Instructional Design in Today’s Business and Industry by Selani Flores

As business globalization increases so does the demand for employee training and instructional design. In 2007, the training industry in the United States nearly doubled in revenue from 1999, bringing in over $134 billion dollars (Paradise, 2008). There has been a shift in emphasis from a knowledge and performance-driven industry to present day where employers strive to delve deeper into understanding and analyzing human performance.

Tracey and Morrison (2011) outline three broad categories of roles for instructional designers who work in the corporate America arena.

  1. There is the sole designer who might work solely and permanently for a smaller company.
  2. There is the team member who is typically working with other lead members for an organization. As globalization increases it is more practical and efficient to belong to a virtual team rather than working together at the same physical site.
  3. The third category of instructional designer is the external consultant. Often an external consultant is hired to conduct a needs assessment in an effort to troubleshoot issues and solutions.

For an instructional designer to be effective their client must identify a subject-matter expert (SME) who can commit to assisting the designer with the necessary information needed for instructional materials, content or services (Morrison, 1988). Unfortunately as well-intended as all players are (client, instructional designer or SME) there are inevitably constraints that limit effective outcomes. Tracey and Morrison (2011) give examples of contextual constraints such as lack of time or resources, lack of designer’s locus of control for decision-making, and client perceived necessity to approve certain activities. Another caution they share is the risk of having the instructional designer taking on the role of the project manager. The more intimate the designer becomes with the project the more their responsibility will increase. This can lead to a dilemma of having to choose between completing the instructional design or the project management tasks. Either way, one will suffer.

As you think about how informational design will complement and enhance your human performance, consider the following:

  1. Identify your SME so that they can work collaboratively with your instructional designer
  2. Designate a project manager to oversee the instructional design project to ensure these roles and responsibilities do not overlap
  3. When thinking about the bottom line and considering who will get the job done better, faster and cheaper, consider the technical expertise of your designer. Look for someone who:
  • Can deliver rapid, quality prototyping
  • Is well-versed in a technology-based training delivery
  • Has experience with advanced evaluation techniques
  • Has research and scholarship in the area of instructional design 

Thank you for your time and interest and please look for my next blog where I talk about The ADDIE model (an instructional systems design model)



Tracey, M. W. & Morrison, G. R. (2011). Instructional design in business and industry. In R.A. Reiser & J.V. Dempsey, Eds. Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.



  1. I really like how you gave tips on how to utilize instructional designers in the field of business. You did a job discussing how to make sure the instructional designer is being effective for the company. I also think that it is good that you added some examples of problems that might be encountered. One comment that I have is to maybe add an example of a company or business that has used instructional designers and how that has improved business. Overall, I think you have a really good post. Out of all the qualities you suggested a manager look for, which one do you feel is the most useful or effective quality of an instructional designer? Why?

    1. I think the one quality I would say is most useful would be to find an instructional designer who has research and scholarship in the area of instructional design. Although they are not experts in a particular industry, they are in ID. Taking Eric’s example below where he talks about the disconnect in upper management or the lack of training or education, regardless of the situation, I think an experienced ID can come in and create a quality needs assessment for your company and be better able to identify issues. Again, having access to a subject matter expert makes collaboration and trouble shooting more effective. I don’t think it is the role or the expectation of the ID to implement change in that business I do think however that suggestions and quality instructional materials should evolve from that process. As Eric mentioned, management training should be a part of ID and I think ‘lack of training’ will arise as a need after the ID has assessed.

  2. I like your post. I don’t usually think about the business aspect, because that is not my focus. I agree with your suggestions, but I would also suggest that managers have some level of training in instructional design. Though I believe the managers that have education in business will have a sense of instructional design, many managers will not have a sense of what this is. I give as an example when I worked in retail to put myself through college. Managers were rather uneducated on the store, district and regional levels, and corporate was so far removed from everything that I’m not sure how much influence they had. This might not be a very good example of ID in business or industry, but this is a perfect example of the gap that can exist between the ideal and the reality. Well-rounded training, part of ID, should be that managers at all levels learn at least the basics of ID.

    1. I’ve never worked as a pure ID before my current job which is still not really pure ID but I am no longer my own SME as I have been for all the courses I’ve developed to date. I realize an ID cannot be an SME in all areas, but could the SMEs be IDs? I wonder if there is maybe value in focusing on training SMEs to become an ID rather than hiring IDs to work with the SME.

      1. I think this is really, really important. I keep thinking back to Chapter 1 or 2 of our book, and instructor resistance is a huge barrier to ed. tech. success. When instructors perceive that IDs don’t have a SM to draw from, it sometimes feels like they don’t understand our challenges. I would recommend that future designers develop strong content areas or at least focus on transferrable competencies (writing to learn, problem-based learning, project design, etc.). It would, at the least, help develop credibility.

        1. When I was first brought in on this grant and met with the faculty I got the feeling they didn’t see me as valuable. Rather, someone outside the system who couldn’t possibly know or understand their challenges. As we talked, I used a lot of examples from my own teaching experience and they began to realize that I was one of them. I still don’t have the SM expertise but as teachers we are on the same level. I’m not sure how this translates to the business world. Everything I know about business I learned from “The Office”.

  3. Selani, you provide some great information about instructional design in the business industry. I think the part about collaboration is important to take note of — not many people can take on the roles of subject matter expert (SME), instructional designer (IDer), and project manager (PM) all once; and if they could, would they be effective and successful?

    For any project, I think it is important to have a PM to keep things organized and to ensure team members are doing what they need to do and tasks are being completed as they should be in a timely manner. Ideally, PMs should be able to work well with everyone on the team and be knowledgable about the project and the team members working on the project. As was mentioned in the post, PMs have the responsibility of making sure the roles and responsibilities of the SME and IDer do not overlap. However, should we be concerned about the possibility of the PM micromanaging the SME and the IDer?

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