Learning design is not a straightforward concept to describe. First, there is the sheer broadness of the term, and in particular the range of expectations that may be associated with it. The wide scope of projects, purposes, intentions, contexts and formats creates a large, diffuse and confusing array of initiative, solutions and technologies. Because the implementation of something that is now well established as the LMS within an enterprise is a major undertaking, with significant requirements of effort and funds, most learning design projects at this point appear to exist in the state that e-learning was in during the early stages in the 90s—i.e., either one-off initiatives at a local level or larger projects, even at an international level, that have time limited funding. In either case, when funding runs out, the project falls dormant or continues at a much reduced scale. In the main, learning design as a practice is structured around the process of planning (a faculty member, online tutor) for the delivery of a learning event (course, lesson, etc.).

The actual implementation of a learning design leaves much room for the instructor or tutor to adjust to the contingencies of the session, the requirements of the learners and other such variable elements. A great deal of tacit knowledge is brought to the situation by the instructor, and where the learning environment has less intervention by the instructor, it falls increasingly on the learners to bring their own knowledge and adaptivity to the situation in order to adjust to the contingencies of the environment. The growth of networked learning and Web 2.0 tools, in conjunction with social constructivist approaches, creates a new expectation on faculty, let along instructional designers, many of whom are still working in the context of faculty in traditional classroom or perhaps modestly hybrid but nonetheless largely campus based educational models.