How Will We Become the Instructional Designers of the Future?

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Can instructional designers be the change they wish to see in higher education? Not without a vision for the future of the profession. During this interactive session, we will explore how instructional designers can be effective collaborators, researchers, contributors, and lifelong learners to excel in their careers while further developing the field.


Kasey Ford is an instructional technologist, designer, and writer that has been involved in online learning in higher education and and e-learning for more than 10 years. In that time, she has been involved in all aspects of learning experience design from project management to media production. She has also helped design and deliver numerous online graduate education programs in her roles at The University of Texas-Austin and Texas State University. Her research interests include communities of practice, instructional design practice, storytelling, informal learning, and social media in education.
Komal Gandhi is an instructional designer with a passion for developing effective and innovate online learning experiences for adult learners. She has a Master's degree in Learning Technologies from the University of Texas at Austin. Komal has been active in the online learning field for about a decade now. Throughout her career at Texas State University, she has been involved in the planning, project management and development of several online graduate degree programs and faculty development efforts. Her research interests include instructional design , faculty/student readiness for online education and the future of online instruction.

Extended Abstract

Current Challenges

We are two instructional designers from a learning experience design team that has been embedded in our university’s Instructional Technologies Support team for more than 16 years. Recently, our entire team was merged with the Office of Distance and Extended Learning (under Academic Affairs) as part of an institutional reorganization. This monumental shift prompted us to reflect on who we are as learning experience designers. We love creating instructionally sound and engaging online courses, but what will this work look like in the future?

Recent reports (Intentional Futures, 2016; The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2016) reveal that most instructional designers in higher education spend their time collaborating with faculty to develop, maintain, and effectively deliver courses. Additionally, they feel that lack of time is one of the biggest obstacles to their work. While designers are busy working on the details of course development, other priorities like professional development, interdisciplinary research, and growing their community of practice may not be getting the attention they deserve.

While we continue to provide value to our institutions, we cannot afford to be too busy to evolve. With the rise of do-it-yourself technologies, and as higher education business models shift, what faculty expect from instructional designers will change. In order to meet these challenges and continue growing our field, we must venture out of our traditional roles as “tech people” and “project managers” to contribute to the wider world of teaching and learning. Our ability to make the most impactful contributions will be realized only when we come together as well-rounded professionals.

We seek to start this important conversation by focusing on four essential roles for the instructional designer of the future.

  • The ID as collaborator: One of the challenges instructional designers most often describe is misunderstanding across their institutions about their role and expertise. This is directly related to many of the challenges we experience when working with faculty. By striving to be better collaborators with key clients, faculty, and stakeholders, instructional designers will produce more positive outcomes and better working relationships.
  • The ID as lifelong learner: Instructional designers are proselytizers for the power of ongoing learning, but we sometimes struggle to fit self-improvement into our busy lives. To be valued as experts in the field, instructional designers must actively and regularly seek professional development opportunities.
  • The ID as researcher: If we want to solidify our role in our institutions as experts, we must make reading, conducting, and publishing research one of our priorities. Most of us have access to courses in various fields, instructors with varying levels of teaching experience, and diverse groups of students. We must leverage our unique position in the university ecosystem. We can and should help make advances in the fields of education technology, learning science, and distance learning.
  • The ID as contributor: All instructional designers can ultimately be described as problem solvers. Just imagine how many problems we could solve together! We need to join forces to think about ways to build our community of practice.

Discussion Format

In this session, we will reflect upon the future role of instructional designers in higher education institutions, via open discussion and interactive activities such as polls. Using data and other resources, we will begin with a brief exploration of how instructional design teams are structured, with special attention to the organizational culture and norms that contribute to defining the roles and responsibilities of the instructional designer in higher education institutions. Next, the discussion will turn toward a focus on strategies instructional designers should consider to increase ownership in the field both now and in the future. We will discuss how instructional design roles can be transformed to meet the future needs of higher education by exploring the following guiding questions: 

  • How can we make our contributions to the institution more visible?
  • How can we reflect critically on our collaboration with faculty, with the goal of establishing positive relationships?  
  • How can we make professional growth a part of the culture of learning experience design teams? In what ways can we bring experimentation and cross-disciplinary awareness into our work?
  • What can we do to make reading, conducting, and publishing research a priority for our design teams? How can we help make advances in the fields of education technology, learning science, and distance learning? 
  • What are some innovative ways to join forces with other instructional designers in the field to build our community of practice?

Target Audience

This session is best suited for instructional design professionals at varying stages of their careers, those involved in developing learning technology programs, and subject matter experts working with learning experience design teams.  

Session Takeaways   

By the end of the session, attendees will be able to:

  • identify areas for professional improvement;
  • propose ways to address current instructional design challenges; and
  • participate in an ongoing discussion about the evolution of the field.

We hope this will be a first step in enabling instructional designers to grow as researchers, collaborators, contributors, and lifelong learners.


Beirne, E., & Romanoski, M. P. (2018). Instructional design in higher education: Defining an evolving field. OLC outlook: An environmental scan of the digital learning landscape. Retrieved from

Intentional Futures. (2016). Instructional design in higher education. Retrieved from

Rubley, J. N. (2016). Instructional designers in higher ed: Changing the course of next-generation learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from