Instructional Design – an Art or a Science?

elements of Instructional Design

This morning two colleagues and I finished presenting a six-session online program for instructional designers. Participants had a range of design experience from beginners to four or five years. As we were wrapping up, one of the new designers commented that the biggest surprise for him was that instructional design is actually more of an art form than a science! He thought we would be able to provide procedures and formulae that he would follow making the process foolproof.

For years I have felt that instructional design is an art form and it’s what I love best about my job. Yes, I need to understand the fundamentals of adult learning, writing effective objectives and questions, structuring content and keeping learners engaged but I also have lots of freedom to be creative. To this end I also love to work with other designers on projects because I believe creativity breeds creativity and, more importantly, results in more engaging learning programs.

If you add up the years of experience in learning development my two colleagues and I have, it is well over 75 years! We have seen a lot! Each year we designers and developers have more tools available to us, the costs of media development are coming down and we can reach more learners faster than ever. Add to this, the facts that ‘digital natives’ will soon make up the majority of the workforce, and that they have ubiquitous and continuous access to content and people; it’s not surprising that when and how people learn is evolving. (More opportunities to be creative.)

In preparing for above mentioned online program, I came across the work of Jane Hart at She has just published a new series on Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) and has made the first e-book free to download. This Introduction to Modern Workplace Learning – 2018 brings together some of her previous publications with updates for 2018. It is well worth reading.

A lot has been written in recent years about how overwhelmed and distracted modern learners are but on a positive note they are also aware of how continuous learning happens “accidently, incidentally and serendipitously”. Hart has an infographic showing the 100 top tools in the “Modern Professional Learners” toolkit. Just think how many more opportunities there are to reach these learners!

Figure 1: From Jane Hart, Modern Workplace Learning

Click on Image to Enlarge
So…keep creating, keep evolving and keep learning.

For information about any of FKA’s programs for Designing, Developing or Delivering learning programs visit

Geoff Nolan
Director of Marketing and Public Workshops