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Oregon State Ecampus study finds instructional designers are underutilized, face barriers when conducting research on teaching and learning

Sept. 19, 2017

While instructional designers in higher education are well-positioned to conduct research on teaching and learning, a majority of them lack confidence, time and preparedness to do so, according to new research from Oregon State University.

An instructional designer, as defined by the national study conducted by the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit, is a higher education professional who is engaged in course design and development and who provides faculty support to aid in the adoption of academic technologies and effective teaching strategies across face-to-face, blended and online modalities.

The first-of-its-kind study offers a better understanding of how instructional designers are using and engaging in research on teaching and learning, what previous research training they received, and whether they feel prepared to conduct research in their current roles. It includes responses from 311 instructional designers in the U.S. with a range of experience levels and training backgrounds.


Heather Doherty
OSU Ecampus

Katie Linder
OSU Ecampus Research Unit

Results indicate that respondents lack confidence in completing many research tasks, and 55 percent of instructional designers think they need additional training in research methods to fulfill their role.

“The field of instructional design is rapidly evolving because of new technologies and the growth of student success initiatives that involve learning analytics,” said Katie Linder, director of the OSU Ecampus Research Unit and co-author of the study. “In relation to that, research on teaching and learning is becoming increasingly important, and instructional designers can be key influencers for this scholarship.”

The study also shows that a majority of instructional designers have collaborated with others on research related to teaching and learning, but only 25 percent of them indicate that their job description includes research on teaching and learning, and only about one-fifth of them are evaluated on it.

“Research on teaching and learning is becoming increasingly important, and instructional designers can be key influencers for this scholarship.”

“Instructional designers are collaborating most closely with faculty and providing guidance on scholarship of teaching and learning as consumers of that research, but they’re not able to give back to that research,” Linder said. “Since this is a growing market, there is a huge missed opportunity if we do not give instructional designers the option to conduct research, if they want to. The solution might be to revisit the workload of an instructional designer.”

Survey respondents noted 10 challenges to conducting research, with “lack of time,” “collaboration barriers” and “research not in the job description” topping the list.

“This group is the backbone of the innovation of this field for helping our students learn better, and they’re able to tell us what works and what doesn’t,” Linder said. “And what this report tells us is that we’re not leveraging that and empowering them in the ways that we could.”

Despite barriers to participate in research on scholarship of teaching and learning, results from the study show that many instructional designers want to increase their research skills for reasons including opportunities for professional development, understanding student needs, understanding instructor/faculty needs, opportunities for faculty collaboration, and to further the discipline.

“Instructional designers are on the front lines working with faculty to help improve student learning and success,” said Shannon Riggs, the Oregon State Ecampus director of course development and training. “This work benefits from being informed by research, but instructional designers are also uniquely positioned to help conduct research on teaching and learning — though instructional designers have historically been underutilized in this work.

“Here at OSU Ecampus, now that we have been able to grow our instructional design team, we are making forays into this area,” Riggs said. “This year, we plan to have at least one instructional designer serve as a research fellow through the OSU Ecampus Research Unit. We are also including instructional designers in some forthcoming data visualization trainings. It’s exciting to see the respect and appreciation for this field developing and maturing.”

A summary of the findings and a downloadable version of the full report is available online at

The OSU Ecampus Research Unit partnered with the following organizations to recruit participants for this study: EDUCAUSE, the Online Learning Consortium, Quality Matters, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

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