Meet a Keypather: Brittany Horton
How and/or why did you become an Instructional Designer?
My instructional design story began in South Korea, where I spent three memorable years as a grantee in the Fulbright Program. There, I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to over 6,000 middle school students and 50 adult North Korean defectors. At that time, I felt driven to instruct as many students as I could, but I was limited to the physical classroom where most of my lessons were taught.
I pursued strategies for teaching to a broader audience, and when I returned to America, my passion for ESL instruction led me to teach ESL online to students throughout China. This experience exposed me to innovative technological tools that I was eager to explore and further utilize for global students of all ages!
It was through teaching online that my interest grew in the design of online instruction and strategies for enhancing student engagement. I was also working as a graduate assistant in the Department of Teacher Education at a small, private university in the Midwest. In that role, I developed several skills that aided my transition into the field of instructional design.
I was developing modules and assessment items, managing and organizing online course materials, and consulting with faculty on course and curriculum design. I realized that the work felt more and more enjoyable. This prompted me to pursue a new career path in instructional design.
It’s no secret that Instructional Design plays an integral part in delivering online education. Why does Instructional Design design matter?
Instructional Design is a language and an architecture that captivates and engages the mind of the online learner. The instructional designer is the architect who supports the subject matter expert or instructor in activating learning, encouraging curiosity and transforming student growth. Instructional design matters because without it, learning subject material may be a complicated task if it is not appropriately organized or structured to enable the transference of information to the student.
Instructional design also reinforces the retention of information or the ability for the student to recall the material at later times. Put merely, instructional design enables. It enables the student in their attempt to consume new information and further their educational pursuits.
What impact can good Instructional Design have on the student experience?
I often equate the student experience as a journey, and in instructional design, we must consider what the student should explore. Good instructional design identifies and integrates what pushes learners to succeed, what challenges them, and what engages them to remain motivated to complete their online course or module.
On that journey, sound instructional design may create shortcuts for students to comprehend information quickly. In contrast, bad design may create several detours that distract the learner from the end goal—the destination of acquiring new knowledge. Good design provides just-in-time information, while poor design may overwhelm the student as they may struggle with prioritizing what information is critical. Good design is strategic on the variety of multimedia a course may include, while poor design may have multimedia for the sake of incorporating different material.
Good instructional design, just like educators and teachers, helps to rear the next generation of workers, doers, thinkers, inventors, dreamers, and creators. Instructional designers—especially those developing online content—have a great responsibility to ensure that our design engages and incites our learners since our students may live across several domestic and international borders.
What drives you as an Instructional Designer?
As an instructional designer, I feel like an artist. From the beginning of the course development process and until the end, creating an online course involves a design and development methodology that allows me to flex my creative muscles! I am driven to transform course content into memorable experiences that benefit the learner.
I am driven by the evolution of my course developments as the courses progress from week-to-week and incorporate additional learning approaches that motivate different learners. I am inspired by the endless possibilities of seizing a learning objective within a course and considering how to format that goal into a new learning journey or interactive experience for the students. While instructional design has systematic approaches, the transformative nature of course development truly makes it feel like an art form.
What skills are required to be a good Instructional Designer?
To become a proficient instructional designer, at the most basic level, you must possess an interest in lifelong learning. Just as students are learning information in their courses, instructional designers must continue pursuing knowledge and information as it relates to how people learn. Instructional designers should have a firm understanding of how people process information and how to create understandable content that furthers learning rather than inhibits it.
Instructional designers should also have a level of technology acumen as much of our work involves using online systems and programs such as project/task management systems, graphic design programs, systems that store the courses we develop (also referred to as learning management systems), and even video editing software.
Additionally, proficient instructional designers are problem-solvers and should have a skill in troubleshooting learning gaps or barriers that relate to course content. There are many skill domains for instructional designers but remaining committed to the process of learning new skills is advantageous for career growth and professional development.