Faculty routinely engage the assistance of instructional designers when designing and developing courses. To build trust and respect between faculty and instructional designers, each has to realize that they are working toward a common goal—providing students with active learning experiences that facilitate deep learning. This relationship is important as each brings much to the table. While college instructors are highly qualified subject matter experts, few have gone through any sort of teacher education program. Instructional designers, on the other hand, are often highly-educated in learning theory. Given the potential for creating powerful learning experiences for students, a strong working relationship between faculty and instructional designers is vital.

Building academic relationships can be challenging, but there are a variety of things instructional designers can do to establish a strong working relationship with faculty. Academic leaders can help facilitate the process by creating a collaborative environment. For example, things like inviting instructional designers to join a staff meeting, speaking highly of the value of working with an instructional designer, or encouraging faculty to seek assistance in an area of instruction that they might want help redesigning, can all go a long way toward laying the foundation of a productive relationship.

This article suggests three approaches that will help instructional designers build better relationships with faculty.

Get to know the faculty 

One-way instructional designers can build an effective working relationship with faculty is to get to know them beyond the role of instructor and content expert in a particular department. This starts with being personable, friendly, and an open communicator.

While this may not always be easy given everyone’s busy schedules, taking the first few minutes of a conversation or meeting to ask about their day or if they caught the latest game can help pave the way to establishing an effective faculty-instructional designer relationship. With the next opportunity to work with faculty, see if getting to know a little about them puts them more at ease and open to what you have to offer.

Forming that bond with faculty does not always have to take place in a formal setting. Attending campus events such as workshops, plays, or guest speakers can provide further opportunities to establish relationships which in turn break the ice even before an in-office meeting.

Validate their expertise

Talking with faculty and getting to know them is a strategy used to become familiar with their teaching approach, goals, concerns, and priorities. In doing so, the relationship is building while determining how the expertise of the faculty member can be enhanced along with strong instructional design elements.

Recognizing the knowledge and skills in instructional design and course development that faculty often bring with them, and building on that foundation, is another way to establish effective relationships. When faculty feel supported and know that their expertise and specialist knowledge is valued, they are more likely to be open to integrating new methods and practices the instructional designer may suggest. The combination of the subject matter expert’s knowledge and the instructional designer’s expertise in instructional design creates a solid foundation for an effective working relationship.

Ask better questions 

Even before meeting with a faculty member, spend some time researching topic-related options so you have a few ideas and questions ready for discussion. This provides an opportunity to reflect on a range of solutions that address a course-design challenge rather than only having one solution that may or may not be effective.

Truly listening to faculty’s challenges, concerns, and goals helps to further formulate questions and ideas that may best support the outcomes the faculty member has envisioned. Too often, instructional designers act as though they have all the right answers but as a consultant to/with faculty, many times the best work is not when you give an answer but when you ask better questions. Questions such as: What’s the purpose? How do you know you’ve achieved it? What are your students experiencing?

Asking better questions can help identify information gaps that may exist for faculty early in the instructional design process. This identification can mean more efficient time is spent with an already busy subject matter expert.

To get the perspective of a faculty member on what has helped establish the effective working relationship that she and I have, Dr. Tori Svoboda, commented that “When all you have is a hammer (or a rubric or a post once/reply twice philosophy), then everything looks like a nail. I dig working with you because you don’t just have a hammer. You have lots of possibilities, and you’re not wedded to any of them. If I tell you something isn’t right for my students or my content, you say okay and move on. Less effective IDs talk as if they know your content and students and the single right answer. More effective ones ask questions with you and see themselves as colleagues and co-learners rather than subordinates or overlords.


Implementing instruction and collaborating with subject matters experts, the early stages of planning and designing effective learning experiences are influenced greatly by type of relationship that has been formed. Using the three aforementioned strategies can help establish that effective working relationship that benefits the instructional designer and the faculty as well as their common goal of providing students with engaging learning experiences.

Marjorie Bazluki, EdS, is an instructional designer at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

This article first appeared in Academic Briefing on December 12, 2018 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.