"Do we need instructional designers for technology content projects?"
This is April's question to ponder about and it sure got me pondering.
I believe we need instructional designers for any content/training project - technology or not. And maybe even more ...for technology...let's discover my reasons for this.
What is a Subject Matter Expert (SME)? - someone who is an expert in the content area. The key words are expert and specific content area.
The first argument I can put forth is - while all SMEs (are expected to) know the content well - they can't necessarily teach the content well to other users (novices or otherwise). I have two skills to highlight here - the ability to teach and then to teach it well so that the trainees actually learn. That is the biggest reason why technology content training projects need instructional designers! While the SME holds the content, an instructional designer is the SME for figuring out the best way to design and develop the training. Both are SMEs in their domain and I like to respect that relationship.
My next argument is regarding the need for ‘designing’ training. Yes, it is true that content is the king but we are discovering that form is important too. The audience of today wants to learn things fast and easy. And instructional designers know what appropriate techniques to use such that the content is layered for the user and is easily available on request. Instructional designers understand various approaches and strategies that can help the user feel more ‘comfortable’ learning new content. Besides, more often than not, I have found SMEs who would like to include 'everything' about the technology and the instructional designers help them scope it out and present it as per the requirements of the audience. Instructional designers help design the product and SMEs ensure that it is meaningful for the learner.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that in some projects we may let go of instructional designers and leave the SMEs to design and develop the training. I believe that in these situations we have considered all available options and we believe our SME is inherently a good instructional designer (many are). In order to work within the constraints of time and money, we choose to make such a decision. In an ideal scenario, I believe we would always like to have the instructional designer.
The point really is – no one is more important than the other in general terms. Both are important and required.
The time and effort required by each role may vary across projects but the bottom line is that we can’t make a good learning product without either!