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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2021 / Winter 2022)

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Instructional designers’ roles and the pandemic

By Lisa Shappee, Kansas State University-Salina 

The pandemic led to many difficulties in higher education.

Speaking from the role of an instructional designer (ID), we had to make changes on a dime to courses and our training methods. We had to ensure that faculty and students were prepared for a massive shift to remote learning.

Figure 1.  Design of Learning (by Wokandapix on Pixabay)

Lessons learned about higher education

While it was and continues to be a trying time, there have been a lot of lessons learned. We have all learned about our own resilience and adaptability. In higher education, we found that we could move quickly and make thoughtful and helpful changes without discussing it for semesters on end. We learned that we do not have to be place-bound to teach and learn and that employees and students can be just as productive with flexibility in their work and learning location.  

For IDs, now more than ever, people are listening to what we have to offer, realizing that our expertise is invaluable to higher education. While some colleges and universities have large instructional design departments, some, like myself, are the only ID on campus, making me the lone voice of sound instructional design.

There are always those faculty who are unsure what instructional design is and how anyone can offer input on ways to make their online course better for them and their students. The pandemic changed this dynamic. I was able to roll up my sleeves and get to work helping anyone and everyone I could, especially those who had never taught online before as well as the non-believers. I demonstrated to them how there are beneficial instructional design methods and theories that will make their life easier and improve student satisfaction and completion rates of the course. They were able to see firsthand and in a short amount of time that these practices work. They learned that I, as their local instructional designer, was not making things up but that there is a whole field of study with outstanding professionals contributing to these practices and ideas every day.

While some successes were small steps like realizing that it is easy to put a paper test online and offer it through the learning management system, there were more significant successes. Individual faculty built up their confidence and knowledge in distance education. They found new processes that they will continue to use as we work towards the new normal higher education. They gained all of this from working with their campus instructional designers.  

Other documentation of instructional design relevance

Many articles speak to the importance of instructional designers during the pandemic, helping all faculty and students through the transition to emergency remote teaching. Here are just a few of the wonderful and affirming words written about IDs and their superpowers. One article was titled, "Instructional Designers as 'First Responders' Helping Faculty Teach in the Coronavirus Crisis." This felt like an accurate description of all the hard work done during this time.

Many of our institutions had IDs in the front lines offering training and personal assistance. They created blogs, information sheets, tutorials, and websites to give faculty and students access to just-in-time training to help them transition when an ID could not be there to walk them through the process.  

One institution, anonymous in the article, hired multiple instructional designers in March and April of 2020. The article stated, "Instantly rising to the catastrophic new normal of social distancing and closed campuses with online classes from March 2020, the center for excellence in teaching and learning announced the hiring of seven instructional designers" (Anonymous, p. 66). Even with budget constraints, this institution saw the importance of these positions to get them through the pandemic and beyond. Many faculty found that they enjoy teaching online and hybrid. They just needed help in building their knowledge, confidence, and skills. They now see that this is what instructional designers can do for them. This understanding has led to a better working relationship between faculty and IDs at their institution, leading the institutions to realize just how much they need these dedicated positions on their campus.  

In April of 2020, Inside Higher Ed published an article calling instructional designer the hottest job in higher education. They went as far as to call IDs the "The Sherpas of online learning teams, more than ever in the COVID-19 era" (Decherney & Levander, 2020). This pandemic has brought about a new appreciation for the work and knowledge set that IDs bring to the table when it comes to quality online courses and student satisfaction. One great quote from that article states, "because of the black swan event that is COVID-19, this new field of academic labor has received a boost previously unimaginable. While universities institute hiring freezes and dangle the threat of layoffs, those same universities are posting new advertisements for instructional designers, learning designers and instructional technologists. The titles cover overlapping aspects of the same process of online course design that schools know will be essential to their future success" (Decherney & Levander, 2020).


Instructional designers and everyone involved in distance education, it is your time to shine. The successful shift to emergency response teaching that most campuses experienced would not have been possible without our knowledge and expertise. We must continue to be the confident, knowledgeable, and helpful professionals we have always been  and continue to lead our campuses in distance education on this brighter and bigger stage.

Figure 2.  COVID-19 Pandemic (by U3167879 on Wikipedia


Abramenka-Lachheb, V., Lachheb, A., de Siqueira, A. C., & Huber, L. (2021). Instructional Designers as “First Responders” Helping Faculty Teach in the Coronavirus Crisis. Journal of Teaching and Learning With Technology, 10(1). Retrieved from

Anonymous. (2020).  Rising Demand For Instructional Technologists 2020’s new Normal in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 21(3), 65+.

Decherney, P., & Levander, C. (2020, April 24). The hottest job in higher education: Instructional designer. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from

About the Author

Lisa Shappee is the Director of Instructional Design and Faculty support for the Kansas State University Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus.  She has been with the university since 2011.  Lisa provides instructional design support for both credit and non-credit online and hybrid programs.  She also provides technical training and support for faculty on the K-State Salina campus.  She has presented regionally, nationally, and internationally on faculty development, distance education, and instructional technology 

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