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How Reflection Can Help Develop Empathetic Instructional Designers


Recently, I became aware of the idea of empathy in instructional design. Upon further research, I saw that there seems to be a lot of discussion regarding this topic (especially from the past few years or so). For examples, check out the links below:

So, what does empathy in instructional design or empathetic instructional design mean? Well, in short - it is walking in your learners' shoes. We are all aware of the old saying, "Talk a walk in my shoes" or "Take a walk in someone else's shoes." At initial glace, it seemed to be kind of common sense, right?


One of the first things we learn about the field of ID is the ADDIE model (and the idea that instructional designers do analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation)... or at least that is the easiest way to explain what we do to others not familiar with our field. Guilty! In the analysis phase, we are taught to find our target population, survey those who will use the instruction, find out what motivates them, why they need the training, where they will be doing the training, what are their goals, what should their performances be after the training... the list literally goes on and on. Therefore, to me this idea of empathetic instructional design (ID) is just 'renaming' the analysis phase. I really struggled with this new idea of empathetic ID for a number of reasons - 1) why do we need to explain what we already do, and 2) why are renaming and making what we do 'trendy'?

After discussion with others in my doctoral program, it was brought up how maybe there is a need to develop this idea and make it trendy because there needs to be more attention drawn to our learners. While I had initially agreed, I still am not 100% confident in creating new names for items we already do. If I write on an application that I am excellent at instructional design and analysis, will I be overlooked because I didn't say I'm excellent at empathetic instructional design? What other 'trendy' ID terms are out there that I need to add into my repertoire? But enough on that...

The main goal of this post was to discuss what I did take away from the idea of empathetic ID: reflection. A lot of the research and some of the articles linked above discuss the idea of reflection during the analysis process and while I agree, I actually would like to extend the idea of reflection after the development and use of the material you designed. During the evaluation phase, look at the data you collected and think about how your designs could be improved based on walking in their shoes. Reflect on your own design and analysis phase - what could you be doing different or how can you improve your analysis to be more aligned with your learners? Take time to reflect on your designs afterwards. Especially in higher education or even (I imagine) in corporate settings, the time constraints and goals of a company are on production of materials. I really think that reflecting afterwards (especially if you have data available to support your line of thinking) can help develop effective instructional designers. Notice how I did not say effective empathetic instructional designers? That's because if you are an effective instructional designer - you should already be doing the elements of an intentional analysis with your learners in mind.

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