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How To Hire An Instructional Designer: Today’s Instructional Designer: Part Renaissance Thinker/ Part Curious George

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.
How to select an instructional designer

People who decide to become instructional designers need to love learning as much as they love designing it. That wasn’t always necessarily true. In the not-so-distant past, being a self-described lifelong learner/polymath/Renaissance Man was not a requisite for a successful career as an instructional designer. As long as the instructional designer understood and followed a reputable model like ADDIE, they could enjoy a successful career.

That’s no longer possible. The learning and development industry is in the midst of a Perfect Storm that is creating the kind of turmoil and upheaval associated with meteorological events like tornados, hurricanes, and floods.

The confluence of technology, new insights into the neuroscience of how humans learn, the focus on “workplace lean” and the emergence of a new generation of workers is creating a perfect storm of opportunity for everyone in the instructional design profession.

Where it was once only necessary to follow the ADDIE model, today’s instructional designer needs to be proficient in SAM, Rapid Prototyping (Spiral), and the Gradual Release Model.

Most importantly, today’s instructional designers can’t afford to have guardrails that confine their thinking to one type of learning modality. It’s no longer feasible to be a specialist: Instructional designers now have to be multi-modality proficient.

That’s where the love of learning comes in. Ironically, instructional designers are not that different from the general population when it comes to embracing change. Many would prefer to leave well enough alone.

Do you know facilitators/trainers who refuse to learn how to do virtual training because it has a different “energy” from a live classroom? Do you know instructional designers who have avoided taking classes on new learning theories and tools required to successfully execute an eLearning course?

Most of us can name many professionals who passed up opportunities to become early adopters of alternative learning modalities. Today, they may be regretting that decision.

With the companies we interact with every day, there is an expectation that the entire team – from instructional designers to project managers to trainers– has a broad base of experience that allows them to seamlessly transition from one modality to another.

Our clients expect our instructional designers to use the needs analysis to provide a design recommendation that may incorporate several modalities. The focus is always on the learner and the learner’s experience. Our primary focus is on what the learner absolutely needs to learn.

“The How” they learn depends on a variety of factors including the budget, whether or not the learners are collocated or dispersed, development time, shelf life, corporate culture, and learner preferences.

What we believe is that it takes both a creative mind and a mind that pays attention to detail to succeed as an instructional designer. If that sounds like an unusual combination of strengths – in our experience, it is! There are very few people who deliver exciting creative and at the same time love getting in the weeds to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

What is exciting creative? Sometimes, it’s a big idea: the one that pushes the envelope. Sometimes, it’s a well-written script. Sometimes, it’s figuring out how to create effective learning on a shoestring budget. And sometimes, it’s knowing how to create a blockbuster when the budget allows.

The instructional designers that we want to partner with have to be a master of a variety of tools. It’s not enough to know how to storyboard in Word, we expect our instructional designers to be proficient in a host of storyboard platforms so we can flex to meet the platform our clients and vendors prefer to use.

When all that is said and done, we are looking for the instructional designer who delights in learning new theories, new apps, new platforms – new anything. We want instructional designers who are unabashedly curious about the world. Someone who is constantly reading, listening to podcasts, searching, sharing, and connecting the dots to make sure they are on top of best practices.

TrainSmart wants instructional designer who has their feet firmly planted in structured processes and whose head occasionally soars into the clouds to get a better view of the possibilities.

If we’ve just described you, we’d love to get in touch. Email us at