Should Learning Designers Learn to Code? [Poll]


To code or not to code, that is the question for Learning Designers in the new multi-device world we live in.

Lately, I have been reading a whole lot about the advantages and disadvantages of learning how to code. And by coding, I don’t just mean learning Objective C for developing an iOS app, or Java for an Android app, etc. I also mean learning Python, Ruby, and HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 for Responsive Design, as well as any other language for that matter.

There are many people in Instructional Design, who may dismiss coding altogether with the argument that we have excellent WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) rapid eLearning tools that do a great job at developing learning with little to no coding necessary and that are mostly based on the ubiquity of PowerPoint.

I completely see this question from their perspective, but I would argue that we live in a new computing era where traditional slide-based eLearning is no longer enough.

Long gone are the days when learning designers could make fairly accurate assumptions about the computers and screen resolutions learners would use to access their learning.

Before the rise of mobile, 1024 x 768 resolution was the sweet spot for developing web content for most audiences according to this site:

How times have changed since then. Whenever I teach my workshop on designing mLearning, I always point to this site as a way to illustrate the current state of mLearning resolutions: and and as a way to build a case for why responsive design makes sense in mobile learning design.

My point is that while there are learning design tools out there that can help us repurpose our Desktop-based eLearning for specific devices like the iPad, at some point you realize there’s much work to be done if you want to deliver your learning across multiple devices.

The other thing to keep in mind as you explore the mLearning landscape, unlike before, today we can no longer control what devices learners will use to access our learning.

And these are all reason why I strongly believe Learning Designer should learn how to code.

What do you think? Please Vote!

Should Learning Designers Learn to Code?

  • Yes (feel free to elaborate by commenting below) (68%, 75 Votes)
  • No (feel free to elaborate by commenting below) (32%, 35 Votes)

Total Voters: 110

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  • I voted no, although that doesn’t mean that I don’t think they should. I just don’t feel it is a important as strengthening one’s design and pedagogy skills. I am a developer for more then 20 years, and decided that I’d like to venture into educational product design. To think that I’d be able to just read a couple of books, maybe join a coursera course and then call myself an expert in educational design is not fair to the industry. Instead i decided to take 5 years out of my life and get a graduate degree in designing digital media for learning environments. The same goes the other way around. If you are an educational designer, thinking that you would be able to create an enterprise level application with very little effort is completely not the case. Although there are some “unicorns” out there, most likely a novice will spend most of their time going in circles. Instead, what I tell non-programming students is to be the very best designer they can, and never allow their lack of knowledge in “any” field influence their design choices. That just create unintentional mediocrity and in contrast to innovation. Instead go to Meetups and network with a multidisciplinary, like minded group to leverage each other’s strengths. That being said, as a designer you need to tell a compelling story to get buy in from a developer, and know some basic lingo like what is responsive design is helpful. For this reason, beefing up your prototyping ability in Keynote, or other clickable wireframe applications out there might help with this, and allow you much more freedom to design what you feel is right, not what you feel you might be able to code.

    • pshemo

      I agree with Alex, and believe that as it may be helpful it is not necessary. The key is actually providing designers with tools having sufficient expressiveness and being simple at the same time. In class such tool used to be PowerPoint for a long time. There was no need for coding yet it was possible to make some extensions if the designer was proficient in VB. I think such tools are needed nowadays in the context of e- and m-learning. And this is the challenge for the next few years for developers.

  • Kenn Gorman

    Yes – there is always going to be some little “tweek” that you will want to do to your subject or class or page…the only way to do this is to code it. If you really want to make a unique and original learning environment, you have to add your own pieces.

  • Ara ohanian

    The answer is yes and no. Everyone should focus on providing the best value they can – that means you are doing the best for your organization and you’re developing yourself in the best way. My experience as the leader of a successful international tech company is that the difference in productively between a good coder and a mediocre one can be as much as tenfold. I see no advantage to the individual or the organization forcing someone to code if it’s not their natural bent. Rather, allow them to flourish, add value, and develop themselves by pursing the side of the learning design role which best fits their talents.

  • craigwiggins

    yes, but only as a matter of having some understanding of what can be done and how.
    also, sometimes there’s no one to help you build a prototype of what you want to see in this world – sometimes you have to tinker to be able to show people the value of your ideas. coding is building, and building is understanding for everyone involved.


    Being relatively new to elearning (2 years starting with Captivate 5.1), as much as I don’t want to learn to code, I can see needing HTML5 becoming a necessity with as the mobile market grows, While the authoring tools may outgrow the need to code (similar to fewer requests to know flash as Captivate and Articulate have evolved, it seems that there is a correlation between a new technology and coding requirements.

  • I vote yes. It’s important to at least have context on what it is like to be a coder. Being knowledgable about the medium and the technical constraints is important. You don’t necessarily need to be a coding master, but having a baseline of knowledge can really serve you well in designing for and collaborating with developers.

  • I’d say “a little code” is the minimum and ID should know. Just enough to be able to work well with a programmer (not as easy as it seems). A good working relationship with a programmer is amazing! And enough to be able to hire a programmer, and tweak a programers code a little bit with their guidance.

    Ideally, I’d say a strong YES! But the thing is the time and the focus it takes. At least for me. I can only do so much and end up managing and designing more as I work with programmers in IT. But believe me, if I had a magic wand, I’d instantly make myself a 10x coder, not to mention converting 10 pound so fat into muscle and the ability to be happy on 4 hours of sleep a night. And a trust fund just to take the pressure off of retirement savings.

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