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.


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. 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.

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