Posted On March 14, 2016

mac computer on desk with design software running

As the learning and development need continues to grow and expand, we’ll see more and more people find their way into the instructional design field.

So, when it comes to hiring the right instructional designer, what are the top five traits you should look for?

  1. Experience

This doesn’t necessarily mean holding a masters, a degree or a certificate. It means raw experience within the sector and/or content area that you require your training crafted in.

Some instructional designers work predominantly in the finance, government, or retail sectors, whereas others are happy to move across sectors and tend to follow content areas that interest them the most.

Likewise, some instructional designers may focus on designing digital learning, while others enjoy designing instructor-led materials. And there’s a rare breed that are comfortable across both training types.

You need to be clear about the sector, content type, and training type you need crafted, and look for an instructional designer with matching experience.

  1. Design thinking

Probably the most crucial trait of a fantastic instructional designer is the ability to synthesise information to craft a creative, human-centred solution (and not an information dump!).

A fantastic instructional designer will identify a measurable business goal, analyse the target audience, and pinpoint what learners need to be able to do to achieve that business goal.

Next, they will brainstorm potential solutions. Is a self-paced eLearning module suitable? How about a blended approach? Scenarios for context and realism? What about a sandpit/free play environment? Perhaps a series of just-in-time bytes delivered where and when learners need it?

The instructional designer selects an optimum solution and prototypes a proof of concept through sketching or storyboarding. They can then test the solution to see how it works in the real world and refine it through feedback from the target audience. When the solution holds water, it’s time to flesh it out and craft the training.

So rather than creating an information dump, or hours of classroom training, challenge your instructional designer to think about targeted solutions that are action-based and use design thinking principles.

  1. Communication skills

An instructional designer will need to work closely with many different people, with different skillsets, all motivated by different needs. They’ll range from stakeholders to subject matter experts, and developers to graphic designers. All of these roles have their own level of understanding of content, learning and design, and they all require the instructional designer to communicate in a different ‘language’.

With stakeholders and subject matter experts, it’s best to be strategic. These roles know their area of expertise but are rarely familiar with learning, whereas the instructional designer will be an expert in learning but not overly familiar with the subject matter.

Likewise, a graphic designer may be a visual thinker and require concepts to be described, whereas the instructional designer will know what needs to be taught but not how it can be translated through visuals on screen.

A fantastic instructional designer will gauge a person’s understanding and adjust their language to match.

  1. Creativity

Storytelling, humour, gamification, context, relevance, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – creativity in instructional design is an essential tool for engaging learners and sustaining their ‘want’ to learn.

A well-crafted learning experience begins with an instructional design strategy that:

  • Connects with the audience on an emotional level
  • Presents knowledge in a novel or unusual way
  • Breaks through our tendency to ‘switch off’
  • Has relevance to the learner’s situation, and
  • Provides context to assist knowledge assimilation.

A fantastic instructional designer will craft creative content, interactions and visuals that reduce extraneous cognitive load. This will maximise the learner’s ability to retain knowledge from the training environment to apply in the workplace.

  1. Right media, right time

Being able to select the most appropriate media, and time, to deliver training to an audience is the final trait to look for. It’s usually the final piece ironed out in an instructional design strategy, but it can have dire consequences if executed poorly.

To emphasise this point, consider this example: a client was rolling out new accounting software and wanted to produce a 60 minute video on how to use the software. This included a detailed “what’s new” comparison with the current software, for mandatory completion three months before the software was to be deployed.

After careful deliberation and considered collaboration, we altered the strategy. We recommended a short change management piece, delivered via an animation, to announce the upcoming software change. Then, two weeks before deployment, we followed it up with a 30-minute eLearning module on how to complete common tasks and an on-the-job Quick Reference Guide. The module and guide doubled as BAU materials for new starters.

Today we have many different forms of media available, and we can trigger the release of training via learning management systems and learning ecosystems. A fantastic instructional designer will carefully select the right media, for release at the right time.

If you need to find the right instructional designer to fit your next learning project, give us a call on 1300 768 550. We know lots of them, and they’re all fantastic.

To find out more about our professional instructional designers and how they can support you and your learning design team, call us on 1300 768 550 or email

Need more than a learning designer? You can count on us for full learning consultancy services. Just pick up the phone for a chat.