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That's Designerly Thinking!

Instructional designer Elisabeth Huber discusses the concept of designerly thinking as a key trait that instructional designers should possess. I had never heard the term before, so naturally I was intrigued. She talks how she came across the term in her graduate studies and fell down the research rabbit hole to learn more.

We also chat a little bit about our respective instructional design grad school experiences so far and ask the important question, "Where are all the e-Learning examples in instructional design programs?"


Boling, E., & Gray, C. M. (2015). Designerly tools, sketching, and instructional designers and the guarantors of design. In The design of learning experience (pp. 109-126). Springer, Cham. Lachheb, A., Boling, E. Design tools in practice: instructional designers report which tools they use and why. J Comput High Educ 30, 34–54 (2018).


The following transcript was auto-generated and may contain typos or spelling errors.

Leslie Early 0:00

Okay, today I have my special guest here. Liz Huber. I'm pronouncing that correctly, right?

Elisabeth Huber 0:07

Yep, that's right.

Leslie Early 0:08

Okay. And you are a former teacher, but you are now transitioning into instructional design, actually. I mean, I would say you've successfully transitioned, you are doing contract work, right?

Elisabeth Huber 0:20

Yes, that's true. I'm doing contract work on both corporate and higher ed levels.

Leslie Early 0:25

Perfect. Congratulations. Thanks. So basically, the premise of that's awesome ID is you get to share something that you think is really cool that you have learned or discovered recently. So I can't wait to hear what you want to talk about. Yeah,

Elisabeth Huber 0:40

I want to talk about design early thinking, have you heard of that term before?

Leslie Early 0:44

No, but that sounds very cool. And I would like to hear more.

Elisabeth Huber 0:49

Yeah, so design early thinking it's this. It's this critical thought process that instructional designers go through as they apply knowledge and skills and methods and learning theory to a project. So for example, I took this community health class, and during this class, this nutritionist was going through and doing all of these teacher type methods, right. And this was my time when I was working in the classroom. So she had close proximity, and did these different kinds of activities. Um, and, you know, scaffold the materials, and I could see that her the curriculum development behind what she was teaching. And I laughed, and I turned to my husband, I said, That was really good. She understands how to teach, and this is what she did. And my husband, right, who's this educated engineer said, I had no idea that these things had names. Like, yeah, you did a great job. But I didn't know that these are things that actually, right, have, there's methods and theory behind this. Right. So in that same way, designerly thinking is being able to apply an instructional design world the skills and methods and learning theory to a project.

Leslie Early 1:54

Yeah, and it's kind of like anything, if you're good at anything, right? If you have mastered something, then it looks seamless. And it looks easy to the people who are receiving that. So your husband who doesn't know of all the work and the theory and the background that goes into creating a seamless, you know, 30 to 45 minute class would just say, Oh, that was good, it looks easy, or something. But actually to make it look effortless, you have to put in all of that work at the beginning. So that's very cool. So how did you find out? or How did you discover this term? designerly thinking?

Elisabeth Huber 2:34

Yeah, so I was in a research class, and it just came up in one of the journal article that I read. And, you know, I followed the citation hole, basically, right? And read all these articles about new instructional designers and having design early thinking and how the number one, I guess you could say, like key to success in instructional design is being able to think and have designerly thinking like a designer. And there I was, like thinking, am I thinking this way? Do I have these thought processes already? And at that point, I did. But I was trying to figure out like, Where? How are my thought processes coming from k 12? similar or different? And how do these kind of translate?

So like, when we're when I'm thinking about designrly thinking there's also a word or term that's often used, as known as designerly tools, meaning there's tools that designers use, that don't have one single purpose. And it's not a it's not prescriptive, right. It's not, here's the tool that you're going to do. It's the designer coming in with their design, early thinking and knowledge and applying and using this tool in a unique way that engages learners. So like designerly thinking, uses designerly tools, right? Those are the kind of two I guess, new vocabulary kind of term.

Leslie Early 4:03

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And it's interesting that they're taking the noun designer, and then you know, kind of implying all the things and all the skill sets that a designer does or has, and then adding this Li onto the end of it. Now it's an adverb. So it's like doing these things in the way of a designer, which is exactly I mean, design. Design is important, I think to almost every part of life, but especially to somebody who is in education or I guess training in the corporate world, but there is a method to the madness there is there is there is a way to make things. Line up well and make sense and again, something well designed again, looks seamless looks intutive looks like 100% whole, like, you're not seeing any of like, the like, what am I trying to say? Not expressing myself? Well, but

Elisabeth Huber 5:10

I don't even notice. Right? Yeah, exactly. don't notice because it's so good. Yeah, so like you I mean, at least with like graphic design, you notice bad graphic design. But if the graphic design is good, you don't even notice because you shouldn't because it's, it's right seamlessly integrated. Basic. That's a good word for it. But

Leslie Early 5:28

it's almost invisible to be really good at it. It's almost invisible. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Elisabeth Huber 5:33

So when I was like, in my, in my master's program, right there, we had this learning theory class. And then later we had this like, instructional design. 101, basically type class, right? And so there I was after, like hearing this term design early thinking. And I was thinking like, why aren't we viewing more examples of good design and piecing those out? Right. So I felt like, if I could look at good elearning, and say, hey, these are the methods, the models, the the background that this instructional designer used, then I myself was prepared to say, I can think like a designer, I have designerly thinking because I can identify these models. And I can piece apart good elearning

Leslie Early 6:12

Oh, my gosh, gracious, sitting on my hands trying not to interrupt you. Because yes, yes, yes. I'm finishing up my master's right now in learning, design and technology. And I wish I had had the chance to just see examples. Like, there were no examples, like, I really appreciated that I was doing project based learning and trying to apply these things on my own. But why do I have to reinvent the wheel? Like, why can't I see examples of good design? And this is like, I think as educators to you know, former educators, my teacher brain is also like, well, this is weird. This is not how we teach math. This is not how we teach reading and writing. Like, where are the examples, you can't expect somebody to just know what what the right way to do something is if they've never seen it never thought about it critically, you know, like, never, never had a chance to even analyze what makes this good or bad design. So I'm percent with you on that.

Elisabeth Huber 7:23

Yeah, absolutely. And the same with my program, we haven't had any elearning design examples I like I'm halfway through. And at this point, all the examples I've seen are things that I have created as part of a class, or like, on my own researching and finding things that I'm perfectly capable of, you know, looking at, like articulate hero challenges and looking at different things that they're doing. But I would love it, if there was just an assignment where it was make some observations have some inquiry, we've learned these theories, where are they present in this design? Right. Um, and I think there's also like, in instructional design, right, there's these kind of two roles, and one is the designerly thinking role. And then there's also like this developer developer role. And for me, I think that I separate those, like, you can use designerly thinking during development. But when I think of developing captivate or storyline, part of me thinks, part of me kind of compares it to like, a monkey could do this. And not to say that it's demeaning. But anyone could learn this tool with enough patience and practice. But the designerly thinking like learning these, learning this mindset of thinking, being able to identify misaligned content, assessments that don't target objectives, looking at scaffolding, looking application looking at learner needs, like that's, that's the part that instructional designers so desperately need. And then there's development portion, right? So part of my I'm like, in my program, we didn't focus, we haven't focused a lot on development. And like learning these tools, it's all been on learning theory. And I think they're trying to get us to have design early thinking. But it's really hard to see unless something's built out. And we have these examples.

Leslie Early 9:09

Yeah. And I think maybe that's the missing. I mean, I will backtrack, just one second, I think there is a lot of design early thinking that does have to go into the elearning developer role. There's a lot of like UX and human computer interaction principles that are not easy to master and the people who can do it and also have visual design. You have all of that, like Lucky you. Trying to make it all look really well designed and in storyline is not not the easiest thing to do. But what I was gonna say is in these, you know, higher education, instructional design programs. I think what maybe what we're leaning towards is that it's missing that analysis and reflection component before For the application, like, like, there's knowledge, but then we have to like figure out compare contrast, do some of those mid level cognitive tasks by looking at other examples before just jumping in and trying to apply the theory, you know, because it's like there's a missing piece in there. That I think if it was integrated, a little more integrated, it would definitely benefit it would have benefited me now, I'm kind of going back and trying to relearn that middle middle part to get my application better, if that makes sense. So, yeah,

Elisabeth Huber 10:37

yeah, absolutely. Maybe we can go back for a second about that, that developer idea for a minute or so like, absolutely, I maybe I didn't phrase that. Well, like I absolutely agree that there's this UX UI and graphic design and component to making storyline look good. But I also think that there are tons of these contract positions out there looking for a developer paying terrible, right and being undercut, right, because we're a global economy. And there's people in other countries willing to work for less like on up work and things like that. And a lot of it's very much like, here's this PowerPoint, plug it in, right. And it's not it doesn't have right, though, that deep like UX and UI thinking and right thinking about affordances and constraints and and will the learner know to click on this button? Does it even look like a button, right? But like that's, and that's part of like having that designerly mindset is like being able to know how to apply that. But I like I feel like I so often see people who do the captivate and do the storyline, but don't have the mindset behind it, that makes it so successful. So I guess it kind of like leads to this conversation of what's more important is an emphasis on tools more important in a program or an emphasis on theory. Is there some kind of middle balance that these higher ed or even like, you know, these these coaching programs should have for instructional designers?

Leslie Early 11:59

Yeah. And I think, I think what I'm coming to realize in the last few months, as I've been trying to upskill is there's a human aspect that's missing, there's like, there's not enough conversation, there's not enough. What's the word I'm trying to think of? There's not enough interaction between instructional designers like even if you go through these, either a training like an online training, or if you go through a higher ed program, a lot of it is self paced. I mean, you have message boards, discussion boards, and you can talk to people that way. But a lot of it is just like, you read the material, you're supposed to learn it yourself, you're supposed to apply it yourself. And, and maybe you get an email feedback from an instructor. And that's it. You know what I mean? So it's like, there's not like that. I think humans learn best when they're interacting with other humans. You know what I mean? And a lot of that is missing, from what I've seen, and in my experience learning online right now, but that's just my,

Elisabeth Huber 13:08

my, so my program has a lot of that interaction,

Leslie Early 13:11

oh, lucky, you're lucky.

Elisabeth Huber 13:14

I am lucky. There's I mean, they have a Slack channel, where we communicate. And there are weekly discussions that the instructor chimes in on and they do a synchronous zoom calls and things like that,

Leslie Early 13:30

say my program doesn't have any of that. But so what program are you at? Because that's like, good to know, for people who might be interested? Yeah, I'm

Elisabeth Huber 13:37

at Utah State University. Their program is called instructional sciences, Instructional Technology and learning sciences.

Leslie Early 13:45

Yeah. Okay. But even still, even with all of those great things, you still feel like it's missing this maybe designerly thinking component.

Elisabeth Huber 13:53

Now, I feel like there should be more examples of elearning. I mean, so most people in my program at this point, it's a master's program, right, you would assume that they've seen elearning. But I definitely have some classmates, they're like, I'm interested in training and development. And I've taken a class like courses, you know, but I don't know what they really look like. And I'm like, you're halfway through the program, you should know what they look like, you should be able to say, Oh, this is a captivate course, you know, or like, Oh, this is definitely built out in captivate your storyline. And these are the interactions and like, this is how the learning theory I've learned attributes to this, and that's definitely not happening. Yeah.

Leslie Early 14:34

Yeah, I think that's not happening in a lot of programs, unfortunately. But hopefully, that will change as as things you know, keep progressing and moving forward. And I really do think a lot of teachers are going to be transitioning into instructional design actually, the next couple years, especially with what's going on in the world. So it's it'll be interesting to have teachers coming in And getting meta doing some metacognition on. How do we best teach instructional design? So that's kind of cool to think about.

Elisabeth Huber 15:09

Yeah, absolutely. And I think right teachers are coming in with a lot of that design early thinking, with K 12. mindset that can easily be transferred to adult learning.

Leslie Early 15:21

Definitely, definitely. I'm excited. I'm excited to see, you know, I think we're all learning. We're all growing, and it's just gonna keep getting better. But thank you so much for bringing this very interesting topic to That's awesome. Id.

Elisabeth Huber 15:36

Yeah, thanks for letting me share.

Leslie Early 15:38

Yes. And then I will put a link to the article you said where you found that term, you first read that term? I will put that in the show notes if people want to find that. And then where can people find you if they want to connect with you or if they have other questions?

Elisabeth Huber 15:56

Yeah. So I have a portfolio that you're welcome to take a look at. It's www dot Elizabeth and Elizabeth with an S. Or you can always connect with me on LinkedIn.

Leslie Early 16:08

Okay. And you're also Elizabeth Ann Huber on LinkedIn. Right. I think so. I know there's another there's another Liz Huber that always gets tagged that's not use smart people.

Elisabeth Huber 16:21

There wasn't a Huber. Yeah. Okay.

Leslie Early 16:23

With an S. Yes, Elisabeth. Yes. All right. Well, thank you so much, Liz. Have a great rest of your day.

Elisabeth Huber 16:29

Thanks. You too.

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