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Calling All IDs: Get Agile or Get Left Behind!

An acrobat does the splits while wrapped in two strands of silk
Get Agile or Get Left Behind!

Today I want to speak specifically to the Instructional Designers (IDs) in the world. What I’m talking about applies to other educators, and even other professionals, too. So, if you’re not an ID, feel free to stick around and see if my message resonates for you, as well.


I think we are far enough removed from the immediate upheaval the pandemic caused in our lives to do a little reflecting. Things seem to be back to something close to normal. People are mostly maskless and no longer distancing themselves. Grocery stores seem to stay stocked and nobody seems to be hoarding paper products anymore.


Now is the time for us to look back and see what the last 4 years have taught us.


From 2020 to 2022, if you were an ID, you were probably too busy to do anything but scramble to get another course online and another educator trained. The force online affected every sector and, for the most part, IDs led the charge when it came to education. All educators were scrambling, but it was the IDs that had the skills and experience to guide all the face-to-face educators through their first forays into learning management systems and online teaching and learning strategies (Petherbridge et al., 2023).


In 2023, as we began experiencing glimpses of normalcy, there was a great pushback from a world of fatigued educators, learners, and administrators (Misiejuk et al., 2023). Online education was horrible. It didn’t work. Everyone was unhappy. The curmudgeons amongst us decreed, “Back to the classrooms!” And in many places, the baby and the bath water were tossed.


Thankfully, other voices have answered those cries, pointing out that emergency online education is not the barometer for judging all online education. Supporters have called out the many successes of online education, including some during the pandemic. Still others realized the biggest problems stemmed from lack of preparation, not the mediums of the internet and the technology tools that connect us.


This week, I’ve been studying learning engineering and action research. I’ve been considering how both can impact online education. And I’ve been contemplating what the future of my current profession of instructional design might look like in the next 5, 10, or even 20 years.


In 2016, when I earned my Masters in ID and Technology, I expected to enter a world that would value my contributions to education. Instead, I entered a world that had no clue what an ID was or why anyone would want to be one. Even my closest friends and family could not remember, despite the numerous times I told them, the name of my field or what I did. I soon discovered I wasn’t alone, and it was a running joke in the field of ID that nobody, not even IDs, knew what we did.


So, in 2020 when the world turned to us IDs and asked for help, it felt a bit validating to have so many comprehend our value finally. And while the rest of the world took extended vacations and posted on social media about using this time to reinvent and rediscover, we IDs rolled up our sleeves with the rest of the essential workers to keep us from total educational collapse.


And we succeeded. As best we could.


In most places in the U.S., within the first 2 weeks of lockdown, online school was up and running. Not smoothly. But it was running. And not for a handful of classes. For thousands upon thousands of classes.


What a testament to our will as educators to come together and coordinate what must be done. And it wasn’t just IDs who put in long hours. There were teachers and IT and librarians and countless others that made it happen.


Given where we started at the beginning of 2020 to where we were by the end of March 2020, I’m still in awe at what was done.


That said, it’s time for me to rant a bit.


Did we do an amazing thing?

Yes, but why did it have to be a colossal effort?


I think it’s because at the start of 2020 it was still a joke that nobody knew what IDs were for. I partially blame us IDs for not being more proactive about teaching faculty and administrators more about our work and the many ways we add value (Xie et al., 2021). I think it’s because even though there is data identifying how successful good online design can be, there were administrators and executives resisting online education. I think it’s because IDs have not pushed themselves to become more agile and more knowledgeable about the tools of their trade (Petherbridge et al., 2023). And I think it’s because sometimes we need a wake-up call to prepare us for the next journey.


Our future is unpredictable at best and utter chaos at worst. We have no certainty what jobs will be needed in the next 20 years. AI and technology advancements and the threats of world events, like wars and pandemics, means we are tasked with teaching our students to be ready for anything, as we struggle to do the same.


The pandemic showed us how far our will can take us. Classes were running, but the world was grumbling. Scores were plummeting. The gap between the best and worst students was widening. And every educator everywhere was exhausted and running on fumes.


In short,

the pandemic showed us our will is just not enough. We need to do more.


We need to think like tech start-ups—iterate fast, fail fast, learn faster. The future is rapid prototyping and agile methodologies. It’s not just about being efficient; it’s about being prepared for the fact that the skills we teach today may be obsolete tomorrow. We need the flexibility to pivot on a dime.

 

In addition to borrowing the tools of software engineers, action research is another powerful weapon we need in our arsenal. It provides us with a continuous loop of feedback and improvement that isn’t just smart; it’s survival (Daniel, 2023; Smith, 2017).


Let's face it, the next major educational disruption could be something beyond our current imagination. Remember when online learning was a futuristic concept? Future disruptions could be beyond anything we can envision. Maybe we’ll need courses that can be beamed directly into students' brains, or maybe AI will take over teaching, and we’ll pivot to emotional intelligence training for robots! As crazy as those things seem, we’re already there.


“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist … using technologies that haven’t been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

—Richard Riley, former Secretary of Education


Scary? Maybe a little. Exciting? Absolutely. As instructional designers, we must not only adapt to a landscape we can't fully envision but also empower our students to do the same. Our courses need to teach adaptability, critical thinking, and resilience—because the only constant in the future is change.


So, dear IDs, let’s step up our game. The challenge is monumental, but so is our capacity for innovation and adaptation. Let’s be the agile warriors and change-makers who don’t just respond to the waves of change but surf them like pros. It’s time to prototype rapidly, iterate with agility, and research actively. Our students' future—and ours—depends on it.


Now, go forth and innovate! Remember, in the race between education and calamity, let’s make sure education comes first.



 

References


Daniel, M. (2023). Stop, Drop, and Pivot: An Action Researcher’s Lived Experience through the COVID-19 Interruption. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 23(3), 9–26. https://doi.org/10.33524/cjar.v23i3.595


Misiejuk, K., Ness, I. J., Gray, R. M., & Wasson, B. (2023). Changes in online course designs: Before, during, and after the pandemic. Frontiers in Education, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2022.996006


Petherbridge, D., Bartlett, M., White, J., & Chapman, D. (2023). Instructional designers’ perceptions of the practice of instructional design in a Post-Pandemic workplace. Proceedings of International Journal of E-Learning 2023, 259–281. https://digitalcommons.odu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1127&context=efl_fac_pubs


Smith, C. (2017). Inside the Black Box: Tracking Decision-Making in an Action Research Study. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 18(2), 23–42. https://doi.org/https://journals.nipissingu.ca/index.php/cjar/article/view/333


Xie, J., Gulinna, A., Rice, M., & Griswold, D. E. (2021). Instructional designers’ shifting thinking about supporting teaching during and post-COVID-19. Distance Education, 42(3), 331–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2021.1956305

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Blondie.crabtree
07 may

This paper about ID’s is very interesting. It wasn’t only schools but also most businesses that had to rapidly learn new ways using technology than they could imagine during the pandemic even though there were numerous problems, for the most part it was amazing to see how fast we adapted. Personally I was thrilled I could work throughout the pandemic and didn’t have to worry about leaving my safe home in order to make a living. American ingenuity and can do spirit seems still alive and well.

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