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3 Most Important Roles of An Instructional Designer

Instructional Design (ID) today is no longer focused on the learner; business no longer looks at training/ workshops as a ‘nice to do’.

The role of an ID facilitator is no more limited to creating instructions for a particular learning program. 

Companies that invest in training programs expect a demonstrable change in people’s behaviour.

The important question is – What’s Instructional design’s impact on business or what’s the ROI?

With this in mind, I am sharing 3 important roles of an Instructional Designer. Do them well and there’s a good payoff, ignore them and even the well-seasoned designers get it wrong.

3 fundamental aspects of an Instructional Designers’ role are:

Instructional Designer as a Diagnostic:

This is what the client often tells the instructional design professional, “We want a workshop on coaching skills, and these are the 3 things you need to cover…”

A good instructional designer should ask his/her client

What role would you like me to play?

The role of a chemist – i.e., you come to me with your prescription (predefines requirements), and I give you solutions.


The role of a doctor – i.e., you may have a fever or pain, but you don’t know what’s causing it. Doctor first diagnose the cause of the sickness and then I can offer medicine.

Diagnosis plays a crucial role in delivering an effective workshop. A wrong diagnosis would rather escalate the problem.

As a thumb rule, I never get into a workshop without having done some form of diagnosis – whether I’ve been paid for it or not.

Doing a structured intervention without proper diagnosis would be like walking blind.

Instructional Designer as the Front-Facing 

We all know the good ‘ol ADDIE – Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate.

An Instructional Designer is required to Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate the learning intervention.

He may be called in to execute or oversee some or all the phases. It works. It is simple (sometimes difficult). It is powerful.  But adding a ‘C’ makes it even more relevant to the role of the instructional designer today – The C.A.D.D.I.E model.

‘C’ as in contracting. The instructional designer is often called upon to keep the ‘contracting’ bit with the client going. By contracting I don’t only mean money. Clients can be demanding, and designers need to go back and forth with the client for many reasons –

– Scoping (and more importantly avoiding scope creeps),

-Telling the client what will and what won’t work considering what emerges as the opportunity areas / gaps,

– Walking the client through the design and doing regular status updates,

– Building consensus with the client on how the solution needs to be co-created and that the s/he as a designer is not just an extra pair of hands.

As it involves extra efforts, therefor more funds requirement also, the ID person must front face this with the client and bring the bread home.

Instructional Designer as a Project Manager

Think of it like sex – you can never be sure of how good the actual performance is until the deed is done. So, the brain answers an easier question, instead – How attractive is this person, and then this answer is used as a response to the performance question.

Here’s what Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, in his book: Thinking Fast and Slow has to say on the topic: “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution,” 

People, your clients, or your stakeholders are trying to answer the difficult question in their minds: “Is he a worthy facilitator/designer?” He rather derives his answer from an easier one: “Does s/he come across as a good facilitator/designer?” In other words, “Does he come across as being on top of the game?”, “does he have the presence?”, “is he well planned, detail oriented?”… 

If you don’t want your relationships to be uphill, you need to be able to provide these inputs proactively. You need to first build trust. And a lot of this trust /’attractiveness’ can be achieved by mastering and demonstrating some simple skills of a project manager: 


Have your Gantt charts (verbally and visually) in place.

How you seek to gather information? You need to be able to share the mechanism for your diagnostics.

E.g. – Who will you interview first, second, and third and why.

The various tools/questionnaires your will use for your diagnostic.

How you seek to be on the same page vis-a-vis your information? Like, doing a small orientation with your stakeholder on how you will be operating and what different processes you will be following. I’ve noticed, just this one piece can dial up the way your stakeholders view you.

Closing loops

Proactively, calling for and ensuring stakeholder governance is happening.

At the appropriate phase, demonstrating how learning from previous sessions have been accounted for in the new design.

Ensuring that the smallest of follow-ups happen. 


Proactively co-creating Turn-Around-Times

Letting the client know that soon after the workshop s/he can expect an update from you – especially if it is bad news.

Absorbing the flak when things don’t go as they were supposed to.

A process of dealing with bad news.

Sharing some of your internal processes with the client. Like how you’re transfusing the design to your facilitators, the process of upskilling them.


In the 1950s, General Mills launched a line of cake mixes under the famous Betty Crocker brand. The cake mixes included all the dry ingredients in the package, plus milk and eggs in powdered form. All you needed was to add water, mix it all together, and stick the pan in the oven. For busy homemakers, it saved time and effort, and the recipe was virtually error-free. General Mills had a sure winner on its hands.

Or so it thought. Despite the many benefits of the new product, it did not sell well. General Mills had to act fast…

Against all marketing wisdom, General Mills revised the product instead- making it less convenient. The housewives now had to add water and real eggs to the ingredients, creating the perception that the powdered egg had been subtracted. General Mills relaunched the new product with the slogan “Add an Egg.” Sales of Betty Crocker instant cake mix soared.

Why would such a simple thing have such a large effect? First, doing a little more work, buyer felt less guilty while still saving time. Also, the extra work meant that women had invested time and effort in the process, creating a sense of ownership. [adapted from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/inside-the-box/201401/creativity-lesson-betty-crocker]

Takeaway – Get your stakeholder to do some work. For example, in the first few meetings, let the stakeholder know the kinds of documents you will need. Or have him arrange a difficult meeting. Doing this will make him feel more invested.

This is not an exhaustive list, but one that I have used to bring out the idea / skill of Project Management. I’d be happy to hear from you what’s worked for you and what did not. 

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