Online Instructor or Instructional Designer: Five Ways to Tell Them Apart

E-learning is a booming industry, and the popularity of job titles like Online Instructor and Instructional Designer grows with it. Still, few people outside the field can tell what these roles are. Are they teachers or designers? Maybe both? Or neither? A very basic way to tell them apart is to remember that an Instructional Designer designs training and an Online Instructor delivers it. But there’s much more to it. In this article, we outline the key characteristics of the two professions. Read on to learn about the responsibilities, skills, and background of an Online Instructor and an Instructional Designer.

The popularity of online learning is growing at an exponential rate. Naturally, so is the number of professions in the field.
As a result, it gets increasingly hard to tell who does what and how they fit into the e-learning landscape.
Two roles that are very much in demand, but often confused, are Online Instructor and Instructional Designer (or Learning Designer). That is not surprising, since there is some overlap between them, but also a few significant differences. In this article we will examine the specifics of both positions, so you can better understand and distinguish them from one another.

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer: Responsibilities

Simply put, Online Instructors do what their job title says – teach virtual classes. Online Instructors can teach one or multiple subjects. They may come from different backgrounds, but what they all do is share expertise with online audiences. Online Instructors are responsible for curating their content, preparing learning resources, and delivering virtual training sessions.

Compared to Online Instructors, Instructional Designers wear multiple hats. Although they don’t facilitate trainings, Instructional Designers decide what a learning journey should be, based on pre-defined objectives. A learning journey can take the form of a self-paced e-learning or a blended program (a mix of self-paced and live lessons). Instructional Designers are the people who decide on the structure and elements of the training. They are also the ones who produce most or all necessary learning assets (videos, quizzes, job aids). In some cases, Instructional Designers add and manage learning programs on the LMS.

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer Responsibilities

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer: Background

An Online Instructor is someone with expertise in the subject matter they teach. They can be a school or university teacher, or a corporate trainer. Having a background in teaching or training is a huge plus for Online Instructors, though not a must. The most important prerequisite is that they know their subject matter very well. In addition, Online Instructors are expected to have good presentation and facilitation skills. Last, but not least, they should be able to adapt their approach for live online delivery.

A Learning Designer, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be a subject matter expert in the topic at hand. Teaching or training experience is not a must for the role, either, but can be helpful. The most crucial skill for an Instructional Designer is the ability to structure and present learning content in the most effective manner. Instructional Designers are also expected to skilfully use industry-recognized software for e-learning development and multimedia creation.

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer: Soft Skills

Soft skills are important in every job, but different skills are in focus, depending on your role. The same is valid for Online Instructors and Learning Designers. As facilitators, Online Instructors should be able to create a safe space where people can share and experiment. This is crucial for learning to be effective. Online Instructors also need to be sensitive to the needs, speed, and energy of the learners. This way they can easily adapt their approach to make learning enjoyable and productive. The ability to manage time effectively is also a must for those who teach online.

Instructional Designers, on the other hand, must focus on building relationships with stakeholders. These include clients or project owners, subject matter experts, and peers. This is important, because Learning Designers depend on stakeholders to do their job well, and within a set time. The creation of an online learning program consists of various tasks that are related to one another. To deliver on time and not compromise quality, Instructional Designers should be very skilled at goal setting and project management.

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer Soft Skills

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer: Hard Skills

Perhaps the most important hard skill for Online Instructors is to know their subject matter exceptionally well. Unfortunately, not all experts make good teachers. Therefore, Online Instructors should also be familiar with the underlying principles of teaching and learning.

This is where the skills of both roles overlap – understanding how people learn is crucial for the Learning Designer’s job, too. Other must-have skills for Learning Designers are the ability to write effective copy and create polished visual designs.

Another intersection between the roles, is that they should both be tech-savvy. Or at least, feel comfortable learning to work with new software. Of course, Learning Designers are expected to be more skilful in terms of technology. They should be able to independently create or at least edit multimedia assets. In contrast an Online Instructor is expected to know their way around the virtual classroom software. The ability to create learning assets from scratch is also a huge plus.

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer Hard Skills

Online Instructor and Instructional Designer: Collaboration

If we were to summarize both job roles in one sentence, we could say that a Instructional Designer designs training, and an Online Instructor delivers it. Though different, these roles are not mutually exclusive and can exist within the same team. Depending on the project and organization, an Online Instructor and an Instructional Designer can come together to create learning programs. This is most often the case with blended learning. Blended learning requires a seamless combination of live learning events and self-paced learning activities. Therefore, it’s a great opportunity for collaboration between an Online Instructor and an Instructional Designer.
For example, an existing live online training that an Online Instructor teaches can be integrated into a blended program. This is where the Instructional Designer steps in to ensure live sessions fit well with the rest of the program. Another very common example is when a live training needs to be converted to self-paced learning. In this case, the Instructional Designer collaborates with the Online Instructor who delivers the sessions, to recreate them as e-learning.

Alexandra Angelova is a freelance Instructional Designer and E-learning Developer. She’s been involved with Learning and Development ever since she graduated from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski with a B.A. in Psychology. Throughout the years, Alexandra has worked for nonprofits, startups, and corporate organizations, creating various learning solutions. Currently, she designs and develops e-learning for clients across the globe and teaches Instructional Design to students and professionals.
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For the past nine years we have been providing a platform purpose-built for education.
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
For the past nine years we have been providing a platform purpose-built for education.