Top Skills for Learning Design

learning design

Instructional design is evolving rapidly, and the view of the instructional designer as a rapid-authoring expert is no longer relevant to the needs of the market. I am often asked about what makes a good instructional designer,  so I have put together some of the key skills (beyond the baseline design and authoring abilities often associated with the role), which I think a modern instructional designer needs to possess in order to produce effective and engaging learning interventions.


Instructional designers are designers, they are not solutions architects. A designer must be able to create a bold, relevant, and compelling aesthetic that fits the subject and pulls in the learner. It is not enough simply to choose media, designers need to be well-versed in using different media in ways that are comparable to designers who work exclusively in that media. Learning design needs to maintain credibility across all media to effectively engage with a more demanding audience.


Learning is competing for attention in an increasingly crowded information marketplace. Learning design needs to take into account the fact that the modern learner faces a mass of messaging every second of the day, much of it more compelling than their learning content. Instructional designers need to be able to shape messages like marketeers and learn to ‘sell in’ content through innovative delivery methods learned from commercial digital and marketing environments.


Narrative is fast becoming one of the most valued concepts in all areas of communication, but it has always been a part of learning design. Storytelling aids retention, engagement, and comprehension through structure, familiarity and exemplification – it helps bring content to life. Instructional designers need to be able to tell stories which feel real and relevant, and that takes a narrative sensibility that has to be built into the approach as a fundamental requirement.

User Experience

Instructional designers work across media, but a fundamental change in how they operate needs to be driven by digital design. Too much instructional design is template-driven, or based on previous approaches. Designers need to look at how UX is being constantly refined and re-defined on the web, working to their users intuitions rather than outdated principles. Often I hear the words ‘tried and tested’ to describe the approach of instructional design. This is too often translated as ‘we are not looking forward.’

Learning Theory

Strangely, there is sometimes a lack of genuine insight into learning amongst instructional designers, especially in contrast to other roles such as learning technologists. Mostly the industry is driven by trends and enthusiasm, with less focus placed on robustly researched concepts. Design should be informed by the application of valid learning theory to specified situations. This is going to become even more important as learners and institutions demand more in-depth and valid learner data.

What do you think? Please comment or share your thoughts on Skills for Learning Designers.


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