Instructional designer vs learning experience designer: what’s in a name?

From the outside of the learning industry looking in, there may be a lot of confusion between the terms “instructional designer” and “learning experience designer” - in fact, from the inside there’s some confusion as well. I’ve written before about the many shades of instructional design and know that the definitions and labels we all use mean something a little different to pretty much everyone you talk to.

Basically, depending on who you’re speaking with the terms each have a variety of meanings. In some organizations an “instructional designer” develops course material, whereas in others it’s the developer who does backend technical work on a module. For some teams, the ID does all that and more, even graphics.

For the purposes of this post, however, we’ll use the terms as follows: a learning experience designer is someone that looks at the bigger picture - how every course or training asset an organization utilizes connects to all of the other training programs, all of their objectives, and the courses currently in development. An instructional designer, on the other hand, is one who focuses on the details of one module at a time, making sure that the objectives of that particular module are met through the various stages of course creation.

So, when taking a look at the differences between an instructional designer and a learning experience designer, which one are you - and is there a reason to be strictly one or the other? Let’s take a look.

Learning experience designer

As mentioned above, in the Kineo universe a learning experience designer is someone that looks at the big picture of the learning experience at an organization. Also referred to as “learning architects” or “learning designers,” learning experience designers are tasked with making sure that all parts of an organization’s learning are not only complete, but cohesive. If there are courses that already exist they work to make sure that future courses properly correlate, and that any updates that are necessary are made. Think of them, in a sense, as the continuity expert of the company’s learning and development landscape. To quote Connie Malamed, “Learning Experience Design implies a user-centric and holistic approach to solutions. It is a focus on experience and context more than materials.”

Instructional designer

Meanwhile, instructional designers focus on the minutia of it all. When the decision to create a new module or course has been made, they’re the ones leading the charge in getting it all pulled together. They’re on the front lines creating and gathering content, working with managers and trainers to make sure all of the important points are hit, deciding what types of interactivity and instructional strategies will be added, and working with the graphic designers and developers to make sure the course is aesthetically pleasing and functioning properly.However, is it necessary to simply be one or the other? We would venture to say that while job titles might say otherwise, it’s not necessarily the best decision to keep instructional designers and learning experience designers completely separate. After all, since the learning experience designer is tasked with keeping track of the overall larger picture, that makes it doubly important that they’re paying attention to the details of the new courses and content assets being created. Similarly, since instructional designers are focusing on new course creation, it’s important that they’re aware of anything they should be tying into or building upon - especially if they plan on linking any of their new content into the existing content as an additional resource.

So think about how you define your role? Architect? Designer? Something else? It’s a shady world out there!

Now that you’ve decided what your role is, check out our webinar Innovation at work: unlock creative potential and make business impact.

Leave us your comments...

Paulo Castro | 12th March, 2018

I am now wondering where the 'Curriculum Designer' fits in relation to the two job roles you mentioned in your article.

Cammy Bean | 22nd March, 2018

Hey Paulo, Great question/discussion which would be great to have over an actual coffee....this really brings into focus the notion that these job titles and even tasks live along a spectrum. In my mind, a Curriculum Designer may span these two concepts. CD is thinking that bigger picture, but also focused more on the details. What do you think? Is your experience reflective of one side of the spectrum vs. the other?