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Growing up, it seemed that all the working adults had titles that were short and easy to understand:  doctor, nurse, teacher.  These days, titles have gotten longer and more ambiguous:  policy analyst, medical technician, or senior consultant.  It seems like everyone needs at least a paragraph to explain what they do, and even then, it is not necessarily clear.

The training profession is no exception.  In the old days, there were trainers.  Then came course developers, instructional designers, and instructional technologists.  Now there are workplace learning specialists.  What exactly is the difference?

Like most professions that build things, instructional design follows a process:

For the most part, the titles indicate in which part of the instructional design process they work and their specialization.  The following chart summarizes the differences:

Title Instructional Design Phase Primary tasks
Trainer ·      Implement ·      Teaching courses

·      Facilitating workshops

Instructional designer ·      Design

·      Develop

·      Conducting needs analyses

·      Identifying the format, structure, goals, duration, sequence, and evaluation methods of courses

·      Creating course content

Course developer ·      Develop ·      Creating course content
Instructional technologist ·      Analyze

·      Design

·      Develop

·      Identifying the format, structure, goals, duration, duration, sequence, and evaluation methods of online learning products

·      Creating online courses and support tools

Workplace learning specialist All phases ·      Conducting needs analyses

·      Developing training program strategies

·      Managing training projects

·      Identifying the format, structure, goals, duration, sequence, and evaluation methods of courses

·      Creating course content

·      Teaching courses

·      Facilitating workshops

·      Evaluating project success

·      Advising on instructional design soundness

·      Mentoring others in instructional design


Typically, those with less experience tend to focus in one role:  either course developer or trainer.  As they gain more experience, they graduate into other phases of the process and change roles.

If you are looking for a hired hand to take existing content and massage it into a course, you might only need a course developer.  If you want someone who can a pile of source material and tell you the best way to convey the key information for the target audience, you want an instructional designer.  If you know you have some training needs but are having trouble articulating what they are or what you want, or if you need someone to guide you through the process, you want a workplace learning specialist

At Comprehensive Learning Solutions, we work with professionals experienced in all phases of the instructional design process. Contact Comprehensive Learning Solutions for any of your training needs.