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What is instructional design? An inside look at Oregon State’s online certificate

Lindsay Andrews is the program lead and an instructor in Oregon State’s online Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, a program she says features “a lot of hands-on, applied work.”

Discover how to build a career through the thoughtful creation of learning experiences

April 18, 2022

Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at how things work at Oregon State University Ecampus:

Every one of Oregon State’s online courses — all 1,600 of them — has been developed by an OSU faculty member in tandem with an Ecampus instructional designer (as well as multimedia developers). It’s a meticulous process that takes about six months per class.

When you spend that much effort thinking about online course design and how to best structure the student learning environment, you become great at it. (And forgive our boastfulness, but, yes, we’re great at it.)

At Oregon State, we’re also imparting that greatness to a new generation of education professionals through the university’s online Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design. It’s a 20-credit, hands-on program offered by OSU’s College of Education that teaches students how to thoughtfully construct material to help guide a student’s learning from start to finish.

Lindsay Andrews is an OSU instructor and the program lead, and she provided in-depth answers to a series of questions about the field of instructional design, the program’s unique features and how it’s a great pathway to a related career or master’s degree.

What is instructional design and how does it show up in everyday life?

“Instructional design is the creation of a learning experience. It’s a purposeful approach to learning, placing value not only on what you would like to teach but how you do it. Instructional designers make learning impactful by designing content that can be accessed by a universal audience and promoting accessibility as a guiding principle for users.

“In everyday life, you can recognize the impact of instructional design by observing consistency throughout learning materials, font selections for readability, multimedia captioning, clearly worded instructions and the ability to approach learning similar to how you would read a book.”

What learning experiences can certificate students expect online in this program?

“Students in this program complete a content-specific course along with a practical application course each term. Our goal is to blend those two classes in some way so the learning is connected.

“For example, during the second term in the program, students take needs assessment and instructional technology courses. After the data has been gathered and analyzed from the needs assessment, students are then asked to present that data in an infographic format as part of the technology course. Having the classes intersect allows for an excellent opportunity to blend research and design by taking complex information and making it presentable beyond numbers on a page.

“Additionally, students are asked to draw upon their lived experiences in virtual discussions, demonstrate various teaching strategies with their peers and explore new applications in the creation of a digital portfolio. There is a lot of hands-on, applied work that will happen during this program, meaning that much of what you will learn can be applied into your professional setting right away.”

What are some unique features of the instructional design certificate?

  • We have instructional designers who have developed many of the courses and also teach within the program.
  • Course materials are scaffolded, meaning what you learn from one term to the next will connect and become more complex as you progress.
  • We offer professional development events each term, which feature guest appearances by instructional designers, tips for portfolio development and other timely topics.
  • You do not need to have prior instructional design knowledge or skills coming into the program.
  • The majority of our students are working full time while completing the certificate, so we understand that you’re balancing more than school work.

What do you like most about teaching online?

“I love the various perspectives that students bring into the classroom. This program encourages applicants from all backgrounds, career trajectories and walks of life, so the conversations are rich and diverse. I appreciate when we get to a point in the term where students are comfortable offering new interpretations of the course material and are willing to challenge each other.”

How does the instructional design certificate prepare students to pursue a master’s degree?

“The instructional design certificate is comprised of all courses that are taken during the first year of Oregon State’s online Ed.M. in Adult and Higher Education. It’s common for students to begin with the certificate and then decide to apply into the Master’s after they have taken one or two terms of coursework. We wanted to make sure it was an easy process for those who wish to continue their education, so students can apply to continue their degree at any point throughout program.”

What careers can the instructional design certificate lead to?

“I’ll start with the obvious answer, which is an instructional designer. Keep in mind there are various fields for this career path, which may include corporate, nonprofit, K-12 and higher education. Other career options are online learning specialist, technical trainer and online learning support specialist.

“Something I like to do in our quarterly professional development events is to highlight other career options that may be of interest. This includes career paths such as working for a Center for Teaching and Learning or as a corporate trainer. This certificate is going to provide you the tools for a career in instructional design, but additional career paths will be introduced while you are in the program.”

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