we just don't know what it's like in corporate" and they would have liked less theory, more hands-on for dealing with corporate circumstances. It's clear to me that even in corporate settings the organizational beliefs about what your job as an IDer is impacts what you are allowed to do (and hence how much YOU impact your company). Over drinks, one of my friends recently quipped (works in corporate ID, but formerly on higher education) that the difference between a credentialed (MEd) IDer and one that is not credentialed (someone who just fell into the role), is that the credentialed ID sees what's happening (shoverware) and is saddened by it. The non-credentialed person thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread‡. Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it was definitely food for thought.
At the end of the day I'd like to see IDers more engaged in education research. I see it really as part of a professional that wants to grow and be better at what they do, but educational programs that prepared IDers need to help enable this, and organizations that employ them need to see then as an asset similar to librarians where they expect research to be part of the course to be an IDer.
† This is obviously a reference to Gladwell's work, and the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. It's one of those myths (or perhaps something that needs a more nuanced understanding). It's not a magic bullet, but I used it here for effect.
‡ Grossly paraphrasing, of course