This is What We Use: A Brief Primer on Instructional Design Tools Part 3

EKU Online > This is What We Use: A Brief Primer on Instructional Design Tools Part 3

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

Graphic Design

Basic to intermediate knowledge of graphic design principles and tools is a must-have in every ID’s toolbox. In addition to being educational, ID work has to be visually pleasing and match the customer’s branding, color schemes, and existing design choices. For instance, sometimes IDs work with graphic designers, and other times, they are on their own. Therefore, developing competency at creating visual images, interfaces, and instructional messages are essential skill sets.

The following shortlist describes some of the tools IDs use on a regular basis:

  • Canva

An online freemium graphic design application/assistant that is great for quick projects or more serious graphic design work. It allows for collaboration (premium feature), so teams can collaboratively work on projects.

  • Photoshop

Photoshop is a mandatory asset in many ID toolboxes. While it has a steep learning curve with many levels and types of proficiency, you will choose the level suitable to your needs.

  • Illustrator

The distinguishing feature of Illustrator is that professionals use it to create and edit vector graphics. The resulting assets are “lossless” and therefore scalable, and more easily edited. In the hands of a skilled designer and artist, Illustrator yields impressive results.

  • Adobe Spark

This web-based application is designed with social media in mind. It allows IDs to create and save graphics such as banners, infographics, and other quick images for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

  • Snagit

Excellent screen capture, recorder, and image editor with robust features. 

Digital Assets (Stock Images, Icons, Videos)

Having access to a library of images for various ID projects is essential. Using randomly acquired images in your professional products is a bad idea for multiple reasons (for starters, it is illegal). We would therefore strongly recommend that you either subscribe to a media library, use tools with built-in royalty-free images, or use a service that offers free stock images and video:

  • Allthefreestock

This is an aggregator website that lets you search multiple websites that offer free stock images, videos, icons, fonts, sounds, etc.

  • Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons Search is a tool that allows openly licensed and public domain works to be discovered and used by everyone.

  • Flaticon

Flaticon is a great image and icon library.

Project Management

All instructional design projects require some sort of planning and tracking software. From creating a simple handout on accessing the company website to developing a full-semester college math course, instructional design projects vary in complexity and scope. You will benefit greatly from using software to keep track of important dates, deliverables, and milestones. The software you use does not need to be complicated. It could be as simple as using advanced functions within your calendar, or it could involve a more comprehensive process and application utilized by large teams. Below are some of the tools we use in the trade.

  • Microsoft Project

One of the oldest project management tools, Microsoft Project, has been a staple in the corporate world for many years. It comes in Standard and Professional versions, and offers many features such as timeline, board, and grid views, roadmap building, resource management, reporting, etc. One of its biggest pros is integration with other Microsoft products and visual similarity with other Office 365 products. 

  • Trello

Trello is becoming one of the industry’s favorite apps for program management. It is an easy-to-use kanban board web-based application for managing workflows, and it allows for the creation of task boards with different columns and moves the tasks between them. These columns usually include task statuses such as “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done,”  thus simplifying project management tasks.

  • is a web and mobile app platform for work management, including tracking projects, deadlines, and team collaboration. It is fairly easy to use, and one can create workflows in minutes or choose from 200+ ready-made templates based on how real teams use

Survey Tools

Surveying is an essential component of instructional design, especially during the needs analysis and product testing stages. There are many survey tools out there too numerous to mention. Below are the top three survey tools most often used for gathering and analyzing survey data.

  • Google Forms

A robust and versatile survey solution that is a part of Google Docs, allows for quick survey design and deployment across many industries. Great tool for anonymous and ad hoc surveys.  

  • MS Office Forms

Microsoft’s answer to Google Forms, MS Office Forms are just as versatile with some added functionality such as pooling, quizzes, and simple integration with other Microsoft tools. Great for simple to more advanced data collection and analysis.

  • Survey Monkey

Professional grade survey solution with a myriad of features

Data Visualization

There are myriad ways in which decision-makers as well as the employees serving them employ design principles and statistical concepts to explain and represent data and results from research, information gathering, and other inquiry tasks:

  • Information Graphics

Infographics are simply visual representations of information (whether it is data, facts/factoids, or other knowledge) clearly and concisely. Infographics often demonstrate the connections between pieces of related information. They often enhance recognition and retention due to the use of visual elements.

  • Dashboards

Many applications and services such as learning management systems employ dashboards or visualization mini applications designed to visually display information in real time, or to gather and present historical information quickly and without much effort. However, some dashboards require some training and exposure to leverage their power.

  • Conventional Techniques

A variety of traditional techniques are staples of many applications and services. Even the most basic office productivity user can leverage the utility of charts, graphs, maps, and tables to convey information visually.

Data Visualization Tools

Some of the tools IDs use daily will be familiar to others in business and academic settings where they need to quickly communicate ideas and information.

  • Office Productivity Suites

Packages such as Microsoft Office offer several visualization tools. PowerPoint and Word offer robust drawing capabilities, as well as access to hundreds of icons and other images. Excel has Style Rules which allow for the automatic colorization and formatting of cells according to the rules defined by the user. All three applications have access to charting, graphing, and the Smart Art feature, all of which serve to visually distinguish information and data.

  • Statistical Packages

Most statistical packages such as SPSS, R, and Minitab have chart and graphic capabilities robustly integrated into their respective frameworks. As you are learning one of these packages, you will become familiar with the various options available for creating significant visual representations of your data.

  • Premium packages such as Tableau

Tableau is a premium data visualization application. It allows you to import data and use advanced visualization algorithms and their custom interfaces to output graphics and dashboards.

  • DIY

In conclusion, instructional designers and others use a combination of the above tools along with graphic design skills to create custom visualizations. You are only limited by your skillset and imagination when creating rich visuals to present your information to various audiences.

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