Monthly Archives: June 2013

Reflecting on Instructional Design

The instructional design process can be a very rewarding one, or it can be a total pain. I am fortunate in that I work with members of the academic profession who respect me. Although they do not always understand the why behind what I suggest, many of them are willing to accept me as a professional in my field and at least try the what.

There are those in academia who, for whatever reason, do not accept instructional designers and feel that we are imposing something on them. They are experienced professionals who have been teaching for years, after all. We have no teaching background, no advanced degrees. Who are we to come in and tell them how to run their classes, be it face-to-face or online?

The article by Shrock (1985) we read this week was a perfect example of how easily faculty perceptions about instructional design could be skewed by poor presentation, bad timing, unclear motivations, or simply unwelcome change. Once the faculty hold a false perception of IDT, it is hard to change that perception and convince them that the techniques being taught by instructional designers, while requiring some additional work on their part, can actually help them improve student performance and engagement, increase motivation and persistence, and raise cognition and higher order thinking skills in their classrooms, be they physical or virtual.

In the business world, it’s worse. I recently had the following YouTube video shared with me: It underscores the general problem that occurs when management or SME’s try to design instruction (or control its design) without a basic understanding of good instructional design principles or even a good sense of the purpose of the instruction. While I might at some point have faculty resistant to hearing what I have to say, at least I don’t have them telling me how to design instruction.

All in all, this has been an overwhelmingly positive opportunity for me. I love what I do as an instructional designer. I feel my work has real purpose and, at least for the time being, I think I am mostly respected for my expertise, knowledge and skills. It is a good feeling.

Shrock, S. A. (1985). Faculty perceptions of instructional development and the success/failure of an instructional development program: A naturalistic study. ECTJ 33(1), pp. 16-25.

Connecting the dots… Analysis + Design

From an instructional design standpoint, I think analysis is perhaps one of the most critical and often overlooked parts of the process. Even when I am designing instruction I will teach on my own, it is helpful to spend time considering my audience, the needs of my learners, and establishing the overarching goals of the instruction and specific instructional objectives which I want the instruction to accomplish. If I don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish, it is difficult to measure whether or not the training was effective in getting there.

The design methodologies I learned are very similar to those outlined in Molenda, Pershing, and Reigeluth (1996). In order to design assessments at the outset, you must have clearly defined objectives and learning outcomes. Also, sequencing requires that you clearly understand your learners, the learning environment, and the task you are asking them to complete. Before you can complete either of these design elements, a thorough analysis is essential.

As I read the article on Anytown (Warren, Stein, Dondlinger, and Barab, n.d.), I was impressed by the design, but I could see the level of analysis that had taken place prior to designing the game. It was clear that the designers understood their audience and the elements they expected to find in a virtual gaming environment. The design team had clearly identified the objectives of the instruction and designed a game which actually did a better job of meeting those objectives than the silent sustained reading times that had previously existed in the classroom, while motivating students to participate. The thorough analysis of the existing classroom problems, instructional objectives, and student needs, as well as the tools available to designers, allowed the design team to be successful in producing a fairly effective instructional tool.

For me at least, analysis and design are two elements which go hand in hand. I don’t feel I can successfully accomplish one without the other. The R/Evolution video indicates that we have a responsibility in the way information is created and stored in this generation. That includes the way instruction is created. In today’s world it seems like everything is open and freely available. Although my work belongs to the university, that does not mean that at some point I won’t see my workshops posted online. I have a responsibility to make sure that everything I produce is well designed and effective; that goes double when I am planning instruction to be used by the professors at my school. To ensure I produce the highest quality instruction possible, I need to follow each step in the process, especially the first one.

Molenda, M., Pershing, J., and Reigeluth, C. (1996). Designing instructional systems. The ASTD Training and Development Handbook, 4th ed. McGraw Hill. Retrieved from

Warren, S., Stein, R., Dondlinger, M., and Barab, S. (n.d.). A look inside a MUVE design process: Blending instructional design and game principles to target writing skills. Retrieved from

The Process of Analysis – Messy Business

While textbooks make analysis seem very cut and dry, in reality, analysis can be one of the messiest tasks you can undertake as an instructional designer. If you’re lucky enough to have only one client, or better yet, to design instruction you are going to present yourself, you are still going to have misconceptions about the needs and abilities of your learners. You are not always going to know what resources are available to you, and sometimes resources you thought you had change in availability between the time of the analysis and the implementation of the project. If you have several clients, there may be disagreement as to the scope or purpose of the instruction.

One problem I ran into in this project was availability of my client. My client went out of town to a professional development conference for nearly a week, and was consequently out of touch. This has delayed my ability to complete the analysis. Due to lack of her availability, I had to obtain information for my initial analysis from other sources. The analysis was not as complete as I would have liked it, and it lacks my client’s sign off, which means it may change significantly if I discover that my understanding of her needs does not match her perceptions.

I do enjoy the process of designing learning objectives; especially those tied to the use and implementation of technology. This particular lesson will involve creation of an ePortfolio for educational administration students. The students will be taught the basic steps for establishing an account either on Google or WikiSpaces and then shown how to set up a Google Site or a Wiki on WikiSpaces.

While the project will allow for some leverage in creativity as the student designs a site reflective of their own personality, there will need to be some general guidelines set to ensure that students cover the basics of the assignment. Students will also want to use good organizational skills to make their site easy to navigate and to make it easy for prospective employers to identify their skills and competencies.

I will leave it up to the instructor as to which wiki site we will use for the ePortfolio, but my personal preference for flexibility and ease of use is Google Sites. The selected wiki will determine the instruction we plan for design of the ePortfolio. Additional activities could include a classroom discussion about what makes good organization on a website, a discussion about the benefits of online portfolios as opposed to a printed one or one stored in Blackboard, and a discussion about how to select samples of ones’ work to demonstrate competencies in one of the SBEC domains.

My Personal Theory of Learning

It’s hard to put myself in a box and say, “This is where I fit.” I have long considered myself a Constructivist, but then I got in among a group of professionals who interpreted constructivism quite differently than I do, where any sort of structured learning environment would have been totally against constructivist principles. That’s not what I see in the majority of the literature I have read on the subject, so on a whole I would say I embrace constructivist principles.

I also fall into the category of collaboratist. While I’m not one of those who thinks every student learns every subject best in collaborative situations, I do think there is a strong measure of truth to the theory. I also believe collaborative learning is key to training our students to work in the flat, global, collaborative workplace of the future.

I also embrace a bit of Cognitive Information Processing Theory. Even though the literature has done away with the term “learning styles”, I do believe different students have different learning preferences, and that much of what we learn is based on our previous experiences and interest level. I think as an instructor we have to find ways to tie what is being learned back to the student’s personal experience and interests, and I believe in offering differentiated instruction to appeal to the learning preferences of a wide range of students.So I guess I’m a mash up. Someone will have to come up with a name for my philosophy of learning. Cognitive cooperative constructivism?

“Footage from the real Silent Hill” Centralia, PA – accidental instructional design

I was moved after watching this video on YouTube. My great-grandfather was a Pennsylvanian coal-miner, so as you can imagine, this video touched a chord in me. I had no idea this was going on.

My first thoughts centered around the toxicity of the steam and smoke pouring from those pipes and underground vents. I wonder about the health of those residents who choose to remain in Centralia, and also about the lingering affects on those who have moved away.

Then I wondered about the affect on the environment. If the smoke has bleached the trees (and obviously done other damage, as there is no visible foliage on the bleached trees), what other affect has it had on the environment? Is it affecting ground water? Animals? Plant life? Is it getting into the fish that live in rivers and streams? Into the crops that grow on nearby farms? How far reaching could these affects be?

Then I thought about all the coal lost to these fires. The last statement made in the video is that there is enough fuel in the mines to keep the fires burning for 1000 years. That is a sobering thought just in light of my previous questions, but what about the cost of all that fuel lost? How many homes could have been heated by that fuel? How long would that fuel have lasted if, instead of burning in an underground mine fire, it was mined and used the way it was intended to be used?

And finally, I thought about remediation. Can’t anything be done to stop this? Can’t the fire be quenched? Isn’t there a way to suffocate it or put it out? Could the mines not be flooded? There must be a way to put a stop to this.

Since I learned something, and since I also began asking questions and critically thinking about the situation, I think this was actually a very good example of instructional design, whether or not the authors of the video intentionally set out to design instruction. I would imagine their goal was to educate the public about the plight of Centralia; something the video does very effectively. Beyond that it stimulates the viewer to further thought and even action, which is a very desirable effect of instruction. I believe this is instructional design, and although it may have been accidental, it was effective in its goals.

Real World Instructional Design

I found two examples of instructional design at work right in my local Lowes store.

The first was a simple display demonstrating the use of Dek-Block Piers from Along with the display, a poster and take-home flyers explained that Dek-Block Piers could be used to build a deck without having to dig or pour cement footings, and because of their unique floating deck design, without a permit in most cases.

The purpose of the instruction was to inform about their product with the ultimate goal, I suppose being to sell the product. It must have been effective, because we bought enough to build a small front porch. I think that from that instruction, two key things I learned were that as long as you don’t attach the deck to your home (a floating deck), it is not necessary to get a permit, at least where I live, and that leveling a deck can be accomplished very easily using these piers because you don’t level the ground below the piers, you level the tops of the 4x4s resting in the piers to which you connect the decking. The piers just have to be sitting flat, but not level in relation to each other.

Another example of instructional design at Lowes might also be classified as instructional technology. It was a multimedia demonstration of a countertop resurfacing product which, after application, supposedly makes your cheap counters look like granite.

This one was not quite as effective, at least in my opinion. While it caught my attention and I was definitely intrigued, I’ve yet to fork out the money to try it. One thing I learned is that it would require going almost 3 days without my kitchen countertops from initial sanding until I could resume “light” use and there was several hours of active (no doubt back-breaking) labor involved in between. Add to that a hefty price tag and replacing my counters looks more attractive all the time.

Instructional design certainly is everywhere, even at my favorite home improvement store!

Instructional Design and My Personal Future

The field of instructional design is an important one, with overlap into many different fields and concerning nearly every industry from education to business to health to industry to the military. Because of its wide-spread influence, it seems obvious it would have a measure of importance in almost every person’s career, but it is of significant importance to me and my future.

At this moment I am employed as and instructional design specialist. My ideology is rooted in the theories of instructional design and my daily practices is bounded by its principles.

My future plans are to obtain a Ph.D. in the field and join the rank of faculty. I hope to teach Instructional Design and Technology in a higher education setting. My thoughts are that through teaching, research, writing, and presentation, I can make a contribution to the field and perhaps impact the practice of other professionals. I am looking forward to the next few years as I make a further study of Instructional Design to see how the field develops, what changes, and what stays the same. I think it is going to be a great ride!