Recently, I have noticed a number of professional development (PD) opportunities geared toward academic librarians that are related to instructional design and technology (IDT), often focusing on the “essentials.” Most focus on the ADDIE process or related models of instructional design. Often, a bit of learning theory is included along the way.
While I agree that academic librarians need to develop IDT skills, this post today will explore the usefulness and limitations of learning IDT skills through professional development.
However, before I get into that, it is important to understand what the knowledge competencies of instructional design and technology are. The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), which is the central arm of the field (sort of like ALA is for librarianship) lays out IDT knowledge competencies in the figure below:
First of all, you’ll notice that the IDT field encompasses quite a few competencies. Secondly, you might notice that most of the PD offered to academic librarians is focused in one domain — design. The third, and most important thing that I hope you notice is that central to ALL the domains of the IDT field is both theory and practice (really, putting theory into practice).
Now back to PD for academic librarians. As I mentioned previously, much (if not all) of the PD currently offered to them is related to the design domain, especially in the area of instructional systems design (aka ADDIE). In teaching the ADDIE process, message design, learner characteristics, and instructional strategies have to be addressed, but often in a secondary role.
I must ask though, is it really beneficial for librarians to learn a single domain of IDT? Does a focus on the design domain of IDT really capture the essence of the field? And how useful is it to be introduced to (almost) an entire domain in the course of a single webinar or 6 week online course? What about the other domains?
What do I think?
I think the benefit of learning IDT skills through PD depends a lot on how much information is included in a session or course. To be realistic, PD that tries to cover a topic like ADDIE in a short period of time won’t go beyond the “what” of the process. To put ADDIE into practice requires knowing “how” and “when” and “why” (to put it in perspective, learning the ADDIE process took me two long semesters, plus a couple of semesters of learning theory to really feel like I had a handle on it).
On the other hand, focusing on a single aspect of the ADDIE process (e.g., task analysis) is much more beneficial because it allows for practice and feedback (especially when taught in a longer format course).
To answer the second question, no, a focus on the design domain absolutely does not capture the essence of the IDT field. Does that really matter? I don’t know. Research is needed on the current practices of blended librarians to identify the IDT competencies that will define this emerging specialist practice.
There are several challenges to developing effective IDT professional development for academic librarians, including determining what information is important, how much to cover to avoid cognitive overload, and what format works best for the topic. Blended librarianship is still very much in its infancy, and only time and research will tell what IDT skills librarians really need to succeed.
If you are an academic librarian seeking out PD for IDT skill development, keep in mind that PD generally covers topics at the macro-level, but IDT skills need to be developed at the micro-level. If you are paying for PD, you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck in PD opportunities that focus on particular aspects of instructional design and technology (rather than entire domains).