This post is co-authored by Christina Brauer and Lucy Blakemore.

You might know it as instructional or learning experience (LX) design, educational or academic design or some other creative combination of these words. Whatever you call it, this bundle of skills and the roles that embody them are busy researching, designing and building learning in schools, universities and organisations all over the world. 

Whilst learning design has been around for many decades and in many forms, it has been thrust into the spotlight more recently by the forces of edtech, digital transformation and of course, the global COVID pandemic.  

With education and learning design under scrutiny online and on campus, how can we better understand the roles and skills of the learning design profession? And what opportunities and challenges might lie ahead for those keen to explore more? 

Who needs learning designers? 

Learning design positions are already embedded in thousands of organisations worldwide, and growing fast. As UTS academics Keith Heggart and Camille Dickson-Deane note in ‘What should learning designers learn?’, jobs in this field are expecting rapid growth over the next five years in Australia.  

A quick look on job search website Seek reveals opportunities for learning designers in universities, schools, insurance companies, banks, construction, the Rural Fire Service, and many more, including a food retailer offering ‘free burgers’ with your salary and super package! 

Role titles and descriptions look similar at first, but context is everything; a learning designer joining a L&D/HR team at a large food retailer will apply their skills differently to one joining a specialist faculty in a university, for example. So how do we navigate this shifting, adaptive skill set? 

A learning design skill journey 

One way to view the skills needed is to consider a learning design process or journey. In many projects, learning designers must first understand the situation and context, then apply their skills and knowledge to design, build, manage and evaluate learning to achieve intended outcomes. This may appear linear, but the reality is often iterative, fluid and necessarily flexible, with many moving parts and shifting priorities.

A snapshot of some of the foundational knowledge and skills applied at stages of the design journey is shown in the infographic below:  

A Journey in Learning Design Skills displays some of the foundational knowledge and skills applied at stages of the design journey

Are you a T-shaped Learning Designer? 

No single learning designer can specialise deeply in every skill and knowledge area above, but some may have what is described as a ‘T-shaped’ skill set – a metaphor used in job recruitment and popularised by IDEO CEO Tim Brown. The vertical in the ‘T’ represents a deep skill in one area, and the horizontal bar represents an ability to collaborate and apply knowledge across functions and non-specialist areas. A T-shaped individual would have both depth and breadth in their skills. 

This description can help us to understand the reality of learning design teams in interdisciplinary contexts. Some excel at storytelling and visual design, whilst others are consulted for deep technical knowledge or intuitive UX design skills. Across the team, highly organised project managers ensure that projects stay on track, and draw on change management expertise to keep teams collaborating effectively. 

Global perspectives on learning design skills for the future 

With a core part of UTS 2027 strategy focussed on re-thinking roles and ways of working, there are opportunities for learning designers and other professional colleagues to come together to explore the demands of the changing climate and share clear directions to navigate the future of learning design in higher education and beyond.  

You can be part of this conversation at our next Learning Design Meetup on the afternoon of Tuesday 7th September. We are delighted to be joined by four expert speakers who will be sharing insights into learning design skills for the future:  

  • Julien Depauw, Director of Operations and Course Management at IE University, Madrid; former Director of Learning Innovation at EGADE Business School del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico              
  • Lisa Soviero, Lead Learning Designer at Keypath Education Australia 
  • Keith Heggart, Lecturer in Learning Design at University of Technology, Sydney and founder of the Australian Association of Learning Designers. 
  • Colin Simpson, Education Innovation Designer at Monash University and ASCILITE TELedvisors SIG lead 

If you would like to join the Meetup, please contact Mais Fatayer for more information. If you’d like to be part of ongoing discussions on all things Learning Design, please join the conversation in the UTS Learning Design Meetup Teams channel.  

References and further reading 

K. Heggart, C. Dickson-Deane, What should learning designers learn?  

ASU Instructional Designer: 

Feature image by Andy Roberts

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