“Invisibles” and instructional design

The premise of the book The Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion is that some of the most creative and invigorating work are inherent in careers that go on behind the scenes. For example, architects are credited with a building’s design, while the engineer is the one that implements.  The author takes the stance that while the roles that he highlights are not recognized, it is these critical roles that pull things together behind the scenes. In fact, as he notes, one often recognizes their expertise in its absence — when something is missing. For example, one doesn’t appreciate well-constructed wayfinding (signage) in a building until one is in a building where there has not been the invisible hand of information design. I would go a step farther and say that sometimes, people don’t even realize that a particular expertise exists, in which case the end result is lacking.

The instructional design role is a great candidate as an “invisible” role. The best designers, especially for online design work with a subject matter expert to help them shape a course. Whether the design role is set up to be as a coach or whether it is to be directive, the instructional designer is invisible to the end-user. Especially where the instructional designer role is consultative, as is often the case in higher education, the ID toes a careful line between managing/coaching a faculty member through a project, guiding and advising about available combinations of technology and pedagogy, but not owning the project in a traditional sense. The key characteristics of invisible roles are– a comfort with working behind the scenes, extreme attention to detail, and a strong sense of responsibility. It is this combination of being responsible without needing to be the “star” of a project that makes the ID role (as well as other “invisible” roles) intriguing.

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