ID Picture: Interview with an Instructional Designer

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Instructional design (ID) is not a new field, yet it didn’t start to catch much attention in the library field until around the 2000s. In a Google Scholar search for “instructional design” and “libraries,” the very first academic library journal article that mentions the subject was published in 2000 (Dewald). By now, the term might be familiar to most, but the details could still be fuzzy. Fortunately, I am friends with Pamela Gutman, an instructional designer with the human resources department of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. She has a M.A. in computing and education and a M.Ed. in instructional technology and media, as well as more than ten years experience working in the ID field. I took the opportunity to email her some questions about ID, which she graciously responded to in detail. I’ve copied the text of our exchange below.

SG: What is instructional design? How long has the concept been around?

PG: Instructional design, sometimes called instructional systems design, is the practice of designing, developing, and delivering effective learning experiences that impart some type of knowledge, skill, or awareness. The field really took off during World War II, but it’s rooted in cognitive and behavioral psychology. You can see an infographic with a brief history of the field here: Many people have heard of the ADDIE model for instructional design – ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. There are many other models out there, but they generally cover these basic concepts of designing effective learning experiences.

SG: Can you tell me what a typical work day looks like for you? What are you working on right now?

PG: It really depends on which projects I’m actively working on that day! I have quite a few projects and programs that I’m involved with at any one time, so I do tend to have a lot of meetings and group work, and I get a lot of email each day. But most days you’ll also see me designing or developing some type of learning experience. One of my top priorities right now is working with a small team on designing training for a new buddy program, where new hires to my organization will be matched with an experienced colleague. We’re designing learning experiences for the new hire, the buddy, and also the supervisor to help them select the best buddy for that new employee. We’re still in the early stages of the design, but the final product will most likely include some combination of videos, job aids (like infographics, flowcharts, and checklists), online modules, and an in-person kickoff event.

SG: What are some major trends in instructional design that you think are interesting? What are some trends that bother you?

PG: Microlearning is a big trend right now, where content is delivered in small chunks that learners can access just-in-time. Think about the last time you needed to repair something small in your house – did you take a whole class on the subject? Probably not, you most likely watched some videos on YouTube and figured it out through trial and error. This is the same concept; making small learning experiences, like videos, on specific topics that learners can access in the moment they most need them.

I’m also extremely interested in augmented and virtual reality for learning, and I recently attended the Realities360 conference in California on this topic. Learning technologies are really evolving, and I think we’ll see even more in this space soon. I’m looking into using augmented reality for our revamped onboarding program, and I’m also investigating using virtual reality to augment some of our leadership training.

One trend that I’m not really enamored with is gamification, where learning experiences can be turned into games, complete with points, levels, and leaderboards, in order to motivate people to learn. I think gamification can be effective and motivating, but a lot of the time it comes off as gimmicky and can actually detract from learning if it’s done poorly. For example, a flashy memorization game will probably get learners to memorize the content so they can get a high score, but then they’ll quickly forget what they’ve learned. Role playing-type games that are rooted in the learner’s reality, where they are faced with realistic situations and challenges, can be very meaningful and can lead to deeper knowledge. The key is in making the experience close enough to their reality so that they are practicing the skills they are learning, and reinforcing their knowledge.

SG: What mistakes do people most frequently make when giving a course or educational session?

PG: Not spending enough time on the up-front analysis! It’s important to take your time to understand who the audience is, what they already know, and what they should be getting out of the learning experience. This includes both what you want them to come away with and why they should care. We call that the WIIFM, what’s in it for me. If learners, especially adult learners, don’t know upfront how the content is relevant for them, you may lose them completely. You want to tap into their prior knowledge and connect it to their development. There can be a lot of pressure to just create a training quickly but, without analysis and careful design first, it may not lead to the culture change or increased knowledge that you were hoping for. Similarly, people should also keep in mind that a training is not always the right answer. When conducting your needs analysis, you may discover that people already know how to do something correctly, but there’s a process currently in place that’s preventing them from doing what they need to do. In that case, you may need to work with the policy makers on changing the process itself, rather than teaching people how to work within a broken process!

SG: How have you collaborated with librarians in your role? How can academic librarians collaborate successfully with instructional designers?

PG: I haven’t worked with academic librarians in my current role, but I did frequently when I worked at a university in Baltimore. We worked together to help faculty members use technology more effectively with their students, as well as making our learning management system interface better with the library’s resources. I have also seen librarians and instructional designers working together to design courses and learning materials that facilitate mastery of information literacy skills, which is quite an effective pairing! This recording, from the University of Missouri, has some additional ideas –

SG: Do you have any recommendations for more rapid design models that librarians could use for course-integrated one-shots?

PG: It’s definitely challenging if you’re just teaching a one-off topic and don’t have much information about your students! In this case, you may want to use the SAM model instead of the ADDIE one. SAM, or the Successive Approximation Model, is an iterative development model. Instead of completing all of your analysis then all of your design and then your development, you “build a little, test a little.” Basically, you take what you do know, and make a smaller version of the final product, and get feedback from your learners. Then, you make changes based on what you learned from the previous version and repeat the process. If you’re familiar with software development, it’s the difference between using the waterfall process versus the agile process. This way, you can grow the experience as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

SG: Do you have any basic advice you would give to a librarian (or other teachers) when teaching a group of college students? What about a manager who will need to train new hires?

PG: Start with the WIIFM – what’s in it for them. How will this course/subject impact them, and why should they spend the time to go through this? Make the experience as relevant and meaningful to them as you can. And allow plenty of time for practice, and for getting things wrong! People remember more from what they got wrong than what they got right, and it’s important for them to practice the skills they are learning in a way that has realistic consequences. Even if you’re designing a simple multiple choice question to gauge their knowledge, you can turn it into a scenario asking them what they would do in a particular situation. If they get it wrong, show them what might happen in real life if they make that decision, don’t just tell them the right answer.

SG: What resources would you recommend to new instructors?

PG: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel is a pretty accessible and comprehensive guide to how people learn and what experiences are most effective. Design for How People Learn (Voices That Matter) by Julie Dirksen is another fast read that explores how to make effective educational experiences. There are also many blogs, podcasts, and professional organizations out there. Personally, I’m a big fan of Cathy Moore’s blog; she frequently shares tips for workplace training and I use her action mapping approach for analysis. I’m also a member of the eLearning Guild and the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and they provide a great community and some fantastic webinars and whitepapers.

For developing presentations, online training, and other visual communications, I’d recommend the Non-Designers Design Book by Robin Williams, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, and Slide:ology and Resonate by Nancy Duarte. I am also a big fan of Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid eLearning Blog and the Articulate e-Learning Heroes online community! The eLearning Guild’s annual conference, DevLearn, is a great experience and can expose you to some amazing examples of eLearning from around the world.

SG: What are your favorite educational tools?

PG: For developing online learning content, I generally use Articulate products. My development tool of choice is Storyline 360, but I’ve also used Rise for fast, responsive mobile experiences. I also have Adobe Captivate, and I generally use that for experiences that require more advanced programming or more complex 508 compliance requirements. I use Audacity to record and edit audio, but I use the full Adobe Creative Cloud suite to make videos and any printed material like job aids and infographics (thank goodness for Adobe Illustrator and Acrobat Pro)! Inkscape is a good vector drawing program if you’re looking for a free option. I’ve had good experiences using Piktochart to make infographics, but I generally prefer to do my own so I have more control over the look and feel. I also use Microsoft PowerPoint a lot to create my own flat images, and I get some free photos from Icon Finder and MorgueFile.

SG: These are great, and so detailed! I had heard of the WIIFM concept through Char Booth’s book Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, which is geared toward teaching librarians. One follow-up q: Can you tell me one idea you had for using AR for an on-boarding program? Right now I just see Pokémon jumping around.

PG: For the onboarding program, one way we’re looking at using AR is for a scavenger hunt to help people find their way around our confusing campus and to show interesting information like videos about our most important inventions or overviews of what a particular group does. Though we do have a thriving community of Pokemon Go players, that’s not our intent 🙂

Sources Mentioned

Blended Librarianship

Booth, C. (2011). Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators. Chicago: American Library Association Editions.

Kammer, J., & Bossaller, J. (2019, May 18). The Instructional Designer: Opportunities for Collaboration with Librarians and Faculty. Retrieved from Blended Librarian Online Community:

Instructional Design

Brown, P., Roediger, H., & McDaniel, M. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

Dirksen, J. (2015). Design for How People Learn. San Francisco: New Riders.

Moore, C. (2019). Cathy Moore: Let’s Save the World From Boring Training!:

Williams, R. (2008). Non-Designer’s Design Book. San Francisco: Peachpit Press.

Web Usability

Krug, S. (2005). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd ed.). San Francisco: New Riders.

Making Presentations

Duarte, N. (2008). Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. Sebastopol: O’Reilly Media.

Duarte, N. (2010). Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.


A Brief History of Instructional Design. (2019). E-Learning Infographics. Retrieved from

Association for Talent Development. (2019). Retrieved from

E-Learning Heroes. (2019). Retrieved from

The eLearning Guild. (2019). Retrieved from

The Rapid E-Learning Blog. (2019). Retrieved from

Sources Consulted

Dewald, N., Scholz-Crane, A., Booth, A., & Levine, C. (2000). Information Literacy at a Distance: Instructional Design Issues. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 26(1), 33-44. doi:

Shank, J. (2006). The Blended Librarian: A Job Announcement Analysis of the Newly Emerging Position of Instructional Design Librarian. College & Research Libraries, 67(6), 514-524. doi:

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