Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is Instructional Design Theory Knowledge Necessary?

There is an interesting discussion going in the blogosphere regarding whether a instructional designer needs to be able to wax eloquent over the various instructional design theories, to perform as an instructional designer.

Start with this post, Theory vs. Application in Instructional Design: One Academic's View by Cammy Bean. Her take is that it may be necessary, but not necessarily by paying to earn a graduate degree in Instructional Technology. She references online discussions she has been having with Dr. John Curry, who teaches Instructional Technology at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Curry posted his thoughts, which were very similar to Cammy's in his blog post: Instructional Design in Academia — Where Theory and Practice RARELY Meet.

He cites a paper developed by Dr. David Merrill —  First Principles of Instruction — that seems to brush aside the idea that we need to understand in detail all of the theories such as the Dick and Carey Model or the ADDIE Model (hat tip to Stephen Downes for providing the links so I didn't have to look them up). Instead Dr. Merrill proposes that after reviewing the various ID theories and models it all boils down to knowing five basic principles.

To be included in this list the principle had to be included in most of the instructional design theories that the author reviewed. The principle had to promote more effective, efficient or engaging learning. The principle had to be supported by research. The principle had to be general so that it applies to any delivery system or any instructional architecture (Clark 2003). Instructional architecture refers to the instructional approach including direct methods, tutorial methods, experiential methods and exploratory methods. The principles had to be design oriented, that is they are principles about instruction that have direct relevance for how the instruction is designed to promote learning activities rather than activities that learners may use on their own while learning.

From this effort five principles are identified. These are summarized as follows:

  • Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration, the demonstration principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners apply the new knowledge, the application principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners engage in a task-centered instructional strategy, the task-centered principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners activate prior knowledge or experience, the activation principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners integrate their new knowledge into their everyday world, the integration principle.

But returning to Bean's and Johnson's posts, if you read the comments the consensus seems to be we need to be at least cogent of the theories in order to sell ourselves and our capabilities to our clients. This is necessary, if for no other reason, then to put them at ease that we know what we are doing. As one commenter on Cammy's blog put it: "People respond to jargon. And, interestingly, people love learning other people's jargon...Citing academic theory makes it sound like you are putting more effort into it than 'I dunno - this just made sense. Whadya think?"

The discussion made me realize that I may have forgotten a lot of the terminology because I have not used it as often as I should. So I guess I'm going to place this on my list of items to do: Read up on all the basic theories to get them back in the front of my brain.

howwelearn UPDATE: Cammy Beans in the comments section of this post asked what I consider the "basic theories" of instructional design. I'm not sure I can respond to that one. I guess the best I can propose is the ADDIE model without the "E", and if its elearning I am developing then the "I" isn't relevant either.

I prefer to think along the lines of how people best learn. David Pollard best summed that up in his post A Theory of Knowledge, and How it Could Save the World. People seem to learn best when:

  1. They can directly use the skills you are trying to offer them followed by,
  2. Directly observing the skill being performed by others, and finally
  3. Hearing the skill being described by others.

I try to use these guideposts as my touchstone in designing instruction. My preferred goal is the first level of learning described by Pollard. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately in the case of some compliance training) direct use of skills is not always possible so I shoot for level 2 and try to at least demonstrate the skills and provide the learner with an opportunity to analyze and evaluate situations where these skills could be applied.

To that end, in answer to her question what is on your essential reading list?, my top recommendation is A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, edited by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl. This book is a great source of assistance and inspiration when it comes to developing assessments, especially when I'm limited to multiple choice type questions.

1 comment:

Cammy Bean said...

So what do you consider the "basic theories"? What is on your essential reading list?