This is What We Use: A Brief Primer on Instructional Design Tools Part 2

EKU Online > This is What We Use: A Brief Primer on Instructional Design Tools Part 2

Within our eclectic discipline, instructional designers (IDs) use a rather amazing variety of tools to make learning better across many fields and industries. This brief rundown discusses the technologies prospective students can expect to utilize in their careers as instructional designers, especially in organizations that are heavily focused in online or digital learning.

Storyboarding, a Classic Skill Also Used in Learning Design

Have you ever heard the expression, “Measure twice, cut once?” It is popular among carpenters and other tradespeople because certain aspects of construction are much more expensive than others. It is important to take your time and get the measurement correct before using expensive materials.

We have similar expressions in the ID/LD world: In 1975, JH Harless wrote An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Objectives, which asserts knowing your environment, learners, and clearly articulating the instructional problem to be solved will save time and money.

The same is valid with storyboarding. Using film production techniques to organize the action and procedures of a learning module or asset, especially those that are story or action-driven, is a more agile and much less expensive process compared to the actual production of those assets.

For example, shooting video generally requires multiple people, can be time and location-dependent, and rely on specialized and expensive equipment. It does not pay to wing it with the content when it comes to a video shoot.

While not as costly, the same could be said for creating learning assets. Storyboards serve as a blueprint for creating a learning object. Designers use readily available technologies to gather and share ideas about the progression of the “story,”  easily making changes before the actual production work occurs.

The following shortlist points to various applications IDs and others use to create and share storyboards:

  • Twine

Twine is an open-source, nonlinear storytelling application suitable for storyboarding, wireframing branched scenarios, and experimental games.

  • (Draw.IO)

This is a free and fully functional web-based chart and diagram creator.

  • XMind

This “freemium” application touts itself as a mind mapping tool but is used across many fields to document branched scenarios, storyboards, and other charts/documents.

Video Production

Video production skills are useful and required in many modern professions due to the nature of social media and reliance on “just-in-time” publishing to various video platforms. Instructional designers are jacks of all trades. Most in-demand IDs in the online world have mastered at least one editor.

The following is a list of commonly used video editors and complementary tools:

  • Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe Premiere Pro for Mac and Windows is the toolset of choice for any instructional designer who wishes to excel in professional video production. Premiere is powerful software that allows for timeline-based multi-track video and audio editing. Mastery translates raw video into top-notch, high-quality audio-visual products. Premiere Pro is a part of the Adobe Creative Cloud and requires a subscription.

  • Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro is a Mac-only video editing suite, very similar to Adobe Premiere Pro in functionality. It is also a timeline-based, multi-track editing tool that will yield a professional grade end product.  

  • Techsmith Camtasia

Camtasia is a popular full-featured screen recorder and video editor used across many fields, but especially in education.

  • Movavi

Another popular time-based video editing tool that lets you edit, convert, screen record, and publish a professional-quality video product.


Screencasting has become popular in recent years, as it allows for simultaneous recording of computer screen narration along with the action that appears on the narrator’s computer. Screencasting comes in handy when recording a quick explainer video, tutorial, demonstration, and more.

Many software packages used by instructional designers today can easily screencast. However, sometimes a standalone product is more suitable for a concise clip or quickly creating an asset.

Some of the more popular titles include the following:

  • Techsmith Snagit

Snagit is a “screenshot” program designed to capture still pictures and on-screen video. While there are no significant video editing features with Snagit, it is a veritable swiss army knife for still images and screencasting. We highly recommend this commercial product to all IDs.

  • Screencast-O-Matic

One of the oldest screencasting tools, Screencast-O-Matic offers a simple interface, quick-start recording abilities, and an essential video editor. It operates on a “freemium” business model, so the affordable paid version offers more features, including an editor and unlimited recording time.

  • Screencastify

Screencastify is a browser extension for Chrome that allows for cloud recording. All recordings are automatically saved to Google Drive and, from there, can be uploaded to YouTube or simply shared. This is an excellent tool for creating quick screen recordings.

Sound Editing

Your audience may forgive you for the poor video/image quality, but they simply will not tolerate poor sound quality. Therefore, fundamental to moderate knowledge of audio recording and editing is strongly recommended for most IDs. You should be able to set up a recording environment with a medium to a high-quality microphone and later be able to clean up that audio footage, removing any plosives and fixing other audio issues that frequently arise. For this, you will need to know how to use audio editing software to a moderate extent (see below). This usually means software that will let you cut, paste, increase and normalize volume.

  • Audacity

Audacity is a free, open-source, cross-platform audio software that is easy to use. It supports multi-track audio editing and recording. It is a superior tool sufficient for most of your audio needs.

  • Adobe Audition

Part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, Audition is feature-rich, professional software. However, it requires advanced knowledge of audio editing and an interface with a bit of a learning curve. If you already have a Creative Cloud subscription, don’t let that scare you, as it will suffice for basic editing as well. Because it integrates well with Adobe Premiere and Captivate, it is to your advantage to get acquainted with it.

  • Sound Forge Audio Studio

Audio Studio provides comprehensive tools and features for editing and producing audio across many professions. It comes with everything you need to record and edit audio files for your podcasts, interactive and video projects, music, and more.

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