Instructional design practitioners can work in various settings, such as higher education, corporate, government, healthcare, and nonprofits. Within each of these settings, there are multiple titles for practitioners in instructional design, such as learning and development professional, learning experience designer, trainer, and more (Stolovitch & Keeps, 1992). To appreciate the breadth of the potential job roles, history can help explain some of the variety. The following section explains and describes the beginnings of the instructional design role and how it has changed over time.
Brief History and Evolution of Instructional Design Jobs
While the full origins are debated, a formal instructional design systems approach originated during World War II out of the U.S. military’s need to train a large number of people quickly and effectively (Reiser, 2002). Specifically, the use of audiovisual technology was used to deliver training. Initially, this was referred to as “audiovisual instruction,” but by the 1970s terms such as “educational technology” and “instructional technology” were also used (Reiser, 2002). After World War II, it took awhile for the term “instructional design” to be widely used, and for a systematic approach to training and curriculum development to become an accepted methodology for organizations to use (Gustafson & Branch, 2002).
From the 1960s, instructional design changed significantly. In 1962, Robert Glaser coined the term “instructional system,” creating a connection between education and learning practice rooted in psychology and indicating the need for practitioners to engage in developing instructional technology (Shrock, 1995). In addition, B. F. Skinner laid the foundation for the systematic design of instruction, specifically concentrating on the use of aids to improve the quality of education (Skinner, 1974). By the 1970s, instructional design methods and models were not only used in the military, but had also become more common in business and industry. This is when instructional design began to blend with and focus more broadly on such influences as organizational development and human performance improvement (Pasmore, 1988). At the same time, various social movements, such as feminism, environmentalism, and gay rights, were influencing society and, by proxy, how organizations approached training. This led to the emergence of workplace sensitivity training, designed to raise participants’ awareness of their racist and discriminatory behaviors and make workplaces more inclusive and welcoming (Shaw, 1994). This was a stark contrast to the military-training roots of instructional systems design, but one that paved the way for compliance training. The 1970s also brought about cognitive information processing theory and, with it, an increased interest in the instructional design profession (Driscoll, 2000). Many graduate programs in instructional design were created due in part the interest of instructional design (Kang, 2004). From the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, computer-based training (CBT) began to develop. While instructional design was heavily impacted by the adoption of technology and the readiness and accessibility of devices, it also helped pave the way for eLearning in the later 1990s and 2000s (Molenda, 2008). Research focused on a five stage development process called ADDIE, which stands for analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation, emerged in instructional design in the 1980s and 1990s (Julian et al., 2000). Additionally, it was during this period that instructional design professional development organizations such as the ATD led various competency studies to identify knowledge, skills, and abilities for the instructional design professional (Julian et al., 2000).
Becoming an Instructional Designer
Before explaining more about the ATD Development Capability Model and this paper’s job posting research, it is worth mentioning how many people come into the field of instructional design. The expectations of an instructional designer have shifted and changed over the past decade. For example, the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction (IBSTPI) has identified the skills and abilities required for job roles such as instructors, instructional designers, and training managers (Klein & Richey, 2005). This is in addition to the competencies presented by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) for workplace learning and performance practitioners (see the next section for more details on ASTD). Others have also identified the skills and characteristics of capable professionals in the field (Fox & Klein, 2003; Stolovitch et al., 1999; Vadivelu & Klein, 2008). Goksu et al. (2021) found that ID studies nearly a decade ago used keywords such as “e-learning” and “online learning,” while contemporary studies include keywords that prioritize massively open online courses (MOOCs), flipped classrooms, mobile learning, augmented reality, and gamification. These changes represent not only the development of information technology, but also the associated changes to theories, learner needs, strategies, and expectations (Goksu et al., 2021). Despite this, there is an overall dearth of literature that confirms what skills are required of ID professionals (da Silva et al., 2015; Klein & Jun, 2014).
Cox and Osguthrope (2003) found that many practitioners in the field of ID have not completed any formal coursework in instructional design. In fact, Bean (2014) coined the phrase “accidental instructional designer” for individuals who become instructional designers without any formal education in the subject. This often happens with corporate practitioners who are promoted into a training role because they are a strong individual contributor to the organization and likely a subject-matter expert in the field (Bean, 2014).
Using competencies, theories, and models as a guide to prepare future instructional design practitioners can provide a strong foundation, but additional knowledge and skills should be explored. Julian et al. (2000) indicated that instructional design knowledge and skills instructional design students need to be successful in a work setting were not provided in their professional learning program. Specifically, many participants in a group competition to complete an instructional design case study found it difficult to apply theory and information to real-world contexts. While many participants appreciated the case study and the intentionality of it being like a real-world instructional design problem, some noted that it was difficult to know how to get started (Julian et al., 2000).
Previous studies have discussed employer expectations of instructional designers. These studies found that possessing the knowledge of ID and learning, instructional theories, the capacity to collaborate with a team and possessing communication skills are required by the employers to meet their organizational needs (Lowell & Ashby, 2018; Ritzhaupt & Kumar, 2015; Ritzhaupt & Martin, 2014; Sugar & Moore, 2015; Wakefield et al., 2012). Employers also sought instructional designers that are independent thinkers and can adapt to new and developing circumstances (Lowell & Moore, 2020; Sugar et al., 2012). In addition to being independent thinkers, possessing technical skills is important to meet the employer’s expectations (Lowell & Moore, 2020; Ritzhaupt & Kumar, 2015; Sugar et al., 2012).
There is some empirical evidence that a gap between formal ID education and on-the-job expectations of instructional designers exists. Thompson-Sellers and Calandra (2012) conducted an in-depth qualitative exploratory study to discover whether instructional designers mainly learn about theories and conducting instructional design on the job or in a formal program. In the study, they found that it wasn’t necessarily the formal instructional design programs that provided the practitioners with the experience necessary to do their jobs, but involvement in various professional organizations such as ATD. Additionally, research participants said they needed to adapt to their environments and compensate for any deficits in their knowledge and skills (Thompson-Seller & Calandra, 2012). While it is important to note that as with any field, no formal instructional design degree program fully prepares one for their profession, it is clear that involvement in instructional design professional organizations can help fill the gap.
Villachica et al. (2012) sought to answer the question of what employers perceive are the skills necessary for entry-level instructional designers. Of the 85 respondents who employ instructional designers, more than half said that all entry-level IDs should be able to perform common activities of ADDIE. While this sample is small, it yielded some takeaways specifically about reasons why there are gaps in applying theory to practice. Villachica et al. (2012) stressed the importance of the continuing education of instructional design professionals, recommending that employers should realize the need for continuous learning and support it.
Association for Talent and Development (ATD)
In 1942–1943, the American Society of Training Directors (ASTD)—which eventually developed into the ATD—was formed at a meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana (Oakes, 2014). Since then, the ATD has served as many instructional design practitioners’ professional organization of choice, specifically those in government, non-profit, and corporate settings. ATD is a national organization that oversees and supports various local chapters.
ATD Competency Model
In 1978, ATD membership reached 15,323 and the organization published its first competency study, A Study of Professional Training and Development Roles and Competencies (Oakes, 2014). Since then, the competency model has been updated every five years or so with different emphases, such as Models for Excellence (1983), Models for HRD Practice (1989), ASTD Models for Human Performance Improvement (1996), and Models for Learning Technologies (1998) (Rothwell et al., 1998). From the 2004 competency model to the 2013 competency model, a shift from a specific orientation, such as learning technologies or human resource development, to a more generalized model occurred (Naughton, 2014).
From the 2004–2019 competency models, ATD created a single competency model consisting of 10 specific areas of expertise (AOE) and six foundational competencies which guide the programming and professional development of ATD in various ways. All 10 AOEs are programming tracks at the annual Association of Talent and Development International Conference and Expo conference, as well as mandatory program tracks offered at local ATD chapters governed by the Chapter Affiliation Requirements (CARE) (Association for Talent Development, 2020a). ATD also identified additional foundation competencies to provide guidance for professional practice beyond content knowledge and skills (Naughton, 2014).
ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model
In 2020, the ATD Talent Development Capability Model was released globally. According to the FAQs section of the ATD website, this new model is designed “to help talent development professionals stay current on knowledge and skills that are important for success in the field” (Association for Talent Development, 2020c). There are now 23 capabilities under three core capabilities. The 23 capabilities are further delineated into numerous skill and knowledge statements. The 2020 ATD Talent Development Capability Model has been described as a career blueprint and, therefore, informs both job seekers and practitioners (Association for Talent Development [ATD], , 2020d).
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating demand for online delivery of learning experiences, many organizations including higher education and corporations needed to hire instructional designers (Bao, 2020) on top of the vast number of instructional design practitioners already practicing throughout the United States. According to O*Net data, there are currently approximately 180,000 instructional design practitioners in the United States (National Center for O*NET Development, 2020). Throughout the last three quarters of 2020, instructional design jobs were steady and there were many openings in various settings due to the need for organizations to move content online. Additionally, with many teachers needing to deliver online instruction, some learned about instructional design and have considered transitioning careers (Johnson, 2020). While teaching jobs require formal teaching licenses, instructional design jobs do not. Because of the lack of a formal license program, many instructional designers look to professional development organizations like the Association for Talent and Development (ATD) for guidance.
ATD Compared to AECT
According to its website, the Association for Education Communications and Technology (AECT) is a “professional association of instructional designers, educators and professionals who provide leadership and advise policy makers in order to sustain a continuous effort to enrich teaching and learning.” The organization’s members are mostly composed of higher education researchers, faculty, and instructional designers. AECT supports multiple research journals and is composed of various divisions such as emerging learning technologies, research and theory, and learner engagement. AECT provides the AECT Instructional Design Standards for Distance Learning for use by its members.
The AECT Instructional Design Standards for Distance Learning has a different purpose than the ATD competency and capability models, as it is focused more on the product than the individual (Pina, 2018). The purpose behind these standards stems from discussions between AECT members and AECT staff regarding the prevalence of online courses being developed at higher education institutions without guidance and benchmarks for evidence-based standards for designing online learning (Harris, 2017). Instead of standing alone, like the ATD competency and capability models, the AECT Instructional Design Standards for Distance Learning are meant to be paired with other standards, like the Quality Matters rubric (Pina, 2018). The purpose of the AECT Instructional Design Standards is to provide guidance before, during, and after the design and development of distance learning experiences (Pina, 2018). For the full texts of the AECT Instructional Design Standards for Distance Learning, see Appendix 5.
While the competencies and standards from AECT focus on the course, AECT also provides instructional designers with a professional code of ethics (AECT, 2018). This is interesting given the history of instructional design. Instructional design is broad in many respects and has been influenced by many disciplines and professions. Creating a code of ethics is a way to legitimize instructional design as a profession on its own (Welliver, 1989). The AECT Code of Ethics (Appendix 4) is divided into three sections: commitment to individual learners, commitment to society, and commitment to profession.
An overall review of literature surrounding the 2020 ATD Talent Development Capability Model revealed little information on the practical applications for ID job seekers. The model is still new, which might explain this dearth of research. The current study, then, can provide significant insights and advantages not only for practitioners on the market, but also researchers and formal educational programs across various sectors of ID. We sought to answer the following research questions to guide our review:
RQ1: What can we learn about the requirements of instructional designers from current job descriptions in comparison to the 2020 ATD Talent Development Capability Model?
RQ2: How is instructional design operationalized in the lens of various sectors?