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Unusual careers: She makes learning fun, unique

Last updated on: August 25, 2010 16:08 IST

She creates fun, unique learning experiences

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Training is a focus area for a number of companies that require their employees to have technical or specialised skills. To facilitate this training, companies need specially designed training modules or courses that guide and educate their trainees. And this is where the skills of an Instructional Designer (ID) come in. We take a look at what the job of an ID entails and the career prospects in the field.

Neha Malshe is an instructional designer.

A gold medallist in English literature from the University of Mumbai, Neha decided to do a master's degree in German Literature at the Ohio State University in the US, which she completed in 2007.

So what got her interested in 'instructional design' as a career?

While studying at Ohio State, she got to teach German for two years, where she was introduced to the arena of media-aided teaching. "Using audio visual technology as well as the social media, I could design a variety of learning experiences for my class," she says. "I became interested in such pedagogical experiments and was encouraged by my professors."

So after completing the course, she returned to India, took up the IDCWC (Instructional Design & Content Writing Certificate) online course from Wavelength Institute, Noida and started working as an instructional content writer at Sify Technologies in Delhi in 2008.

Today she works with another instructional design company in Delhi, where she helps design and create learning modules for a variety of companies in a variety of sectors.

In the field for over four years now, she says: "For me these years have been full of reading, researching, understanding, meeting and interacting with new people to design and develop web-based training (WBT), computer-based training (CBT) and instructor-led training (ILT). It has been very interesting."

But what is 'instructional design' and what does the job of an instructional designer entail? We spoke to her to find out more...

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Image: Instruction can be web-based, computer-based and instructor-led
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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'Language proficiency is a must'

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What is instructional design?

Imagine you are playing with a young child, who is exploring the world. The child engages in various activities and you, being in a parental or an adult supervisor role channelise those activities. If the child tries to touch fire or puts a finger in an electric socket, you stop him, whereas you encourage him to put together puzzle pieces. In short, you are deciding, designing and facilitating the learning for that child.

An instructional designer does the same, however, the audience can be adult learners and the subject to be learnt can be very complex.

What are the skill sets needed for an ID?

The skills, I think are essential would be:

  • Content neutral: As an ID I get to work on courses from diverse fields.
  • Language proficiency and communication skills: You should know how to explain and simplify complex ideas well.
  • Visualisation: Visualise graphics and write the visualisation strategy for graphic designers who will design the training modules.

What is a typical workday like for you?

Out of the 8 working hours, 1 hour is spent on interaction with clients and team members. Another 2-3 hours are spent on understanding the content that is required to be created and designed to fit the module. And the remaining time on designing, developing and reviewing the course.

What are the qualities/qualifications you need to become and instructional designer?

This is an upcoming field and I meet IDs who have diverse educational backgrounds. However, now the ID job description specifically mentions a formal degree like a Bachelors or Masters in instructional technology.

Are there certian technical skills you need to work in instructional design?

You must be very familiar with the MS Office Suite. Other technical skills that add value to your resume and can be learned on the job are: Articulate Presenter, some audio and video capturing tools like Faststone Capture, SnagIt, knowledge of NetMeeting, WebEx, delivery of audio content via Skype.

Advanced skills include knowledge of some technology tools such as podcasts, use of social media like Twitter and more importantly how they can be integrated into instructional strategy.

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Image: Neha Malshe

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'You must be willing to spend sleepless nights'

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What jobs are available to an ID?

In India, many corporate houses have internal training departments and require training modules or courses. E-learning organisations who take up the outsourced work require the skills of IDs. Some IDs prefer to work in a specific domain such as the IT or pharmaceutical sector and some may further prefer to work with one client let's say Microsoft, mastering all the standards.

Some IDs prefer variety of domains and clientele.

What is the career growth like in this field in terms of your professional role and responsibilities?

The growth hierarchy looks like:

Instructional writer - Instructional Designer - Senior Instructional Designer - Lead ID - ID Manager

Every organisation has different designation names.

Which are some of the good companies to work for in this field?

Infosys, Tata Interactive Systems, Sify, NIIT are some of the big players who have varied e-learning projects. However, a lot of new organisations are coming up with in-house learning departments, such as Xchanging and Aircel.

What are the pros and cons of being an ID?

The upside is that you work on diverse courses, it could be anything under the sun; you interact with the subject experts, faculty, trainers and graphic artists' and the scope for creatively imparting learning is huge.

The two major negatives are the exteremely stringent timelines within which you must understand the given subject matter and the unavailability of subject matter experts to provide content, resolve your questions. Often you have to rely on yourself to find the content.

What is the kind of compensation freshers can expect? And what are the prospects as they gain experience?

Freshers with excellent writing skills and who can come up the learning curve within 6 months can expect a start of about Rs 12,000 to Rs 14,000 a month. A formal degree or training would make the prospects better.

Experienced IDs, besides monetary compensation, can get to work on-site with companies. It's a great field to meet experts in different sectors from across the globe.

Those who are looking for freelance or part-time work in the field can work as ID reviewers. Reviewers check the course for ID consistency and language issues.

What are the courses available in ID?

The IDCWC (Instructional Design & Content Writing Certificate) online course from Wavelength Institute, Noida is one. There are also a lot of foreign universities that offer online courses.

For people interested in the field, could you suggest some useful resources?

There are a lot of useful websites. To start off with you could look at: www.elearningguild.com; www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/

How demanding is your job?

It is very demanding mentally, as IDs need to read, understand, interact and process the received information in the shortest possible time.

Your advice to people thinking of getting into the field?

You need to be passionate about creating learning experiences, willing to spend sleepless nights thinking about multiple projects at hand, patient and skilled enough to get your questions answered.


Image: Often you have to rely on yourself to find relevant content.
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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