Defining the Field

It is my personal goal to get back to utilizing this blog more frequently to reflect on all of my roles: Instructional Designer, Adjunct Lecturer, and Doctoral Student. Just as I have done in the past, today I’m going to share one of my assignments with the world. In my Issues in Instructional Technology course, we were tasked with researching the various labels and definitions of the field of Instructional Design and Technology or the field of Instructional Systems Design and Technology or the field of Educational Technology, etc., in order to define and label the field as we see it.

So here is my definition and label of the field where I now find myself fully immersed. It doesn’t have the snazzy, sometimes snarky, tone of other blogs, but I think you’ll find it an interesting read.


                Just like Reiser and Dempsey described in the Introduction to Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2018), when I first began my journey into this field, I was faced with explaining what it is to my family. My mother understood my career as an English teacher; it is, after all, easier to define. However, when I applied to a master’s program in Learning Design and Technology at the University of Houston, I found myself struggling to explain what exactly that meant. I explained to her that the program would teach me a mixture of technology integration and curriculum design, but like Reiser and Dempsey said, “Our parents go cross-eyed and mumble something like, “That’s nice, dear”” (2018, p. x).

                My initial explanation was not far off from my understanding of the field now, four years later. This profession is often bifurcated into educational technology and instructional design. As Reiser put it, “over the years, two practices – the use of systematic instructional design procedures (often simply called instructional design) and the use of media for instructional purposes – have formed the core of the field of instructional design and technology” (2018b, p. 8). Educational technology has generally been the easier half to explain and is the part that initially drew me into the field. Regardless, one cannot exist without the other, and both are equally important parts of the field.

Educational Technology

                Most definitions of educational technology seem to include vague references to technology that imply the use of computers or smart devices in the classroom (Best Colleges, n.d.; Top Hat, n.d.). A simple Google search gives the Oxford Languages definition, “digital technology used to facilitate learning” (n.d.). The challenge then is not in defining educational technology but rather in defining the term technology. As Spector defined it in Foundations of Educational Technology, “a technology involves the practical application of knowledge for a purpose” (2016, p. 5). I would consider a piece of poster paper as much educational technology as the DuoLingo app. Technology is not and should not be limited to hardware and software. Even the definition from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology uses the phrase “appropriate technological process and resources” (AECT Definition and Terminology Committee, 2008, p. 1), putting the focus not on the software or hardware but on the processes involved.

Instructional Design

                Once we have defined technology, it is important then to look at the definition of instructional design. The design of learning is what gives purpose to the technology we use. As Kolb wrote in her book Learning First, Technology Second, “Technology integration is more complex than simply using a technology tool; pedagogical and instructional strategies around the tool are essential for successful learning outcomes” (2017, Instructional Strategies in Technology Integration). An instructor can have the best educational technology available, but it is the design that makes it effective.

And Beyond

                While educational technology and instructional design create the job titles, there is far more to this field. Instructional designers and educational technology specialists are also researchers, innovators, and even instructors themselves. Magruder et al. (2019) found that most definitions of instructional designers lack a listing of the competencies required in the position. In their survey of the literature, they found that instructional designers need to be skilled in collaboration, communication, theoretical knowledge, problem-solving, and course design, among other areas (Magruder et al., 2019). Gentry and Lockee described the field as “a practice science with a knowledge base shaped by both theoretical and practical components” (2021, p. 164). Research and practice are equally important in this field.

My Definition

                The purpose and goal of this field is to integrate effective instructional technologies with research-based theory and design to create successful learning. It is the responsibility of professionals in the field to both study existing research and conduct new research to further the goals of improving and creating new theories of learning.


Education vs Instruction vs Learning

                This field certainly falls under the umbrella of “education,” and programs in this area are housed in the College of Education of most universities. However, is “education” the correct term to label the field? Two common labels of the field are those already used in this paper: “educational” and “instructional.” However, I prefer the term “learning” when it comes to labeling the entire field.

                There is precedent for the use of “learning.” The University of Houston, Stanford University, Georgetown University, and Purdue University all label their degree programs as “Learning, Design, and Technology,” as does Romero-Hall’s book on research methods in the field (2021). “Learning” is a more inclusive term than “education” or “instruction.” Education carries the connotation of formal learning in a formal setting, like a classroom. Instruction implies a relationship between an “instructor” and a “student” and, again, connotes formality. The term “learning,” however, is more open to all types of learning, be it formal or informal, between a teacher and student or on one’s own.


                One constant through most labels of the field is the term “design.” Labels that do not include “design” are not using a different term, instead they are simply omitting the design portion of the field (Best Colleges, n.d.; Kolb, 2017; Spector, 2016; Top Hat, n.d.), most often in the context of K12 education where the bifurcation of the field is most prominent. It is a mistake to leave this out. Design is an important part of the field, and it is where creativity and art find their way into the work of professionals. While many school districts employ educational technology specialists and content specialists in separate positions that infrequently work together, this field relies on the successful combination of both.

Technology vs Media

                As discussed earlier, technology is a difficult term to define. Technology can include the software and hardware used in the act of instruction. Some definitions or labels use “media,” which Reiser defines as “the physical means via which instruction is presented to learners” (2018a, p.1), but this field encompasses far more than the physical means. Especially with the increase of online learning, both technology and media are important components of the field, but neither term fully encompasses its full purpose.

                I believe the real magic of the field is in the innovation. Technology, media, and methods of learning all change. Technology that seems cutting edge now will eventually fall into a category with the overhead projector of old public classrooms, but innovation will never change. Innovation was what first lead to the creation of this field, and it is why the field will continue for decades to come. Innovation is the fuel for the technology, media, and methods used the field.

My Label

                This field is best labeled as Learning, Design, and Innovation, or LDI.


AECT Definition and Terminology Committee. (2008). In A. Januszewski & M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational technology: A definition with commentary. Routledge.

Best Colleges. (n.d.). What is educational technology?. Best Colleges: Top Schools & Degree Programs.

Gentry, W. A. & Lockee, B. (2021). Exploring the evolution of instructional design and technology. In Romero-Hall, E. (Ed.), Research methods in learning design and technology (pp. 161-175). Routledge.

Kolb, L. (2017). Learning first, technology second. International Society for Technology in Education.

Magruder, O., Arnold, D. A., Moore, S., & Edwards, M. (2019). What is an ID? A survey study. Online Learning23(3), 137–160.

Oxford Languages. (n.d.). Google dictionary.

Reiser, R. A. & Dempsey, J. V. (2018). Introduction. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (4th ed., p. x). Pearson.

Reiser, R. A. (2018a). What field did you say you were in?. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (4th ed., pp. 1-7). Pearson.

Reiser, R. A. (2018b). A history of instructional design and technology. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (4th ed., pp. 8-22). Pearson.

Romero-Hall, E. (Ed.). (2021). Research methods in learning design and technology. Routledge.

Spector, J. M. (2016). Foundations of educational technology (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Top Hat. (n.d.). Top hat glossary.

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