One consistent trend observed in the business, P-12, and higher education contexts is that of change. Technology, resources, and goals as well as the needs and desires of our target audience are each influencing an ever increasing rate of change. According to the authors of our text, the role of an instructional designer in each context has shifted from being one where an individual works on a single project from beginning to end to a role of collaborative development or advocate/agent of change. What this means is that rather than producing complete electronic learning materials or supporting learning with technology over extended periods of time an instructional designer is much more likely to utilize established or discovered design patterns that reduce development time while partnering during the development process with a community of practice.
I believe that we will continue to see the roll of instructional designers shift as we progress into the next decade. In the business world we see share holders and venture capitalists wanting to see a product produced at little cost, of high quality, and at a rapid pace. In many cases if a product is considered to be “good enough” additional development is abandoned in favor of rapid distribution to realize a return on the investment of time and resources. In higher education, I often have observed faculty utilize instructional designers for general labor or data processing rather than for pedagogical best practices or expertise in learning theory. In both professional and educational contexts the attitudes of those individuals considered to be in positions of authority or in charge of a final decision tend to lean in the direction of having the instructional designer build what was specified by the boss or client and to produce the product quickly and with few errors. There often is not time or desire on the part of the client or management to entertain the musings of theory and practice or efforts to improve the result of the work and effort exerted. It seems somewhat idealistic in the current environment for an instructional designer to hope for collaboration or to be an agent of change.
Another perspective on the current situation found in business and educational contexts is to consider what we observe as a wonderful opportunity. If an ideal partnership can be found and developed then an instructional designer can leverage their expertise in learning theory and development processes to produce amazing things. When a collaborative approach to development is utilized the resulting product is often far superior. We have seen the result of online collaborations in the open source software market. Teams of developers, each with varying levels of talent, come together (often virtually) to develop software that many of us find invaluable. The Firefox web browser, Wikipedia, and RSS each were developed and distributed utilizing a collaborative approach.
The implications for our day-to-day jobs and work environments is this: to maximize our results we should utilize development cycles, change management, training, collaborative communities for learning as well as for development, increase our credibility by grounding knowledge and practice in professionally published literature, embrace life-long-learning, and become advocates who openly share all knowledge and approaches. By building partnerships and participating in collaborative projects with our peers and associates we will ultimately enjoy our work and produce amazing things.