• Theories and Models in the Real World

    In as many job descriptions for instructional designers I have come across, one thing was common; thorough knowledge of learning theories. But more and more instructional designers can’t apply these to the elearning courses they create today. Why? What goes wrong in the transition from theories and models to practice that is so hard to implement? Here are some some reasons that ring true given the modern elearning industry scenario.

    1. Client is boss

    That’s the basic rule today. Most companies rarely are concerned about training. They find ways to utilize the training budget and are happy with any solution at hand. Secondly, they are not aware of the intricacies involved in the putting ID models or ISD model into practice. Some of them agree to what ‘looks good’ on screen. But what looks good may not be the effective or absolute solution.

    Thirdly, all specifications come from the client with no learner and ID in the picture, which nullifies the very first and basic step of the ISD, the Analysis of ADDIE.

    2. Sales pitch is not made by IDs (of course)

    Clients are approached by a company’s sales team who may set unrealistic standards with respect to what is instructionally possible in a given time frame for a particular budget. There is a whole set of factors that are to be considered here. Do we know the audience/learners? Whether we have the right people for this task? Can we finish this in the given time frame? Can we deliver the best possible solution for the given budget? Often these questions are ignored because the focus is only on bagging projects.

    3. Planning issues and Time constraints

    IDs mostly fail to implement theories/models mostly due to impractical project plan timelines. Analysis and design phase are shrunk to a much shorter time frame which is usually an impediment when one tries to incorporate instructional methodologies to produce the most instructionally sound training course.  This is one area project managers should improvise and come up with viable solutions to provide IDs with more time initially than going back and correcting mistakes at the later stages of the projects.

    4. AGILE and ADDIE

    More and more IDs are now working with the technology teams and most companies may not have an entire team of instructional designers for their projects but on contract/ad hoc appointments. Sometimes it is difficult to be able to match the timing and be able to do justice to the methodologies of ISD.

    http://thefourthplane.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/theory-vs-practice.jpgThe FLIP Side

    There is also a flip side to why most ID theories are not implemented in practice. All projects are unique, all solutions are unique. There may be times when the whole process may not be applicable to one but may prove indispensable for another. For example, for many small companies who are building their clientele, clients do not come back and request an evaluation of the effectiveness of the training. Some trainings may just not require evaluation, specially those that only disseminate information and are not directed towards changing behavior.

    Another scenario which most companies may have faced at the advent of mlearning is re-purposing WBTs, particularly developed in flash to HTML. This kind of a project may not require analysis and evaluation because it has already been done before.

    Thirdly, the change and constant improvisation of technology may give the liberty to IDs to go a notch ahead of the ISD guidelines. So why stick to something redundant when you can create something better.

    And fourthly, and this is something I always answer when posed with the practicality of theories and models is that, they are models, that’s exactly what they are. They are a skeletal base not a foolproof solution. They may work sometimes, and sometimes may not. The essence is in understanding that we can’t go applying something somewhere, when it’s clearly not applicable.

  • Instructional Design: Where it all began…

    Never does anything good come out of wars. It would be ironic yet not far from truth to say otherwise about World War II. Amidst all the killing and bombings of WWII, the only good thing that came about was the shaping of the concept now commonly known as Instructional System Design or ISD as we know it today.

    The inordinate loss of life and property and the relentless need for personnel at war during World War II led many civilians to war fronts as a desperate measure by countries like US. These civilians needed elementary training to help them perform technical tasks. These included basic infantry, carbine field stripping, navigation, etc. which depended on the division and role. Since behaviourism influences the learner to a great extent, most of these training programs were based on operant conditioning which postulates that behaviour can be modified by its consequence, which could be positive or negative hence altering behaviour.



    Also known as Instrumental conditioning, this learning methodology was first studied by neurophysiologist Jerzy Konorski (1903-1973) but was later propagated by behaviourist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) to whom we will dedicate more than a few articles (he is well deserving of that).

    Coming back to military training, promotion to a higher rank (positive reinforcer) for strategically managing the division is operant conditioning through positive outcome and increase in the hours of guard duty (negative reinforcer) for disregard for rules is operant conditioning by negative outcome. Who could exemplify it better than the military?

    Why this is so important an event in the evolution of ISD is because it was the first time chunking and the use of learning objects to acquire a particular behavioural competency was implemented. This concept of measurable learning objectives formed the basis of many learning theories and models that would be propounded in the near future.

    This team led by Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1956 defined the three learning domains (Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Affective) and representing their levels through a vocabulary of measurable and quantifiable verbs. The Cognitive domain was later revised in the 1990’s.

    Thereafter, Robert Mager asserted on the importance of objectives and defined the constituents of a quality objective, opining that objectives should be clear and attainable for the learner. Robert Gagne propounded the nine events of learning which actually touched on all the stages in a teaching process.

    And later can David Merrill with his Component Display Theory in which he explained that the instructional strategies highly depend on the nature of the content being taught. It was a two dimensional model of content and performance and defined primary and secondary presentations forms and the higher the number of primary and secondary presentations forms used, the more effective the instruction. Simply put, though it addressed the cognitive domain which in itself is a complicated domain involving different types of memory responding to different instructional strategy, it lays more emphasis on presentation and that’s why is deemed as the Bible of ID by many instructional designers.

    And that brings us to the web based instruction which we know as elearning today. The coming up of authoring tools and the limitless options that come with it, sky is the limit.