Is Instructional Design the Same as Training?


Instructional design and training is perhaps the equivalent of the crocodile-alligator problem, only in the field of learning and development. They may look the same to the untrained eye. However, closer scrutiny reveals that they have certain differences.

Here are some pointers to help you understand how instructional design and training work in relation to each other:

Instructional Designer vs. Trainer

An instructional designer designs the training programs whereas the trainer delivers them. These two are answers to different functions of learning and development.

It is the instructional designer’s job to devise the instructional interventions required, if any, to close the performance gap. He or she creates a training program based on the analysis and provide guidance in creating and evaluating the results. On the other hand, it is the trainer’s task to impart or relay the knowledge and/or skills necessary to improve the learners’ performance.

The Role of the SME

Another character that we must look into is the subject matter expert (SME). As “authorities” in their fields, SMEs are sometimes tapped to conduct training. In this capacity, the SME becomes a trainer. In the same way, instructional designers are also sometimes asked to implement or facilitate the learning intervention they designed. Thus, they can also function as a trainer.

This is why it is important to distinguish each function to be able to set proper expectations and maximize what each can bring to the table.

In instances where the SME, the instructional designer, and the trainer are exclusive functions, the three must work closely to ensure the efficiency of the program. In this setup, the instructional designer studies the performance problem and how a learning intervention can help solve it. The SME is the source of content which the instructional designer uses to develop the course, and the trainer delivers the designed learning program.

Trainer-Centric vs. Learner-Centric

Another major difference between instructional design and training is the focus of the programs.

A common practice today is to get SMEs to talk about a particular topic for training. This often leads to a “trainer-centric” approach, with the content determined by the SME. Companies hope that, through this “knowledge-sharing,” the learners can pick up the salient points they need to improve their performance.

This kind of set-up presents a number of problems. First, the program may produce inconsistent results since it is dependent on the knowledge of the trainer. It is not about bringing up trainees to meet a particular standard. Second, this may give rise to a lot of extraneous data and/or components since the content was not matched and contextualized to the learners. All these factors can make learning harder and cost more than necessary.

Advantages of a Learner-Centric Model

On the opposite side is instructional design’s “Learner-Centric” approach. Once an instructional designer is consulted with a problem, the first thing s/he does is to analyze the performance problem. It is not to match it up with a corresponding training. The instructional designer gathers data on the environment and the learner to validate the performance gap and develop a customized learning intervention to correct that gap as needed.

With instructional design, the training is delivered based on what the learner needs to know and not on what the Trainer knows. At the end of the session, the performances are evaluated to see if the improvements outlined in the objectives are met.

Building People with Instructional Design

To appreciate the importance of instructional design, compare it to building a house. In this case, the instructional designer is like the architect. He/she studies the site, the needs of the users and other important factors to create a blueprint that would guide the construction of the house.

Meanwhile, the trainer is like your contractor. He/she implements the design and sees to it that the specifications are delivered properly. The architect (instructional designer) checks on the house as the work progresses to see if adjustments have to be made and if everything is done according to the blueprint.

Just as you wouldn’t want to build a home without any plan, you shouldn’t embark on a training program without instructional design. After all, training programs, like houses, can collapse if not properly done.