Researchers in the field of instructional design and educational technology journals usually focus on the practice of instructional design; however, the management and leadership of instructional design has typically received little emphasis. Recent studies have investigated the competencies associated with effective leadership and management of instructional design from the perspective of those they lead, and from the perspective of leaders in higher education. There is, however, little systematic research into what competencies employers require of leaders and managers of instructional designers in higher education. This research would provide the field with further guidance on training and preparing instructional design leaders and managers. In this study, we explore and report on the competencies required of instructional design managers in higher education by analyzing 30 job descriptions posted by institutions of higher education. Results of this analysis identified major categories with 17 competencies. Communication skills, Instructional Design and Related Areas, and General Leadership and Management Expertise were the competencies noted most frequently within the job posts. We share the results of the study, including typical job titles, common job descriptions, and education and experience requirements. Finally, we briefly highlight the implications of these findings and provide recommendations for future research, practice, and training of future instructional designers and leaders.
Researchers in the field of instructional design and educational technology journals typically focus on the practice of instructional design, including theories, models, processes, and technologies (Gardner, Chongwony, & Washington, 2018; West & Borup, 2014). However, the management and leadership of instructional design has typically received little emphasis (Gardner, Chongwony, & Washington, 2018). This is an issue, because some scholars assert that instructional design will play a key role in the leadership and the future of higher education (Ashbaugh & Piña, 2014; Brigance, 2011; Shaw, 2012). In addition, much research has shown that an employee’s direct manager or leader has significant impact on employee engagement and success (e.g. Madlock & Kennedy-Lightsey, 2010; Wang & Hsieh, 2013; Xu & Cooper Thomas, 2011). Further, without an understanding of the competencies for leading instructional design, we will be unable to prepare instructional designers to take leadership positions within higher education.
Recent studies have investigated the competencies associated with effective leadership and management of instructional design from the perspective of the instructional designer and from the perspective of leaders in higher education (Ashbaugh & Piña, 2014; Gardner, Chongwony, & Washington, 2018). For example, Ashbaug and Piña (2014) outline the 7 Ps of leadership for instructional design (7PL4ID), which include the following components: (1) envision the future and promote that vision; (2) Preventive/proactive Thinking – carefully anticipate the future, both its opportunities and problems; (3) Provision for the unexpected – have backup plans and reserves; (4) Personality – work well with and show care to others; (5) Productivity – be productive and expect hard work from others; (6) Psychological toughness – make and implement difficult decisions based on sound judgment; and, (7) Personal convictions – exhibit moral character consistently. Gardner, Chongwony, and Washington (2018) conducted a Delphi study in which managers and leaders of instructional design were surveyed through an anonymous consensus-building process. Eight major categories were identified, including the following in order of rated importance: (1) Communication; (2) Project Management; (3) Visioning and Strategic Alignment; (4) Organizational Politics and Relationships; (5) Environmental and Organizational Awareness; (6) Inspiring, Motivating, and Empowering Others; (7) Interpersonal People Skills; and (8) Teaching, Learning, Design, and Technology Expertise.
Despite these preliminary studies, there is no systematic research into what competencies employers require of leaders and managers of instructional designers in higher education. Further research on the competencies for leading and managing instructional design in higher education would provide the field with further guidance on training and preparing instructional design leaders and managers; therefore, in this study, we explore and report on the competencies required of instructional design managers in higher education by analyzing 30 job descriptions posted by institutions of higher education. We describe the methods used to identify and analyze the job descriptions. We then share the results of our analysis, share the implications of these findings, and provide recommendations for research, practice, and training of future instructional designer and leaders.
We used document analysis methodology for this study (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). In this qualitative approach, the researcher reviews relevant documents of interest, which may be public such as job postings in websites, newspapers, official reports and so on or private documents such email exchanges, diaries, and personal journal among others. To access relevant documents for this study, we looked at specific websites that carry job posting announcements we were interested in in order to explore the competencies required of instructional design managers through job description analysis. The websites selected were those that commonly advertise instructional design positions. They included the following: www.higheredjobs.com, www.chronicles.com, www.indeed.com, www.ispi.org, www.aect.org job board, www.aera.net, www.educause.edu, and www.onlinelearningconsortium.org. In some instances, the job postings of interest were cross-posted in more than one website. We avoided using the same job position twice if it was cross-posted in more than one website.
Job Parameters for the Study
To identify and narrow down our searches for positions of interest, we used the following search terms: instructional design, leader, manager, dean of online, director, educational technology, technology coordinator, online learning coordinator, dean of instruction, and instructional design specialist. We also agreed ahead of time on criteria for selecting job descriptions that would make it to our initial list for analysis. In particular, we were interested in job descriptions in announcements for positions that lead and manage instructional design in higher education. We selected job posting from July of 2017 to September 2017 because they coincided with our research timeline. In addition, a three-month window is reasonable because most job announcements are listed for about the same time interval before being deleted. We documented the website site, job title, description of position, link, and date we gathered the description.
Data Collection Procedure
We utilized qualitative documents of job description postings to collect data. In particular, the study utilized job-posting announcements for leaders and managers of instructional design in higher education. All job announcements of interest were positions for leaders and managers in instructional design. We collected the data from July 24, 2017 to September 12, 2017. We looked at over 100 open job postings in higher education using the following search terms: instructional design leader or manager, dean of online, director, educational technology, technology coordinator, online learning coordinator, dean of instruction, and instructional design specialist. A wide array of colleges and universities were included ranging from mid-sized private universities, private research universities to private Ivy League research universities to public Research 1 (R1) universities. A majority of job description postings were gathered from www.higheredjobs.com, www.chronicles.com, www.indeed.com, www.educause.edu, and www.aect.org job board, which accounted for 83% of the postings identified. The distribution of job descriptions collected from various websites is shown in Table 1. We gathered a total of 100 positions that met our search terms. From these 100 positions, we eliminated 40 postings that did not meet our criteria through the process of winnowing data (Guest, MacQueen, & Namey, 2012). The process left us with 60 postings, which we further winnowed down to our final 30. These we analyzed using emergent theme content analysis to identify emerging themes (competencies) required to perform the job duties of leading and managing instructional design.
Table 1: Job postings by job announcement website
We began our data analysis by first agreeing on how we were to organize our information and findings. We agreed to organize the information by main categories and/or themes. The researchers analyzed all 30 job postings independently and then regrouped to crosscheck each other’s analysis and categorize main themes and subthemes. Following this process, the researchers categorized about 20 difference skills sets and/or reoccurring themes from all 30 job postings. Overall, the research had many common themes and where there were disagreements/variations, the researchers went back to the original posting to reanalyze. For example each researcher had a different view of the following themes but worked together and agreed to add ‘vision’ to the direction/strategy development category, add self-management/time-management as its own category, and ‘decision-making’ to the continuous improvement category.
Findings/Results from Job Descriptions
We reviewed 30 job postings – 16 of these were posted by public universities and 14 were posted by private universities. In our analysis, we identified several categories of data: job titles, education requirements, experience requirements, required competencies, and job duties. We describe our findings for each of these categories below.
Results of job positing analysis presented in Table 1 show that managers of instructional design are expected to perform numerous job duties.
Table 1: Job duties and the relative number of times mentioned in the job postings
Competencies - Knowledge and Skills
Following our data analysis, the following thematic competencies emerged as necessary to effectively lead and manage instructional design in higher education: communication skills, interpersonal skills, budget management, change management, technical skills, and project management. Other competencies included, collaboration/partnership, diversity, visioning/strategic development, problem solving/decision making skills, teaching and licensing expertise, instructional design and related areas, customer support, time management and self-management skills, general leadership and management expertise, professional development, and accreditation.
Table 2 summarizes these competencies and how often the competencies were referenced in the job descriptions analyzed.
Table 2: Competencies and skills, relative number of times mentioned, and some excerpts from job postings
From Table 2, we see that the least mentioned competency in the job postings analyzed is accreditation, which is mentioned once or 3% of the time. This is followed by teaching & licensing, and visioning/strategy development competencies, which are mentioned 2 times or 6% of the times in the job postings. Change management, budget management, diversity, customer service, time management and self-management, professional development, and decision-making competencies are mentioned 4 (13%), 5 (17%), 5 (17%), 7 (23%), 7 (23%), 7 (23%), and 8 (27%) respectively, in the job postings analyzed. The most mentioned competency is communication skills. It is mentioned 19 times or 63% of the times. Following communication skills were, instructional design and related areas, technical skills, general management and leadership, collaboration and partnerships, interpersonal, and project management. These are mentioned 18 (60%), 14 (47%), 14 (47%), 12 (40%), 12 (40%), and 10 (33%) respectively.
Our analysis revealed five common titles among the various positions included in this study. These titles included Director, Assistant or Associate Director, Lead or Senior Instructional Designer/Technologist, Manager, and Associate Provost. Table 3 summarizes these job titles.Table 3. Job titles and the relative number of job posts using that title.
Position title: We were also interested in looking at job position title used for those tasked with leading and managing instructional design. We found the following: assistant/associate director title appeared 5 times (39%), manager of instructional design 3 times (23%); associate vice provost for online and distance education, in charge of instructional design as well appeared once (7%); lead/senior instructional designer or technologist appeared 4 times (31%).
We found six major categories of experience requirements for the positions analyzed in our study. These categories included Design, Management/Leadership, Teaching, Project Management, Budgeting, and Training Delivery Experience. We summarize and describe these requirements in Table 4.
Table 4. The common experience requirements, relative number of job posts requiring that experience, and example descriptions of that experience.
Our analysis of education requirements revealed a preference for individuals holding at least an undergraduate degree but favoring a master’s degree qualification. Table 5 summarizes the education requirement findings. Two of the postings requiring a bachelor degree indicated a preference of master degree qualification, and five of the postings requiring a master degree indicated a preference of doctorate degree qualification.
Table 5. The common education level requirements and relative number of job posts with that requirement.
Level of education required: certificate only 1 (3%); bachelor’s degree 7 (23%); bachelor’s degree with other certification 1 (3%); master’s degree 16 (53%); master’s degree with other certification 2 (6%); doctorate 3 (10%)
Type of schools: 53% of the job descriptions were from public universities while 47% were from private non-profit universities. The public colleges ranged from community colleges to R1 institutions.
Our analysis revealed a close connection between what managers of instructional design do and the competencies needed; that is, the duties and responsibilities of these leaders and managers appear to drive expected competencies. The results also show a mixed range of competencies needed to effectively lead and manage instructional design, which includes both hard (technical) and soft (people) skills. On average, three to five years of experience is required based on job postings analyzed in this study.
The findings of this study largely overlap with results (competencies) established in previous studies (Gardner, Chongwony & Tawana, 2018; Ashbaugh & Pina, 2014 and Ashbaugh, 2013) as being important to leading and managing instruction design. For example, in the study by Gardner, Chongwony & Tawana (2018), communication, project management, and visioning and strategic alignment were found to be the top three competencies while teaching, learning, design, and technology expertise had the lowest rating compared to the ratings of the other competencies in the study. In this study, communication, instructional design and related areas, general leadership and management, and technical skills were the top three competencies mentioned in the job postings, while teaching and accreditation were the lowest. We note that just because a competency is mentioned fewer times or rated lower does not necessarily mean it is not needed in leading and managing instructional design. Table 6 compares findings of this study with the results of Gardner, Chongwony & Tawana (2018).
Table 6. Comparing findings of Gardner, Chongwony & Tawana (2018) and the results of this study from highest to lowest ranked competencies.
We further compared the results of this study with 7PL4ID model (Ashbaugh & Pina, 2014) and findings of (Gardner, Chongwony & Tawana, 2018). In comparing these studies (see Table 7), we note that while the findings of Gardner, Chongwony, & Tawana (2018) did not appear to have a relationship with the Provision for Unexpected and Unknown, Psychological/Emotional Toughness, and Personal Convictions categories expressed in 7PL4ID, this study’s findings appear to align with all the 7PL4ID categories. Budget Management and Change Management, Problem Solving/Decision Making, and Time Management and Self-Management in this study appear to align respectively with the Provision for Unexpected and Unknown, Psychological/Emotional Toughness, and Personal Convictions categories in 7PL4ID based on description of these categories. Similar to the findings of (Gardner, Chongwony, & Tawana, 2018), the instructional design and related areas, teaching, and technical (technology) categories in this study did not appear to align with 7PL4ID. Also, the customer service and diversity categories did not align with any category in 7PL4ID.
Table 7. Comparing the 7PL4ID, Gardner, Chongwony & Tawana (2018) and the results of this study
The results of this study reveal additional granularity in the set of competencies that hiring managers look for in leaders and managers of instructional design in higher education that have not been explicitly reported in previous studies. For example, diversity, customer support skills, accreditation, decision-making, time management and self-management have not been emphasized in previous studies. This has implications for institutions of learning that prepare instructional designers. In addition to core competencies, the programs and/or curriculum should include outcomes and activities that enable students both to learn and to demonstrate the diversity of competencies reflected in the findings of this study. Activities and/or other real-life problem solving tasks with a wide array of competencies could be incorporated into the curriculum design and/or training. It also means that program design and development could regularly review current employer needs in order to keep abreast of the happenings in the industry.
Practical Implications and Recommendations for Future Research
The findings of this study have practical implications for institutions of learning that prepare instructional designers. In additional to core competencies, program curricula could include outcomes as well as activities that both enable students to learn and to demonstrate the diversity of competencies as reflected in the findings of this study. There is a need to establish the challenges facing leaders and managers of instructional design in higher education and to discover how these leaders currently maneuver these challenges. It would also be interesting to gather the insights of direct reports of leaders and managers of instruction design regarding what they think about their own management and leadership competencies as well as those of their leaders, particularly the competencies they rate as most critical. Furthermore, it would of great interest to follow up with those institutions whose ads were evaluated in this study, and talk to those who filled the positions advertised, to perhaps find out how they perceive themselves fitting into the roles as reflected by the competencies. It would also be beneficial to explore why the competencies are important to their institution and the work of their instructional design staff.
The competencies identified in this study serve to confirm an emerging set of competencies needed to manage and lead instructional design in higher education. This has potential value to institutions of learning responsible for preparing, developing and/or training instructional designers. By examining their program offerings against the demands of the field, programs will be better able to determine whether gaps exist and act accordingly to remain viable and better meet the expectations of the field. Additionally, the findings of this study further advance the understanding of competencies expected of leaders and managers of instructional design in higher education, including what hiring managers should be looking for and what potential candidates for these positions should offer.
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