Thursday, January 28, 2010

I’m not dead yet!

I’ve always liked this part of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I use the line “I’m not dead yet!” whenever someone asks how I’m doing. But it also seems appropriate for the recurring discussion of the state of instructional design.

The latest discussion is cropping up on the University of Georgia’s Instructional Technology list service. It began with  a post by Bev Ferrell who points to a blog by Cathy Moore who uses Google Trends to start a discussion about whether instructional design is still valued. Since you need to subscribe to the list service to read it (which is free) I will copy and paste his post and some of the relevant responses here.<>

No time for design? Quality? Does rapid design make ID irrelevant? ADDIE

Bev Ferrell
Moderator ITF

The posting she pointed to is more fascinating for the comments section, which Bev noted in an early response, than the original post. The comments turned into a B***h session for IDs. I highly recommend reading it. Bev’s initial post lay dormant for a day, but then resulted in a response from Rod Sims.

Interesting that this question should emerge again!

I can recall many years ago (1992 @ AECT) when we put "ISD on Trial" - I recall Dave Merrill as one of the participants ... and ISD was sentenced to 10 years Drill & Practice. All in good fun yes, but the questions were being asked nearly 20 years ago!

While 'instruction' is more commonly used in the US than many other parts of the world, the real questions for me relate to how we view learning, how we view performance and what are the best strategies to achieve learning or performance.

What can be argued is that the creation of formal courses, delivered by instructors and based on assumptions that students 'do not know' just miss the point. That is contrary to current philosophical and theoretical perspectives.

Similarly, the growth of networks (not just social) now provides the opportunity for learning from those networks - with 'experts' emerging as the knowledge-need arises. In this case we don't need ID, we just need an interest in 'learning'.

What I would argue is that we need different approaches and understanding of the world in which we live and thus different approaches to enabling learning - but the notion of rapid ID or other fads seems more about making a dead horse interesting rather than a serious attempt to make learning better.

Surely ID, traditionally, is about an empowered teacher and disempowered learner. If that's what you want, then ID is the answer. If not (which seems to align with current rhetoric) then we need something different - and why not? ID has been around for decades and surely approaches more aligned with today's world will achieve the environments we are looking for.

This then produced a posting by Timothy Spannaus who wrote:

Ah, yes, I remember it well. I was the defense attorney for ID, though I think it might have been at one of the last conventions of ADCIS - the late Association for Development of Computer-based Instructional Systems.

Another take on the long-running argument, Rod, is that,in spite of twenty years of efforts to kill ID, it's still here, still useful, still evolving. It was never about "an empowered teacher and disempowered learner."

For a really good discussion of the topic, see the edited book by Tobias and Duffy, Constructivist Instruction: Success or Failure? It gets beyond the typical constructivist/ID discussion and gets to the research and philosophy that drive the discussion.

Instructional design as a formal activity has only been around since World War II and in my mind is evolving. The ADDIE model is sound in its approach if applied wisely. The concept of rapid training design still applies ADDIE, but tries to only condense it to a smaller window. Informal learning is heralded as just-in-time learning, but I fear that corporations are latching on to it as another way to save money by eliminating formal instructional elements.

Bottom line: to paraphrase Mark Twain: The report of instructional design death is an exaggeration.