How Instructional Designers Will Save the World During COVID-19

job well done man in chair Photo Credit: Ali Yahya on Unsplash

There has never been a better time in history to be an Instructional Designer.

For decades we have been largely misunderstood on corporate HR training teams or wedged into an IT team in some small university.

“What do you do?” was always a complicated question at networking events. It would always inevitably go something like this:

“Well, I design online training and educational courses in the private sector and higher education. If you’re ever taken a self-guided training, say on IT Security, Compliance or Sexual Harassment or something like that, then you know my work.”

“Ah huhhh…okay. Like those self-moving trainings I have to take at work that quiz you at the end?

“Yep. Those. And I make webinars, Powerpoint presentations, infographics, instructional videos, and whitepapers. Basically, if anyone needs to get instructional information out in an easily digestible manner, they call me.”

Schools across the globe are closing down in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 something educators say they are not prepared for.

Social distancing measures are also increasing their need to rely on Learning Management Systems (LMS) and virtual meeting tools more than they are used to and this isn’t exactly met with resolve.

For decades, Instructional Designers (IDs) have warned about organizational resistance to preparing to move educational content online. This is especially true in Higher Education and K-12 where educators value the power of face-to-face instruction because of its power to move energy in a room, inspire students to think outside the box and promote thoughtful spaces for discussion and hands-on experimentation.

Fair enough. Video conferencing can never compete with the power of the classroom and it certainly cannot replace meaningful physical human connection.

Instead, the purpose of online education is to promote virtual dialogue in the absence of in-person gatherings, which can occur for any number of reasons: natural disasters, political disasters, challenges due to illness, or simply due to an organizational commitment to distance learning.

This emergency workaround is grating on professors across college campuses for a number of reasons because:

  1. They are frankly not comfortable with the technology
  2. They do not believe that their material can be converted to an online format because what makes it unique is the classroom experience
  3. For-profit online-only ‘universities’ have given online learning a bad rap in their minds and they insist that they offer a superior educational experience available only in-person on their campus to paying customers, the students

But what other option do you have right now, educators?

Those students took out expensive student loans that they’ll pay back for the first decade of their careers for the privilege of gaining access to your educational content. It is literally your job to deliver it, by any means necessary, especially under these unprecedented circumstances.

Many IDs have watched in the wings of the house of cards as it carried on as if we lived in the stable times of yore. Back when environmental or social disasters were the stuff of science fiction and we were above needing to prepare to move course content online for an impractical reason like ‘just in case’.

Yet, here.we.are.

Perhaps now educators will see us for what we have always been: allies.

As former educators ourselves, we are committed to training and education by any means necessary.

We are comfortable with technology and digital instruction, and we are passionate about making you feel comfortable trusting us to prepare your instructional material for online facilitation, if you’ll only let us in this existential time of need.

According to Instructional Design Central, an ‘ID’ is:

“A designer who creates and delivers learning products for business, K-12, higher education, and government organizations. Instructional designers are the ‘architects’ of the learning experience and the directors of the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) process.[They] are in high demand worldwide (particularly in North America, Asia and Europe), as organizations are turning towards instructional designers to solve business performance problems through the delivery of effective learning experiences.”

You might be feeling overwhelmed thinking, “How can I transition half a semester’s worth of content to an online format in a week or two??!”

You know what we’re thinking? “We got this!”

Identify the Learning Goal of your course

  • We’ll ask: What would your students know or be like upon completing this course? All lessons will be aligned to further this goal.

List 2–5 Learning Objectives for each module

  1. What should learners be able to do or demonstrate by the end of the lesson?
  2. These will be written as action statements so you’ll know exactly what to teach in each section of the module.
  3. Example for a US History course: Learners will be able to list 3 major leaders of the Women’s Suffrage movement and summarize their contributions

Format your existing material in more engaging and interactive ways. We can provide:

  1. Suggestions for reducing walls of text by splitting up slides or chunking concepts
  2. Resources for incorporating images to convey key concepts in place of text
  3. Direction for how to improve the learning flow of a module or presentation
  4. Solutions for modifying content or delivery to increase engagement

Craft effective Assessments and Knowledge Checks

  1. We’ll work with your existing assignments to measure learners’ comprehension throughout the module and course.
  2. We’ll identify where knowledge checks are needed to gauge engagement.
  3. We can suggest activities to increase participation in an online setting

If you are scrambling to figure out how to deliver lectures or training within the next week, here are the materials we’ll need you to prepare to transition to an online delivery method:

1. The curriculum or lesson plan — this material will serve as a roadmap for assessing what material you’ve covered, still need to cover, and which can be accelerated or delayed until you’re able to return to the classroom for any hands-on activities.

2. Any digital assets you already have prepared — PowerPoint presentations (or similar), videos you use as examples, handouts, activities (in written or digital format), assigned books or excerpts or even prepared notes.

3. The syllabus and rubric — you will need to make these documents available in this time of transition to remind students of the course topic and how they will be graded

An ID can’t do anything without help from you, the Subject Matter Expert (SME). The preparation that you did before the semester started will come in handy as you start to transition your course so make sure to grab all related materials before leaving campus.

  1. Login credentials for a video conferencing tool such as WebEx, Zoom, Skype, BlueJeans — check with your IT team or administrator to find out which service the organization pays for.
  2. Find out how many participants your account is approved for per meeting. Sometimes there is a cap for the number of attendees you can invite and if you teach large lecture-type classes or meetings, you’ll need to know this number so no one is excluded. Note: many providers are waiving these limitations. Check with the company to be certain.
  3. Check to see if there are any existing training materials or recorded webinars/videos offered at your organization. Check the vendor’s website for Support materials — they will definitely have How-To information for how to use their product.
  4. Reach out to a colleague willing to role play using the tool with. Take an hour to log into the video conference tool together and practice testing the microphone, speaker and/or camera if available. Practice presenting a presentation or prepared document. Click through every option available within the tool and try it to see how it behaves. You can’t break it, so leave no feature unturned!
  5. If your organization doesn’t offer this, Google Hangouts Meet is offering free accounts until July 2020. Sign up and start practicing using the tool with a colleague or your ID.

Find out if your organization uses a Learning Management System (LMS)

  1. You may already be using Canvas or Blackboard on campus in some capacity. They will become your virtual classroom in tandem with video conferencing solutions. Contact your IT department to see if they are offering any How-To webinars for faculty or leverage the brand’s website directly to start teaching yourself how you can leverage the tool for your class.
  2. You just need to understand what the tool does to mimic classroom interactions so you can modify your lesson plan to suit this medium.
  3. If your organization isn’t using an LMS you can sign up for a free virtual classroom via LMS here.

These are challenging times for everyone, but we have no choice but to persevere, work together and get to the other side of this.

This is a chance to break through red tape, barriers, and resistance to change. Change is always hard, but it is also necessary in these times. Technological changes in education were already coming, COVID-19 is just rushing it along.

This moment in history will change the way we do everything, especially the way we educate.

Online education has the power to improve the lives of instructors and learners alike because it can be done despite physical limitations as long as there is access to internet and electricity. Bonus: no commute or dress code!

Being able to teach or continue learning and expanding your understanding of the new world can be a much needed diversion from the growing pains happening all around us. As educators and Instructional Designers, it is our mission to make this transition as smooth as possible to usher in a new decade accessible knowledge.

To consult with an Instructional Designer about moving your course online visit my website.

Resources To Ease The Rapid Transition to Online Teaching

Free Video Conferencing Solutions

Resources to get Up and Running Fast on Blackboard

Resources to get Up and Running Fast on Canvas

Free Teacher Accounts!

Contingency Resources:

Canvas Free for teachers user groups

Together we can DO this!

Originally published at on March 14, 2020.

Plan to be spontaneous! Exploring the balance between being a control-freak & a free-spirit.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store