WCET was thrilled to help recruit participants for the Spring 2017 Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit national study on the research engagement and training of instructional designers in institutions of higher education. Today we welcome the authors of the study, Katie Linder and Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, join WCET Frontiers to discuss the results and release the report. The study offers an understanding of instructional designer engagement in research on teaching and learning.

Thank you Katie and Mary Ellen!

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

About a year ago, staff members from the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit began to facilitate conference sessions on methods for conducting research on teaching and learning.

We were both surprised and pleased to have many instructional designers attend these sessions. They asked insightful questions and were clearly engaged in partnerships with faculty members and subject matter experts to conduct research on teaching and learning.

It was the instructional designers in the audiences of these presentations that first planted the seed for our national study on the research preparation and engagement of instructional designers.

A total of 311 instructional designers nationwide completed a 60-item survey to help us better understand both their experience levels with teaching and learning research and their current involvement in academic research projects. The following is a summary of the five key findings from this study. The full report can be downloaded from the Ecampus Research Unit website.

Many instructional designers want to collaborate on teaching and learning research

Instructional designers were asked about the level of interest they had in engaging in a range of research tasks. More than three-quarters (75.9%) indicated “moderate” or “high” interest in collaborating on research, while large percentages indicated “moderate” or “high” interest in disseminating results (69.8%), reading/summarizing literature (69.1%), writing up results (65.9%), and analyzing data (64.7%).

Respondents expressed their interest in collaboration with comments such as:

“Any opportunity to collaborate during a research project or experience mentoring with research experts is valuable to IDs (instructional designers).”

Faculty don’t often think of me as someone to collaborate with on research projects, although I am very interested and open to the possibilities.”

Many instructional designers feel under-prepared to engage in research

The survey asked questions about the instructional designers’ formal education in research design and methodology. More than half of the respondents (52.1%) did not take any research design or methodology courses as undergraduates.

Respondents were asked to describe the research methods and designs that were emphasized in their instructional design training. While 29% reported not having any training, about 24% described training in broad methods (i.e. quantitative, qualitative methods) with only 17% reporting training in specific methods (i.e. surveys, focus groups).

Between 36% and 64% of respondents indicated they had “low confidence” in their ability to complete six specific research tasks. These six tasks included choosing an appropriate statistical test to analyze data (64.3%); cleaning data (60.5%); validating a survey instrument (58.2%); using data for archival research purposes (52.1%); coding qualitative data (44.1%); and completing IRB paperwork (36.7%).

Respondents expressed their lack of preparation with comments similar to the following:

I don’t feel prepared, entirely, to conduct research. I wish I had more training.”

“I have ideas for research projects that will contribute to the body of knowledge in my field, but I don’t know how to get started.”

A large number of instructional designers are engaging in research collaborations

The majority of respondents (56.6%) had collaborated to conduct research on teaching and learning in the past year. However, slightly less than one-quarter of instructional designers have research on teaching and learning in their job descriptions. Slightly more than one-fifth of survey respondents are evaluated on their engagement in research on teaching and learning (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Inclusion of Research on Teaching and Learning in Instructional Designers’ Job Descriptions and Performance Evaluations
Figure 1: Inclusion of Research on Teaching and Learning in Instructional Designers’ Job Descriptions and Performance Evaluations

Respondents’ comments included ones like the following:

“I would be doing way more of this because I think it is interesting and fun but it isn’t an explicit part of my role and therefore is difficult to prioritize.”

Instructional designers face obstacles when attempting to engage in research

Respondents were asked about the barriers they encounter when conducting research on teaching and learning in their work as instructional designers. Figure 2 shows the top seven categories of barriers.

The most frequently mentioned barrier was time: finding or having enough time to do research. The second most frequent was collaboration barriers such as finding faculty to collaborate with or having their abilities underestimated.

Other respondents described not having research as part of their job description; not having enough training; logistical barriers such as having difficulty accessing data; lack of institutional commitment, including not being seen as researchers by their supervisors or other institutional leaders; and a lack of support and mentoring.

Figure 2: Instructional Designers’ Perceived Barriers to Research on Teaching and Learning Note. N=185.
Figure 2: Instructional Designers’ Perceived Barriers to Research on Teaching and Learning Note. N=185.

The majority of instructional designers think research would enhance their credibility

The majority of respondents (68.8%) indicated that knowledge in research design and methods enhances their work “quite a bit” or “a great deal” with an additional 25.1% of respondents indicating that it “somewhat” enhances their work.

About 80% indicated that the broader academic community and faculty/subject matter experts perceived instructional designers as more credible when they conduct research on teaching and learning (see Table 1). Between 62% and 80% of the respondents indicated that almost all categories of stakeholders perceive them as more credible when conducting research.


N %
Institutional leadership 193 62.1%
Direct supervisor 197 63.3%
Faculty / SME 247 79.4%
Peers within institution 213 68.5%
Peers outside of institution 229 73.6%
Broader academic community 249 80.1%
Corporate partners / vendors 133 42.8%

Table 1: Instructional Designers’ Perceptions of Whether Stakeholders Assign Credibility Based on Engagement in Research

The following quotes illustrate some of the key findings of this study:

“I have a high personal interest in participating in research but my current role is that of service and support only. As such, I am not seen as a viable candidate to assist in any research project. I am hoping to pursue a terminal degree in the near future and that, hopefully, will open more doors for research, publication, and presentation.”

“I strongly believe that research should be included as an expectation in the ID job description and role, even at a Master’s degree level. This would encourage IDs to collaborate with each other and with faculty and get published, which will help with the legitimization and increased status of the role.”

 The study informed changes at Oregon State University

The results of our study have led to changes at Oregon State Ecampus for our own instructional designers. We now offer additional training for our instructional designers, when desired, in research-related skills, and we have incorporated our instructional designers into a research fellows program housed in the Ecampus Research Unit. We look forward to seeing how these changes help our instructional designers engage in teaching and learning research at Oregon State University.

For more information, see the full report.

About the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit: The OSU Ecampus Research Unit makes research actionable through the creation of evidence-based resources related to effective online teaching, learning and program administration. The OSU Ecampus Research Unit is part of OSU’s Division of Extended Campus, which houses Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s top-ranked online education provider. ecampus.oregonstate.edu/research.

Mary Ellen Dello Stritto


Mary Ellen Dello Stritto
Assistant Director of Research
Oregon State University Extended Campus




Linder headshot


Kathryn Linder
Research Director
Ecampus, Oregon State University






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