The Story is in the Structure: A Multi-Case Study of Instructional Design Teams

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session Leadership

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Brief Abstract

This session explores groundbreaking research conducted on the organizational structures of instructional design teams. Discover the influence of structure on the empowerment, role clarity, and leadership opportunities of instructional designers and the ideal structure for building a sustainable, scalable, and empowered instructional design team. Hear the story and lead the change!


Dr. Jason Drysdale is the Senior Director of Instructional Design and Program Development at the University of Colorado System. As an instructional designer, technologist, and researcher in online learning leadership, Dr. Drysdale is an advocate for intentional design, authentic and collaborative leadership, and is a believer in the magic that happens when you trust and care for your students and colleagues. Jason's research interests include leadership in higher education, instructional design, organizational structure, collaboration, and online learning. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri, and now lives in Denver with his wife Courtney, kids Clark and Lucy, and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Kingsley. Jason is a guitarist/singer/songwriter, avid video gamer (favorite games are Xenogears and Final Fantasy 7), and a mega fan of J.R.R. Tolkien!

Extended Abstract

This session explores groundbreaking research conducted on the organizational structures of instructional design teams. The primary audience for this session is instructional designers, administrators, instructional staff, and faculty in higher education. Through the session, participants will:

  • Discover how organizational structures influence empowerment, leadership opportunities, and role clarity for higher education instructional designers
  • Apply key research findings to positively influence the structure, restructuring, and expansion of higher education instructional design teams

The session will begin with an overview of the research methods and key findings, followed by time to visualize and reflect on the structures of the design teams at each participants' institution. The session will end on a call to action: sharing ideas, plans, and approaches for positively influencing the culture and structure for instructional design at each person's respective institution.

Although instructional designers are experienced and positioned to be leaders in online learning, it was not previously known if and how they were acting as leaders in their institutions. This problem warranted a deep exploration of the structures, roles, and practices of instructional design in higher education. The study was framed by a primary research question and three subquestions:

  1. How do organizational structures in a university or college setting most positively influence the ability of instructional designers to lead online learning initiatives in higher education?
    1. What are the organizational structures in place at colleges and universities for dedicated instructional designers?
    2. How do dedicated instructional designers in varied higher education organizational structures participate in the design, redesign, and evaluation of university courses and programs?
    3. How do faculty and administrators empower or disempower dedicated instructional designers when collaborating on online learning initiatives?

This qualitative, multi-case study consisted of 3 individual universities each with a different organizational structure profile: centralized design team with academic reporting lines, centralized team with administrative reporting lines, or a blend of centralized and decentralized design teams with academic reporting lines. Data were collected through document analysis and semistructured interviews with participants in 3 key roles at each institution: dedicated instructional designer, online faculty member, and online learning administrator. The research culminated in within-case analyses of each institution and a comparative case analysis of all 3 studied institutions.

The results of the study revealed that the organizational structure that most positively influenced the ability for instructional designers to lead was a centralized instructional design team with academic reporting lines. The results also showed that decentralized instructional designers experienced significant disempowerment, role misperception, and challenges in advocacy and leadership, while instructional designers with administrative reporting lines experienced a high level of role misperception specifically related to technology support. Positional parity between dedicated instructional designers and faculty, in conjunction with implementation of the recommended organizational structure, was found to be critical to empowering designers to be partners and leaders. Recommendations included: (a) instructional design teams should proportionally match the size of the university to ensure that they have time and opportunity to act as leaders in online learning initiatives, (b) dedicated instructional designers should participate in or lead online program design initiatives, and (c) leaders of instructional design teams should have direct knowledge of or experience with instructional design and online learning.

Join us for this research-based, action-oriented session on improving the structure and culture of your institution's instructional design team. Hear the story and lead the change!