Training professionals involved in instructional design have a huge variety of tools available. From researching a potential topic to creating course materials and obtaining feedback, technology has had a huge impact on instructional design.
If you are involved with the creation of presentations, have a good understanding of intellectual property laws as they relate to audio, video, and photographs you plan to use.
The tools needed for good instructional design amount to a significant investment. Virtually every vendor offers an evaluation or trial period, however. Take advantage of these – select a course or specific content piece that is typical for your organization. Create content using multiple tools to figure out the one that best fits your instructional design needs.
This is an area where a little extra budget will pay dividends throughout the instructional design process. Even though a low-end workstation may run your software, the time spent waiting for video or an executable file to render will quickly justify the added expense for a higher-end computer. Contrary to popular belief, both Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac platforms perform very well, when paired with the right software.
- A computer with a reasonably fast processor, large hard drive, lots of RAM, and an above-average video card.
- Two large monitor displays (20” or larger). During development, use one monitor for your actual content creation software, the second for reference material (the web, lecture notes, etc.).
- An external hard drive dedicated to backing up your computer, and serving as an archive for older items. Also consider online backup services – if you’re on the road, being able to retrieve critical files from a web service or FTP site can be a lifesaver.
- An backup power supply, to allow you to shut systems down safely without losing content.
- A higher-quality set of headphones, for listening to and editing audio.
- If you will be doing significant graphics design work, consider purchasing and learning to use a graphics tablet as an input device.
Software for Instructional Design
The software needed to design a quality finished product are where the instructional design professional spends many working hours. Although each instructional designer will develop preferences, being familiar with a wide variety of products can be extremely useful. The more tools you have, the easier it can be to find engaging ways to get the message across. Some basic software needs include:
- Content creation software. There are a variety of packages out there. If you are doing software or online demonstrations, consider packages that record your screen and mouse movements automatically. If you will be working in Microsoft PowerPoint a lot, consider software that includes the appropriate plug-in.
- Video capture, editing, and conversion software. Invest in a quality program, especially if you have to convert video from one format to another. Name-brand programs are also likely to have less issues with encoding video in common formats.
- Audio editing software.
- Graphics programs. This is an area where you may be able to save some cost. There are a number of open-source image editing and illustration programs that are very functional. If you are only going to be performing resizing, cropping, and image correction operations, you may want to investigate these before making a purchase.
- If developing content for online, be sure you have all the common browsers installed – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari at a minimum.
- A camcorder, complete with tripod and extra battery. High-definition (HD) camcorders have become very affordable. Look for one that allows an external microphone input.
- A high-quality microphone with stand, preferably one with a USB connector.
- A backdrop. This can be as simple as a solid-color bed sheet, or custom for the training center. These can be very handy when videotaping an interview, or taking a photograph of a new instructor.
- A digital camera. If you have a mobile device, or your camcorder can capture still images separately from video, a digital camera may not be essential.
Collaboration with peers and stakeholders is critical to good instructional design. Many content creation software packages have built-in tools in to facilitate reviews and comments. For example, you can e-mail a PowerPoint™ presentation to multiple recipients and merge their revisions or comments back into the original document.
Web-based meeting services such as GoToMeeting or WebEx can be extremely useful. Whether brainstorming or editing documents in real-time, you can easily get feedback from a variety of users. Be sure you know the limitations of such services. Some services have trouble handling video unless it’s converted to a specific format; others may only be able to import specific document types.
There are a variety of both free and low-cost services that allow collaboration. Often these come with file size limitations, limits on the number of collaborators, or carry advertisements. You are often limited to working within a particular developer’s suite – such as Microsoft’s Office™ applications or Adobe’s Acrobat family.
A Final Thought
Most instructional design professionals that work with online courses are familiar with the sharable content object reference model (SCORM). Most instructional design packages will publish SCORM-conformant content that can be easily uploaded into learning management systems. Many of these same development packages are closely aligned with a specific training / learning management system. Publishing or playing content developed with something other than the developer’s own learning management system can be frustrating if a project has been developed with a feature or tool that is proprietary to a single company.
This is not an exhaustive list of instructional design tools, but by having some essential tools you can be productive quickly.