Instructional Designers and Their Challenges at Universities

Sep 11 2023

Instructional Designers and Their Challenges at Universities

Sneha Lata Sharma:
Sneha Lata Sharma

Instructional design is an umbrella term that covers multiple aspects of analyzing learning and performance problems and identifying development, design, implementation, evaluation, and management of resources and processes to improve learning and performance. In universities, instructional designers (IDs) work alongside subject matter experts (SMEs) to create teaching and learning resources to ensure program quality. They train the stakeholders and manage collaborations with students and staff.

Educational delivery methods have rapidly transformed since 2020, and instructional designers are key to enabling faculty instructions to adopt new-age teaching methodologies.

Common Roles and Responsibilities of Instructional Designers 

University instructional designers must incorporate the institution’s culture to create educational resources. They must consider various stakeholders like management, faculties, subject matter experts, and learners. Some of the key responsibilities of instructional designers in universities are:

  • Using instructional models and theories for educational projects
  • Assisting faculty in teaching using these models
  • Offering technological support to implement instructional theories
  • Managing learning projects
  • Collaborating and communicating with all stakeholders
  • Encouraging faculty development
  • Promoting educational quality and innovation
  • Providing pedagogical perspective and meaningful instructional problem-solving for academic issues

In futuristic universities, instructional designers become change agents by combining content, technology, and pedagogical best practices. They are integral to the success of education and ensuring quality.

Challenges for Instructional Designers

Based on the education universities offer, instructional designers should create different learning products like instructional manuals, online courses, video tutorials, interactive animations, learning simulations, etc. Higher-education instructional designers will focus on designing, developing, and modifying courses using learning management systems (LMS). More than 60% of instructional designers feel a master’s degree is required.

In higher education, instructional designers (IDs) must deal with the gap between their training and activities to implement fundamental changes. Some challenges they deal with are:

#1 Ambiguous Roles

Many institutions create the role of instructional designers without clarifying the roles they need to play within the organization. Many stakeholders are unsure of IDs’ value to the curriculum. In many places, they are underutilized and undervalued. Instead of looking at instructional designers as academic partners, many consider them support staff.

#2 Ensuring Collaboration

IDs have trouble collaborating with faculty SMEs because they explore the private culture of teaching and learning and make learning accessible. There is always a power differential between faculties and IDs. Many faculty members worry about losing their academic autonomy by partnering with IDs.

#3 Cultural Hurdles

IDs are experts in teaching and learning technologies. However, they are not experts in multiple disciplines. The pedagogical assumptions force IDs to adapt to the culture of the discipline to work with multiple belief systems. The values and motivations of SMEs and instructional management may misalign with an ID’s commitment to developing quality learning experiences.

#4 Operational Challenges

Implementing campus-wide reformation in learning technologies requires many resources, which may not be available in higher-education institutions. Technology adoption may be slow when these institutions shift toward a blended and online educational model. IDs have no role in decision-making, making organizations value technology less.

#5 Poor SME Commitment

IDs must collaborate with faculty to train them to use the best instructional model. Educating them on the design frameworks and working with them through input and feedback to upgrade the instructional model requires the SMEs to spend their hours with IDs. When SMEs don’t work with IDs without institutional incentives, IDs may not complete the projects. About 80% of IDs face challenges concerning shared vision with SMEs.

#6 Creating Accessible Materials

When universities offer personalized educational courses, IDs have to create accessible instructional materials that all learners can access. This requires IDs to be aware of enabling accessibility while keeping the content engaging. This lengthens the design process.

#7 Keeping Up With the Latest Tools and Technology

Pedagogical approaches and technologies are constantly evolving and changing in the educational landscape. Instructional designers are expected to create effective learning experiences using the latest trends. Staying updated about the e-learning industry will become a major differentiator while creating successful courses.


The field of instructional design is rapidly evolving with the latest technologies, such as AI and VR. Simulations are now an integral teaching tool that can help learners from different backgrounds grasp concepts quickly. IDs must use these technologies to provide a better learning experience for diverse populations. The mobile-first approach is increasingly followed as users prefer accessible and on-demand content. Incorporating storytelling strategies will help instructional designers create game-based and social learning materials that resonate with young learners.

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