Academia Part 3 – The Importance of Instructional Design

This is the third of a series on academia we will be writing over the following weeks addressing the significant challenges – and opportunities – facing post-secondary institutions amid COVID-19.

In the early days of Covid-19, academic institutions were frantically trying to get as much content as possible online to support their students. While the intentions were good, the results weren’t especially pretty.

Obviously, faculty and staff knew endlessly uploaded text wasn’t the best way to teach – or learn – and have since spent the ensuing months refining their offerings with the help of specialized Instructional Designers (IDs).

IDs work with subject matter experts to craft content in a way that best supports the learner. They’re the learning architects who bridge the gap between professor or instructor and student to achieve the best possible learning outcomes.

“When switching from a face-to-face to online delivery, instructors may feel at a loss about how to switch modalities while still retaining an effective learning experience,” says Aditya Joshi, an Instructional Designer at Xpan Interactive.

“There’s a feeling of lost connection and perhaps a thought that online instruction has to be a DIY course. It’s important to acknowledge that while the experience won’t be the same as face-to-face, there are several tactics in online instruction that can help ensure that students still walk away having learned what they need to learn, all while feeling part of the community.”

Joshi says that in creating engaging online courses using content provided by the academic institution, IDs leverage their experience to ensure that online classes include a sense of social presence, with activities and materials presented in a way that engage students with the material, each other, and the instructor to create a community of learning.

Research shows that a mix of visual and verbal cues – such as combining on-screen pictures, engaging narration, effective examples, pop quizzes and relevant questions – spurs psychological engagement.

This type of multi-faceted approach to learning has been proven to be much more effective than traditional learning methods and helps inform an IDs approach to design.

Taking complex, often disjointed, information and transforming it into interactive and effective multimedia instructional material or courseware that optimizing the learner experience is an IDs superpower.

But none of this is done in a vacuum. In fact, IDs work hand-in-hand with subject matter experts throughout the development process, ensuring the content meets the academic needs of the institution, says Emily Sharpe, another Instructional Designer at Xpan Interactive.

“As an Instructional Designer, my favourite part of the role is helping each professor or instructor find their voice in the digital classroom. You’re building something together and planning for all those ways that they bring themselves to the course. That’s what’s really impressing me from my side – at the end, you get a course that’s now online and an instructor who can teach online.”


Xpan develops digital learning solutions for companies globally. From design to deployment, our team is making heroes of Learning and Development Officers and contributing to the worldwide number of individuals improving their workplace experience (and lives) with better learning.

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