Of late there’s been a resurrection of a long term problem. While it’s true for our field as a whole, it’s also true for the specific job of those who design formal learning. I opined about the problem of labels for what we do half a year ago, but it has raised its head again. And this time, some things have been said that I don’t fully agree with. So, it’s time again to weigh in again.
So, first, Will Thalheimer wrote a post in which he claims to have the ultimate answer (in his usual understated way ;). He goes through the usual candidates of labels for what we do – instructional designer, learning designer, learner experience designer – and finds flaws.
And I agree with him on learning designer and instructional designer. We can’t actually design learning, we can only create environments where learning can happen. It’s a probabilistic game. So learning designer is out.
Instructional designer, then, would make sense, but…it’s got too much baggage. If we had a vision of instruction that included the emotional elements – the affective and conative components – I could buy it. And purists will say they do (at least, ones influenced by Keller). But I will suggest that the typical vision is of a behavioristic approach. That is, with a rigorous focus on content and assessment, and less pragmatic approaches to spacing and flexibility.
He doesn’t like learning engineer for the same reason as learning designer: you can’t ‘engineer’ learning. I don’t quite agree. One problem is that right now there are two interpretations of learning engineer. My original take on that phrase was that it’s about applying learning science to real problems. Just as a civic engineer applies physics…and I liked that. Though, yes, you can lead learners to learning, but you can’t make them think.
However, Herb Simon’s original take (now instantiated in the IEEE’s initiative on learning engineering) focused more on the integration of learning science with digital engineering. And I agree that’s important, but I’m not sure one person needs to be able to do it all. Is the person who engineers the underlying content engine the same one as the person who designs the experiences that are manifest out of that system? I think the larger picture increasingly relies on teams. So I’m taking that out of contention for now.
Will’s answer: learning architect. Now, in my less-than-definitive post last year, I equated learning experience designer and learning architect, roughly. However, Will disparages the latter and heaps accolades on the former. My concern is that architects design a solution, but then it gets not only built by others, but gets interior designed by others, and… It’s too ‘hands off’! And as I pointed out, I’ve called myself that recently, but in that role I may have been more an architect ;).
His argument against learning experience designer doesn’t sit well with me. Ignoring the aspersions cast against those who he attributes the label to, his underlying argument is that just designing experiences isn’t enough. He admits we can’t ensure learning, but suggests that this is a weak response. And here’s where I disagree. I think the inclusion of experience does exactly what I want to focus on: the emotional trajectory and the motivational commitment. Not to the exclusion of the learning sciences, of course. AND, I’d suggest, also recognizing that the experience is not an event, but an extended set of activities. Specifically, it will be across technologies as needed.
The problem, as Jane Bozarth raised in a column, is more than just this, however. What research into the role shows is that there are just too many jobs being lumped under the label (whatever it is). Do you develop too? Do you administer the LMS? The list goes on.
I think we need to perhaps have multiple job titles. We can be an instructional designer, or a learning experience designer, or an instructional technologist. Or even a learning engineer (once that’s clear ;). But we need to keep focused, and as Jane advised, not get too silly (wizard?). It’s hard enough as it is to describe what we do without worrying about labels for it. I think I’ll stick with learning experience designer for now. (Not least because I’m running a workshop on learning experience design at DevLearn this fall. ;) That’s my take, what’s yours?