Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Point/Counterpoint with an academic and a practitioner: On Cammy Bean, certification, and instructional design

I've had some people ask me to post some more of my thoughts on instructional design and certification. They were interested in the conversations Cammy Bean and I have had about those topics, and wondered where those conversations were going. Today Cammy e-mailed me, and she and I have been going back and forth, and she's graciously agreed to let me post the conversation here. See it here after the jump (with minor edits).

I've been meaning to follow-up with you or at least say hi. I've been in the weeds at work, as you can tell and haven't had much surfacing time. Nor have you, from what it sounds like . . .. But I don't want to let the thread die.

What are you thinking these days?

I'm thinking:


I totally agree. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this whole situation. It's been quite interesting actually, and I think very good for me. As an "academic" you tend to buy into the notion that we know what we're doing. And don't get me wrong, I do (and I know you know that—I've worked corporate as a designer as well). But in the Ivory Tower, it's easy to think we have the answers. Yet, one day, I stumble across some blog by someone without a degree but who is an instructional designer, and you think, "Isn't that quaint!" And then I start reading it (your blog), and I all of the sudden realize, "This gal knows her stuff," and "Why didn't I think to ask that question? What a great question!" So it's been good for me to remember that academics don't have a monopoly on what instructional design is or isn't.

So where does the conversation need to go? I'm not sure. I'm intrigued by this idea of who gets to be called an instructional designer. Why don't we have certification? Mechanical engineers have certification tests that you can take (and if you pass you're good to work) whether you have an academic degree or not. You have to be a certified pilot. You have to be certified to spray chemicals on plants. You even have to be certified to work on cars at Wal-Mart! But to be an instructional designer? Nope. One of my former students, Chris Duke, thinks it's because we'd never get anyone to agree to what it should entail. Well, why not? Why can't there be some sort of portfolio system for it? You know, you and I submit portfolios, and if my instruction is sound, then TA DA! You're an instructional designer. We sprinkle fairy dust on a certificate, and you impress your mom and dad. Chris says that we'd never get behaviorists and constructivists to agree on what constitutes "sound instruction," but I don't agree. I mean, EVERYONE agrees objectives and assessments have to match, don't they?

So assume we're then going to have a certification. What goes in it? What do we need to be able to DO to be an instructional designer? What skill set do we need to demonstrate? WHO gets to decide?

That's what I'm thinking, and I think it's an important conversation. And I think that the only way to get an answer to the questions it for those in the "ivory tower" to collaborate with those "in the trenches."


Did you see Karl Kapp's post on this subject -- he had weighed in our our conversation (you were cited, so I figured you had seen it)...

I think trying to get corporate America to buy-in to the whole notion that you need a certificate to practice this thing (ID) that exists on this vast spectrum will be the ridiculous part. So a company has to get a specialist with a certificate to create a PPT presentation that's going to be used as a self-paced eLearning? No way, Jose.

Let's keep talkin'....

I think that's the disconnect between academia and corporate. I forget that in the "real world" there is generally no real difference (if any) between a designer and a developer. When I think instructional designer, I think DESIGNER—the one who designs the stuff. It's the developer who makes the PPT.

That's a light bulb moment for me. That's one of the BIG differences, no?

Well, in that sense, I am just the designer and I am in the corporate world. But I do think I'm an exception. Look at the comments on my recent post about the current project I'm doing. A number of people responded that they do the design and build the sucker. The reality is that is usually a combined role (which is why IDs increasingly are expected to know the tools that are used). There has been controversy on this point on my blog as well.

But with the rise of rapid eLearning tools, the lines get blurred even more. For better or for worse, anyone can create eLearning. (Some would argue that it's actually eLearning that's getting created....)

So what then, in your eyes as a corporate designer, is MY JOB as an academic?

Ooh. Now that's an interesting question. I'll have to ponder that and get back to you...;)

Sounds good. For now, I'm going to edit this up a bit and post it. Let's see what type of reaction and input we get.

I know it's some of my colleagues CRAZY. They think I'm a big heretic. I think I'm a realist.

You are a heretic.

Did you read Karl's post?

Yeah. When I read what he thought I was kind of like, HUH? I mean, let's be honest, as instructional designers, WE'RE NOT CURING CANCER. Lives are not at risk, though we act as though they are (and granted sometimes they can be—I think of an instructional evaluation I just did for the Department of Defense on ammunition packaging and shipping). But seriously, you know, in academia I think most are trying to justify their student loans and show off the fancy calligraphy on the walls than they are to truly trying to get to the heart of the matter. And the heart of the matter in instructional design is designing instruction that helps people learn better. That's really all I care about. I want to know how do we do it and make learning more efficient and engaging.

But what I do, in my opinion, is no more important to the field than what you do everyday in your guerilla design sessions.

Although this particular guerrilla design project feels more like training than learning...maybe that's the distinction/the difference.

Don't they have to go hand in hand? If training is effective, then won't learning take place? Or, if learning doesn't take place, then have they really been trained?

Yes, can "learn" how to use a software tool, yes. But maybe where true instructional design is necessary is when we're talking more about learning concepts, true behavioral changes...less procedural?

THEORY ALERT: If learning can be broken down into different domains, then learning is learning, no matter what the domain. For example, Gagne said we have a) verbal information, b) intellectual skills, c) cognitive strategies, d) motor skills, and e) attitudes. He then said, no matter what the domain, for learning to take place, there are nine events that have to take place (although what happens in each step might vary depending on the domain): 1) gain attention, 2) inform learner of objective, 3) stimulate recall of prior learning, 4) present stimulus, 5) provide learner guidance, 6) elicit performance, 7) provide feedback, 8 ) assess performance, and 9) enhance retention and transfer.

Do these not hold up whether you're learning software or a concept?

I think they do. I believe learning is learning is learning.


OK. Learning is learning.

But Gagne Schmagne.

The reality is: you start to get into the shades of training/and learning. If you're just providing performance support does the learner really need to learn it or do you just show them where to access the info they might need? Do you actually need to assess the learner? Isn't that what their job is about? Especially when you get into software training...

I was interviewing a potential ID the other day (no master's degree, although she did a full load of course work in Training & Development for a master's...) -- at the company where she works, the users wouldn't bother with the assessments. They just wanted the info. So she had to completely refocus how she designed her training resources. This is the reality.

[I'm multi-tasking right now, so these thoughts may be ALL over the place...caveat emptor!)

I must also admit to feeling incredibly burnt out from this project I'm working on perspective is probably hard and jaded. Just get the damn thing done and who cares about the rest!

So there you have it, Sports Fans. An academic and a practitioner both trying to figure out what it all means and how we work together. Any feedback or your thoughts on what we've said here are welcomed.


  1. Wow! I never thought about this distinction of learning/training. I agree with you John...even Gagne Schmagne. Ha ha! I also agree with Cammy. Is a transfer of knowledge (training on how to get from here to there in a series of procedural steps) really learning? Yes and no. No one can make you care. I think knowledge is power, but doesn't necessarily measure what you have learned. Am I rambling?? This was a fantastic read and has made me think.

  2. In regards to certifications for "instructional design" type skills, they're all over the place, right? For industry, ASTD's CPLP (, ISPI's CPT (, Training Magazine (, Texas A&M (, Univ Houston Clear Lake ( For education, Washington State ( & Indiana Univ ( as specific examples, but you could basically pick an graduate, College of Education program with instructional technology, and they'll likely offer a certificate of some sort. And, there's even a certificate offered specifically for those that train faculty, by NCSPOD ( What certificate do you suggest is needed? An AECT sponsored certificate?

    As far as the role of an instructional designer vs. instructional developer, I think that distinction has been slipping away for some time now - except perhaps in programs focused on the academic study of instructional design theory. No institution can really afford to have an instructional designer that does ONLY design; they may be able to employ instructional developers, but a designer has to have SOME development skills - even if that amounts to the ability to load content into an LMS (which isn't always easy... WebCT cough cough). Besides, once you get to the practitioner level, it becomes meatball instructional design anyway. You do what you have to do to help people learn and improve as efficiently as possible; you develop as quickly as possible - likely designing as you go. You don't have the time to work through all the theoretical paperwork about what you're going to design. Sure, you'd end up with a better product if you spent more time designing before developing, but that's the ideal situation; that's the exception rather than the rule.

    I believe I commented this before in this same blog space when this thread began. I do believe knowledge of instructional design and learning theories is valuable to anyone working in any capacity to improve human performance - on the job or in the classroom. However, I don't think it's an absolute critical skill to be an effective training developer in the private sector; on the job training, experiences or mentoring with an experienced training professional (that's likely learned much of those ideas on the job through trial and error) will produce an effective training professional. For educators working in K-16? I think it's more important to know the learning theories - to understand the developmental cognitive stages people go through.


  3. Tongue firmly in cheek here, but I found this anonymous quote and it reminded me of this discussion...

    "Professionals built the Titantic. An amateur built the Ark."

  4. And here I was thinking I was all alone. What a wonderful conversation. I work for a company that partners with universities to "do" instructional design for online degree programs. The lines are blurred in many ways here between academe and corporate, as well as between the roles of "designer" and "developer". I stay mostly in the technology part, but have also done design. I do not have a degree in ID, but just happened to stumble across a great position with the best possible timing I have ever seen. Most people in our department come from varied backgrounds: corporate/military ID, public education, programming, and psychology; all of which provide for a very wholistic mix of opinions. This conversation helped me a lot and I am very thankful for stumbling across this blog...I am looking for more conversations in this area as well as some mentoring.

  5. As a current grad student in IPT (Boise State) and a beginning instructional designer in the Corporate world and experienced developer of elearning, I can't help but be fascinated by this discussion. I've been following along across the blog lines. I had these internal conversations/debates with myself many times, before and after enrolling. Academics vs Real World. Designer vs Developer. Where do I fit in? Where will I go? What will I believe? What do I want? Thanks for helping add to my confusion! :)

  6. This was fascinating to see the discussion all in one place. As an instructional designer myself, it raised a number of issues, one (of many) is who will the certifying body be, especially given that there is not even a single central organization for ID's.

    I suppose that is what the online community that is reading this is to decide.

  7. To Jeffrey's question...I think trying to have a central ID approval board would be like requiring people to get certification in order to cook a meal in their own homes.

  8. instructional design certification...

    I can't believe I missed this! I'm going to have to do some more reading me thinks....

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