Can't we all just get along? Or the need for instructional design certification

To say the last couple of weeks here at effectivedesign have been interesting is an understatement. First of all, I had been reading the posts at Cammy Bean's Learning Visions blog, and had been linking to them on my weekly post of links. On my Links for 1-26-08 to 2-01-08 post, Cammy commented to me (on my birthday, no less) and said, "Hey there! I’m delighted to see that you’re getting so much out of my non-educated musings on instructional design. I’ll look forward to reading your musings on ID from the other side of the fence. Cammy" I'll be honest, I thought it was just cool that Cammy had actually come and seen my blog. So I ponied up and wrote my This one’s for you, Cammy Bean! Or, is the role of the instructional designer changing? I began thinking about Cammy and others in her situation who are instructional design practitioners and how what their jobs are and what they really do and what we teach in academia. So I wrote about that disconnect in my post Instructional design in academia–where theory and practice RARELY meet. And that post really started things going. Stephen Downes mentioned our conversation on OL~Daily, and then all sorts of people started chiming in. COOL! So I continued the conversation with Cammy by writing how to get an Instructional Design education without paying tuition and an immediately accessible instructional design education. Later, I posted Have we “Reclaimed” Instructional Design? to try and further suss out just what I've been thinking about instructional design as well as teaching and practicing it.

Read what I find interesting about all this and my thoughts about instructional design certification after the jump.You know, as I have started writing about instructional design, I have thoroughly enjoyed the mental exercise of it all. It's been quite fun. However, what has been a real kick is to see some of the comments people have said about it. First of all, I obviously wasn't clear enough in my writing. When I wrote about how theory and practice don't meet in academia, and about how to get an instructional design education without paying tuition, I was speaking directly to Cammy. I said,
"I would argue that if Cammy read this paper (The First Principles of Instruction) , it would be all the “education” she would need as a designer. After all, what is the aim of instructional design? In my book, it is to produce effective, engaging, and efficient instruction. If Cammy can do that without the master’s degree, then more power to her.

So back to her question: where would she be with academic training in instructional design? Probably at the same spot. She may or may not be making the same amount of money, but she would more than likely be in the same spot."

But as I said, obviously I wasn't clear. Karl Kapp wrote that we need a degree in instructional design and said,
John Curry wades in with an academic perspective but then backs off and concludes that by reading one single paper by Dr. Merrill that one can become an instructional designer.

So I don't know if I wasn't clear, but I don't think I ever said that, and I don't know if Dr. Kapp has read the entire conversation between Cammy and me, but I think his comment is an oversimplification and misinterpretation of what I said.

You see, I agree that we need an education in instructional design. What I'm not sure of is if a person needs a master's degree in instructional design to be an instructional designer.

I've been in this field for around eleven years, which I agree isn't very long, but as long as I've been around I've heard the back-alley conversation about how we need some sort of certification as an instructional designer. A cursory Google search shows the following: Darryl L. Sink & Associates, Inc. offers two tracks for certification; there are seven (SEVEN!) different certifications issued by Langevin Learning Services (but I can't get their URL to open); the Center for Effective Performance says you can gain all the skills needed to become a Certified Instructional Technologist; Washington State University issues a certificate in instructional design; Indiana University has a certificate in Instructional Systems Technology; Western Governor's University has a graduate certificate in Instructional Design; University of Massachusetts at Boston has a graduate certificate in Instructional Technology Design; Cal State Fullerton has their Instructional Design Technology Certificate; the Illinois Institute of Technology has a certificate in Instructional Design; Regent University says if you complete their online BlackBoard training, they'll send you "a Regent University Online Instructional Design Certificate and gift"; Lloyd Reiber, Rob Branch and the bunch from the University of Georgia have started, and they have three different levels of certification, and ASTD even has their own certificate and workshops.

I also found a number of people who say they are certified instructional designers, but I still don't know what that means.

I just don't understand why this seems to be so hard for our field to get together on this. If you look at the list above, you've got UGA and Indiana, two of the top academic institutions on board with some sort of certification, you've got one of the professional organizations in the field, ASTD, with certification (why isn't AECT in this mix?), and even ISPI has the Certified Performance Technologist. It's not like their isn't a precedent here.

But then comes the question: who's in charge? Who gets to say what is involved and how do you get everyone else to buy-in to the whole thing? Continuing the conversations with Cammy, what does someone have to know or be able to do to be a certified instructional designer? Is the ADDIE model the minimum requirement? What about the Nine Events? Do they have to know the difference between behaviorism and constructivism? Do the five domains of the definitions of the field have to be represented (Design, Development, Evaluation, Utilization, Management)? Or do they just have to be able to produce good instruction? And what is the definition of good instruction that we can all agree on? If you look at the criteria for the above listed certifications, most of them (not all) have less instructional design instruction than my undergraduates get in the preservice technology course.
I think this is an important conversation we need to have as a field. I think there will always be the need for our graduate programs, but as we all know, there are plenty of people with a graduate degree who couldn't design their way out of a paper bag, and yet, there are also plenty of people like Cammy who can do it without the degree.

If we are to continue to survive as a field, we have to answer this question: what makes an instructional designer, and when do they become one?


  1. I do agree with Karl's idea of improving the field by educating people and having some way of proving their ability. I'd like to see some certificate that actually uses authentic assessment, probably in some sort of portfolio. Some of the "certificates" listed aren't certifications the way IT certifications work, but are simply documents showing you took some courses. For example, Indiana University's certificate is basically a mini-Masters degree where you take half the courses for the masters. This may be just the difference between a "certificate" and "certification."

    If we could come up with a universally recognized certification, similar to PMI or CompTIA's A+ certifications, I think that would be beneficial. Where Karl's post was more about the process of getting there, I'm more concerned just with measuring the results.

    I do wonder about who defines what "standard" knowledge should be included though. I don't have a good answer to that.

    Keep up the good questions!

  2. Several thoughts...

    You list the litany of organizations that have a certificate in instructional design of some sort, and others certainly exist. Because of that, I don't think there's an answer to "Who's in charge?" Each institution and organization has an opportunity to offer the certificate program in the way they see fit. There's no way to consolidate into a single certificate program recognized by the entire industry; if that were possible, could we not have a single "Computer Literacy Certificate" rather than IC3, MAS, ITDL, TekXM etc?

    I don't believe there'll ever be a general instructional design certification to represent the industry to the exclusion of others because the question - "What is the definition of good instruction that we can all agree on?" - can never be answered. As long as social constructivists and behaviorists are both allowed in the conversation, I doubt a consensus can be reached regarding what constitutes good instruction.

    Plus, even if AECT were to define and offer a certificate, I'll still be able to shop around, right? I may choose ASTD's certificate because it does, in fact, include less theory than AECT's or the instructional design your preservice teachers get through your courses.

    The theme song to "Different Strokes" is running through my head ;-)


  3. First, a tech note. My rss reader no longer detects your feed. Maybe it's me; maybe there's a glitch. FYI.

    I've enjoyed following the ID debate, analogies, autodidacts' degree program, and now the question about certification.

    I wonder who cares about certification outside our own domain. At the highest levels, maybe executives recognize the value in hiring CLO who knows the broad sweep of industrial or cognitive psychology.

    But who would an industry-wide certification serve? You're so right about the grad/paper bag vs Cammy comparison. (Incidentally, you can thank Cammy for me finding you.) There is no certification that can make sure we get training that's smart and inventive, not just adequate.

    Taken to its logical conclusion, you get something I really don't want to see. What if we were required to submit projects to an ID academy every two years? They could be judged on sound application of theory, apt use of media and technology, sensible and strong evaluation plans, and I could go on. But (big) brother, I don't think that would make us better. That's the kind of thing that leads to imitation by less inspired practitioners, undoing the intent.

    I think an ID knows the enough about the theory of how adults learn to build learning events that have measurable impact. And so much that lies between that and other people "getting" what we do is education and selling.