Why Teachers Make the Best Instructional Designers
It’s no secret that I think transitioning teachers make some of the best instructional designers. Awesome IDs share many of the same qualities with teachers. For example, an understanding of how people learn best, strong analytical skills that allow them to solve problems with learning solutions.
Those same skills (and many more) are hardwired into a teacher’s brain from the time they start their teaching programs! In my last post, I summarized what that transition from teacher to an instructional designer might look like and why it works so well.
Now, I’m focusing on the expertise teachers bring to the table. I will also focus on how a teacher’s skill set makes them a perfect candidate to become some of the best instructional designers.
Whether you’re a teacher that’s thinking about making a career change (here’s a great resource to get you started) or a hiring manager looking to widen your talent pool (check out this post about finding your dream candidates), read on to find out why teachers make the best instructional designers!
Years ago, I made the leap from teacher into a completely new career as a Training/HR Specialist. I was amazed at how many of my teaching skills directly translated to my new job. Even though my new job had HR Specialist in the title, I spent the first year focused 100% on all things “Training”.
I wore the instructional designer hat, the training facilitator hat, the eLearning developer hat, the LMS administrator hat, the training marketer hat. I wore just about any hat related to training.
It was a huge learning curve to wear all of those hats. Fortunately, I brought so much knowledge, skills, and experience from the classroom that could be easily applied to the new role.
So, let’s check out some of the areas that make it easier for teachers to transition to instructional design.
Teachers Understand Instructional Design
Teachers may not be familiar with instructional design or instructional design language, but they will quickly discover they have been using it all along. Let’s explore the areas teachers can quickly transition their existing knowledge to instructional design:
Understanding the needs of a learner and how to use and structure learning to fill that need is a skill that teachers have in common with instructional designers.
While a teacher does get to interact directly with learners more often than an instructional designer does, the principles behind a teacher’s approach to determining needs are similar to an instructional designer’s approach.
A teacher often uses a pre-assessment activity or the previous year’s state test results to determine a students’ current level in a subject. Instructional designers sometimes use pre-assessments, but not to the same degree.
Instead, we might use a training needs analysis template with targeted questions to scope the needs of training with an SME and project business owner. We use the skill of designing questions that get to the heart of training needs.
We then use that information to build targeted learning solutions. And, as you may have guessed, assessment questions to measure learning throughout and post-training.
Teacher candidates must show their understanding of pedagogy in theory and practice before they get their first teaching job. The hands-on experience of creating and implementing lessons, then using feedback to improve your own practices is an invaluable learning experience that teachers get almost every day of the school year.
So, what does pedagogy have to do with instructional design?
Pedagogy is, to put it very simply, the approach to teaching and how learners learn. Often, pedagogy is used in reference to teaching children. As an instructional designer, you may never facilitate training. Even so, you should understand how facilitators train and engage an audience so that you can build those strategies into your instructional design of a learning solution.
One term that teachers transitioning into the instructional design may not know is andragogy. Andragogy focuses on adult learning and how adult learners prefer to experience learning opportunities.
There are commonalities between both pedagogy and andragogy. If you are new to andragogy, check out Malcolm Knowles 4 Principles of Andragogy.
It isn’t uncommon to hear pedagogy used in lieu of andragogy in adult learning. They are both about the art of teaching, but there is a difference.
On paper, pedagogy assumes the child learner is mostly reliant on the teacher. Andragogy recognizes that adult learners have different motivations for learning. Adults want instruction that can be immediately applied to real-life. Check out this article for a more in-depth explanation of the two theories.
Child learners have many of the same characteristics of adult learners (child learners become adult learners, after all!). For example, young learners bring a variety of experiences with them to the classroom. They also have intrinsic learning motivation, that, when tapped into, leads to the most rewarding learning experiences.
Planning a direct-instruction lesson (essentially a mini-lecture for kids) is easy. Finding a way to make your content interesting and relevant, then creating an opportunity for practice that’s meaningful is difficult and time-consuming, but good teachers will do it anyway.
That real-life experience is what gives teachers who haven’t formally studied andragogy a head start in becoming some of the best instructional designers.
Teachers understand how to leverage motivation to get an audience to buy-in to a lesson, they’re able to differentiate instructions to reach a broad skill level, and they can also take dry content and find a way to turn it into engaging learning.
Those skills translate directly to adult learners and instructional design.
Many teachers work directly with the curriculum. Some sit on a committee that decides what content should be required for a certain grade level. Others are their own curriculum committee. They are responsible for mapping out the curriculum for the week, the six weeks, or even a semester.
When I was a teacher, I was handed a book and the state standards and was told: “We are glad you are here.” That was it! I had to pave my own way and write my own curriculum for every single day of the year for two subjects!
Regardless of a teacher’s individual experience with curriculum work, teachers understand content and timing. Remember Primacy/Recency and the Forgetting Curve?
One of the things that make teachers the best instructional designers is their awareness of how much content a learner can absorb. Teachers know how to time content delivery to maximize retention.
Teachers also see natural breaks in content, how to use themes to connect content, and how and when to check for understanding.
Here’s the best part: teachers are usually the subject-matter expert and the instructional designer. Effective teachers don’t just take a chapter from the text and call it day. Many spend hours outside of their workday searching for better resources and tools.
A teacher who has transitioned to instructional design can apply their knowledge of learning to ensure the audience gets the best lesson possible. They know how to maximize learning by chunking content in a way that enhances learner retention.
If there’s one area where the teacher turned instructional designer really shines, it’s in assessing learners’ understanding of the content.
Teachers spend years perfecting their assessments. They know the difference between a formative and a summative assessment. Have a variety of assessment methods they’ve used and perfected and they can effectively align assessments to learning objectives. They also know what to do with the data afterward.
Designing effective assessments can be a struggle for many instructional designers. In some cases, assessments are treated as afterthoughts.
A teacher turned instructional designer is more likely to get creative with their assessment ideas, incorporate problem-solving and real-life scenarios, and generally bring more variety to the standard knowledge check.
Even though they don’t use this terminology in education, teachers cycle through the ADDIE process constantly. Sometimes evaluating and changing things up in the middle of the lesson.
Other Strengths that make Teachers Some of the Best Instructional Designers
Here are some other areas where teachers excel that makes them well-suited for the field of instructional design.
- Time management: teachers can plan down to the second! This makes them great at designing learning and it means that they’re great with projects and deadlines.
- Interpersonal skills: every day a teacher navigates interactions with their students, the students’ parents, their colleagues, and their administration. Teachers can work with difficult SMEs or take the lead on a project.
- Flexibility: Teachers wear many hats, so there’s no one better to juggle projects.
- Technology: Teachers use educational technology and learning management systems on a daily basis. That knowledge can easily be adapted to the technology used as an ID.
- No budget? No problem. Teachers are not intimidated by a lacking budget. Teachers can produce amazing resources with a limited or zero budget. Need a facilitator guide designed? No problem. Your teacher/instructional designer would most likely tackle the job without fear.
- Love of learning: teachers are lifelong learners, so they’re usually up for a challenge and will never turn down an opportunity to learn something new.
So if you’re a teacher who is thinking about testing the instructional design waters, be sure to highlight the strengths listed above, you may not have a portfolio but you have instructional design experience! Bonus points if you check out my instructional design courses and read up on trends in the ID world.
Now, I would love to hear from you. As you know, I think teachers make some of the best instructional designers. What are your thoughts? What is the most important skill of an instructional designer? Do you think teachers have that skill?