Bit by the Instructional Design Bug: A Conversation with Connie Malamed
Interviews / Opinions

Bit by the Instructional Design Bug: A Conversation with Connie Malamed

, Media Relations Manager

In the realm of workplace learning, L&D and Instructional Design work together like a lock and key.  

L&D zooms in on key growth areas, opening doors to new skills and competencies. And Instructional Design shapes learning experiences that unlock new skills.

Yet, instructional design often gets boxed into eLearning development—as if it’s only about churning out online courses. But there’s so much more to it. 

That’s why we set up to shine a light on the vast array of skills and creativity that instructional design professionals bring to the table. And who better to guide us than a renowned learning experience design professional like Connie Malamed.

We picked Connie’s brain about all things instructional design, took a deep dive into its evolution, and explored various career paths of this versatile profession. In our talk, she generously shared insights from her extensive career, offering invaluable advice to both newcomers and seasoned professionals in the field. 

Let’s dive into Connie’s instructional design world.

Instructional design heartbeat: Rooted in wonder

Beginning our conversation, we asked Connie to tell us which skills have helped her the most in her career. Turns out, in the world of instructional design, it’s not just about knowing things. It’s about being curious to learn more, continuously expanding horizons and being rooted in wonder. Here’s how she put it.

“One of the skills that has helped me in my career is a passion and thirst for learning.  Another one is being open-minded about all the changes that keep happening. Change makes the job fun.”

How people learn: Understanding cognitive science 

“Next, understanding how people learn is essential. Having an understanding of cognitive science enables us to do analysis, design, and development. It shows we care about the learners. In my first graduate school class, my professor said, ‘You are the learners’ advocate.’ And I’ve never forgotten that.”

“One of the earliest courses I took was in cognitive science. And even though the models are not perfect, just understanding how we learn, and how the brain theoretically works, is key to being able to design well. Because we’re designing for the human mind.”

“Here’s a quick example. A lot of research has shown that people can process three to four bits of information at one time. So that should automatically impact everything you design. Right? Because you’re not going to fill up a slide with 20 points that people simply can’t grasp. Our working memory can only process a small amount of information at one time. This affects everything I do.” 

A day in the life of an instructional designer

Continuing our talk, we asked Connie to describe a day in the life of an instructional designer. Let’s see how she described it.

“We often work alone but also collaborate with clients and teams on projects. And our work is incredibly varied—analyzing content, interviewing audience members, designing user interfaces, developing eLearning, writing video scripts, and more. Switching between different projects and tasks is a part of our daily workflow. It’s this variety that keeps the work fascinating.”

“It’s very common for instructional designers to work on several projects at a time and wear multiple hats: writer, designer, programmer. For example, you may spend one morning doing a content analysis. Later in the day, you might be interviewing audience members. And then you could be working on the visualization of another project. Or you could be writing a video script and going to a shoot.” 

Looks like it’s never boring in the world of instructional design. But what happens when the creative well runs dry? This is what Connie said about on-demand creativity. 

“It’s not easy to be creative on demand. Feeding creativity involves a mix of activities—from indulging in design books to sketching and taking walks. Everything around us can stimulate creativity. It’s about staying open to new ideas and continuously seeking inspiration from the world around us. It’s important to remember that it can take several days to come up with a creative idea.”

Who are the up-and-coming instructional designers? 

The instructional design field welcomes professionals from diverse backgrounds, making it a fertile ground for career shifters. Connie’s community, Mastering Instructional Design, is a testament to this, composed of individuals transitioning from various professions and even seasoned instructional designers. They are united by their passion for instructional design. 

“Many members are career switchers,” she notes, emphasizing the field’s appeal to those seeking a new career path.

“Many professionals make successful career shifts into instructional design, bringing their expertise from different fields. For example, education, psychology, writing, graphic design. There are also people who are subject-matter experts, who have deep knowledge in one domain. They get asked to train others, and then they get, what I call, ‘bit by the instructional design bug.’ And then they just go crazy and say, ‘This is what I want to do’. 

Once you’re bitten, it’s hopeless. You just have to go for it.”

The evolution of instructional design: From content creator to learner’s advocate

Everything changes, and workplace learning is not an exception. We asked Connie to tell us how the field has evolved over the years. Here’s what she shared. 

“When I got into the field, we thought of ourselves as content developers. As people who just created instructional materials. But over the years, we’ve shifted from a content-centered to user-centered approach. Guided by the wealth of newer research on how people learn, and because of changes in the workplace, we’ve adapted our practices. That means that understanding our audience deeply, creating personas, and considering the learners’ work environments are aspects that are now integral to our work.” 

“We need to understand who our audience is. We need to understand the context of what they’re learning, their learning environment and needs. We now know that training doesn’t solve all problems and we’re open to finding non-training solutions. We also know that building long-term sustainable skills takes a lot longer and that one learning intervention is not enough.”

Cater to different learner needs and boost trust in training
Offer a variety of training methods through TalentLMS.

The training platform that users consistently rank #1.Create my TalentLMS forever-free account

Career paths in instructional design

Carrying on with our dialogue, we asked Connie for her take on career paths available in instructional design. Turns out, they are versatile like clay, moldable into countless forms.

“Instructional design is incredibly versatile and there are many different career paths. For example, in higher ed, people use instructional design to work with faculty and improve their courses or put their courses online. Others go into corporate or workplace training, working on programs to improve performance. Some become multimedia specialists or developers that work with an authoring tool. People who are good at seeing the big picture might work at a high level with learning leaders, coming up with enterprise-wide programs. And so on.”

“In addition, the preferable media or format can define someone’s path—whether someone wants to work in video, classroom and virtual training, or eLearning design. Some instructional designers do it all. Some are only interested in media and development. Finally, you can choose between being a freelancer or an employee.”

Remember: Instructional design is not only about eLearning

“One of the great misconceptions I see is that instructional design equals eLearning. I often get asked what authoring tools they should learn by people who want to become instructional designers. And my answer is—that’s not the way to go about it. Instructional designers first must learn to craft learning products that resonate with the way people learn. This requires a grasp of how the human brain absorbs information. That’s why it’s important for instructional designers to learn their cognitive psychology. Then, learn a good instructional design process, and follow one that is user-centered. And only after that, get into the tools.”

Grit and grime of instructional design 

As our fascinating conversation neared its end, we asked Connie about the most challenging and rewarding parts of her career. Here’s what she revealed.

“The most rewarding part is helping people learn, gain new skills, and change their lives. Helping them be more creative and to see their potential. That’s really fulfilling.”

The other side of the coin is that there are still many organizations clinging to outdated training methods, overlooking the need for engaging, learner-centered approaches. As Connie puts it: 

“Other than going through stock photo sites (yikes!), the most difficult part of the job is educating clients about the value of well-crafted learning experiences. That it takes time to get there, creating reinforcement along the way while having multiple learning events. The challenge lies in convincing stakeholders and persuading them to adopt a more thoughtful approach to learning—one that respects learners’ needs and capacities. It’s about striking a balance between what clients want and what truly facilitates learning and improving performance.”

Looking ahead: From instructional designers to architects of learning experiences

Reflecting on the future of instructional design, Connie envisions a profession that remains at the forefront of L&D, adapting to technological advancements and changing workplace dynamics. 

“Looking ahead, I see instructional design continuing to adapt, using AI and personalized learning paths to further enhance the learning experience. Instructional designers have, and will continue to have, a big influence on the field of L&D.”

Connie Malamed’s story shows the profound impact that passionate trainers make in learning and development. They’re architects of a journey of discovery and growth that never ends. 

Keep on learning!

About Connie Malamed

Connie is a learning experience design consultant, mentor, author, and international speaker. She teaches instructional design skills at Mastering Instructional Design and is a publisher of a widely read newsletter, eLearning Coach. She’s a creator of the course Breaking Into Instructional Design and the host of the eLearning Coach podcast. Connie has also written two books on visual design skills. 

Save time, frustration and money with TalentLMS, the most-affordable and user-friendly learning management system on the market. Try it for free for as long as you want and discover why our customers consistently give us 4.5 stars (out of 5!)

Try for free!

Ana Casic - Media Relations Manager

Ana mines data-driven stories and leads the TalentLMS research team. Expert in market research and digital PR, she excels in asking the right questions. Discover more by Ana!

Ana Casic LinkedIn

Start your eLearning portal in 30 seconds!

Get started it's free!

TalentLMS is free to use for as long as you want! You can always upgrade to a paid plan to get much more!