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Monday, February 19, 2007

Value of Instructional Designers

Lately there has been some talk about what exactly instructional designers do and what value they add to the process. Brent Schlenker in his response to the ASTD Big Question asks, Well, I think the biggest question is STILL, "Why US?". Why do we ("learning professionals") continue to think we have the answers that are special to learning...how it should be done...who should create it...and how should others consume it? Maybe the question is "Do we still add value to the new learning equation?

Over at ASTD's Learning Blog, Clark Aldrich asks Is it possible to have a universal argument, Simulations work better than traditional formal learning programs?
To his question I answered in the comment:The answer for radio, television, video, and computer-based instruction is...that when well designed instruction is created and delivered, the medium doesn't matter. It is effective regardless of the technology. The medium is NOT the message. So, a well design simulation may be better than poorly designed classroom instruction but given an equally well designed classroom experience and a simulation...it will always be a tie.

So it is the design of the instruction that matters more than how the instruction is delivered (a lesson that needs to be learned by many Instructional Technologists).

To me, instructional design is
"the deliberate application of instructional strategies and tactics to facilitate the learning process in a manner that is as efficient as possible for both initial learning and long term retention and that leads to a change in behavior, knowledge or attitude based on defining the needs of the learners and the attributes of the content to be learned."

(See other definitions)

The discipline (and it is a discipline) borrows heavily from psychology, cognitive science, behavioral science, information design theory, and media design theory. However, it is the blending of these theories and ideas into the design of instruction that makes the difference between merely presenting information and creating an event in which learning actually occurs.

While learning can and does happen in non-designed situations, it may not be as efficient as it could be, it may not be deliberate and retention may not occur. Is there value in non-designed learning...of course! But that doesn't diminish the need to design learning carefully and properly or the value of well designed instruction itself--just because informal learning is important that doesn't mean formal learning isn't. We've all been in poorly designed training classes or taken bad e-learning...we always console ourselves with "if I learn one thing then it was valueable." NO!

We should learn multiple new pieces of information or links between existing information and instructional designers (good ones) faciliate the learning process. We learn many things from well designed instruction.

In many situations it is better to have instruction designed than to let it happen haphazardly. This is true for compliance training, customer service, engineering, and even, I would submit, problem-solving.

As Tom Haskins once wrote in a comment:
As long as there are factories and bureaucracies, there will be a need for instructional design methods and practitioners. The hardware/brick & mortar parts of the economy don’t mess around. There is one right answer for every detail. There are costly mistakes. Experts provide accurate content to port into instructional designs. Compliance training needs to get results. Procedures are linear and need to be followed in sequence. Amen.

So, while anyone on Earth can put together some powerpoints for either online delivery or a stand up lecture and present information, far fewer Earthlings can design instruction that is efficient, effective and actually facilitates a change in the learner's behavior, knowledge or attitude. That skill set is invaluable in our knowledge economy...that is the value designers should and do bring to the table.
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12 comments:

BARTON said...

I hate to admit it...but I still sometimes find it hard to succinctly explain what is instructional designers do. Or maybe I'm explaining it right, and people just don't buy it? My views of ID and how to apply it have changed dramatically since the IIT.

1. I think it's very important to learn and understand the ID process, but some IDs try and follow it to a "T" and never deviate. It's a very fluid process, and depending on the project, you might actually want to avoid certain pieces of the model. Marc Prensky will tell you "IDs suck all the fun out of learning", and I tend to agree when every nuance of the ID process is strictly adhered to on some projects.

2. I deal with ID almost entirely in the digital domain, and I mix my ID knowledge with what people are rapidly calling "experience design". The URL escapes me now, but "experience designer" is projected to be one of the hottest jobs in 5 years. This means different things to different people, but to me, it means merging what I know about ID and learning into a total experience for the end user, that will be both educational and memorable.

I think there's a lot to learn from our game design friends to move the ID field forward, especially when designing instruction for the Net-generation and younger audiences.

Brent Schlenker said...

Hi Karl,
What a great conversation. I appreciate you engaging with me over at elearndev. So, let's continue the conversation here...
To me, I think we are talking about the difference between teaching and learning. I agree with quote about factories existing and needing ISDs etc., however Learning is (and becoming more so everyday) a personal choice. No amount of kick a$$ instructional design is going to MAKE a factory worker learn his job. What MAKES him learn is the fact that he wants/needs a job and will do whatever he can to keep it. ISD has nothing to do with that.
I love Barton's comment about Digital Experience Designers being the next hottest job. Without a doubt...very true. When you can design a digital experience that simulates real environments and allows for failure, and multiple attempts, NOW you've got a digital system where teaching doesn't occur but LEARNING does. No ISD required.

It's about the individual learning, NOT the tools and materials instructional designers create.

When you say that the Design of instruction is more important, then we minimize the importance of the engaged learner. And we remain stuck in the old paradigm of teacher/student. When we are living in a networked world there is no reason why everyone can't be both: student IS teacher, and teacher IS student all interacting together in a networked collective society. There is very little need or room for a middle man in the future as I see it.

BARTON said...

Brent Wrote:
"When you can design a digital experience that simulates real environments and allows for failure, and multiple attempts, NOW you've got a digital system where teaching doesn't occur but LEARNING does. No ISD required."

I'm not so sure I agree with the no ISD required part. I think it's important to understand the ISD process when creating digital experiences that you hope learning will take place in...but you don't necassarily need to follow it. Certain elements of the ISD process are incorporated into all sorts of mediums, like games for example, in order to help the user master interfaces, reach objectives (IE: Conquer levels), etc. It's a very subtle application of ISD principles, but they are there.

Karl Kapp said...

Barton and Brent,

First of all, thanks for engaging in this discussion.

Second, I think some thing that Clark Aldrich wrote makes sense, he said that to have a really good simulation you need the combination of "pedagogy (ID), Gaming elements and the simulation" too much pedagogy and the learner is bored, to much gaming and the learner doesn't learn anything. Too much pedagogy and it is boring. Balance is the key.

Brent, I agree we can't make the learner want to learn anything through ID, however, for the factory worker that wants to learn...the ID person makes it easier or faster for him or her to learn. ID adds an extra element that does not always exist in a simulation or game environment. In fact a pure simulation of an item with no gaming elements and no instruction is frustrating to use if you’ve never used it before. Sure the learner might eventually "get it" through trial and error but in business, there is little time for trial and error. IDers are there speed up the learning process and to make it easier for the learner to learn.

I remember the first time I played Myst, a friend dropped me in front of the computer and said, play this game. No guidance, no indication of a goal or anything. I hated it. I needed some instruction to even begin to play. Once he taught me the goals, basic movement and some tips on how to play, I eventually loved the game. We can’t expect everyone to just “learn” through trial and error and…what if they learn the wrong thing?

I can’t tell you how many organizations I have been in that do not have a formal training program, their people just “learn” from the more experience workers. Well, most of the time I am brought in because the more experience workers are teaching the new folks the WRONG things. The process has never formally been analyzed and inefficiencies, quality problems and mistakes are being made unnecessarily.

Bart, I might argue that without an ID at all, you suck all the learning out of fun. Game developers can design a game so the person wants to play again and again until they “get it.” People want to spend hours and hours and hours playing games…they paid a lot for the game. But at work, hey the goal isn’t to have fun or play a game, the goal is to create product, offer a service…make money. Sure training can be fun and it can be like a game but at the end of the day learning (or more importantly) behavior change has to occur. Employers are not profitable waiting for their employees to finally “learn.” They need and must assist the process through well designed instruction.

I argue that good designers balance the elements of pedagogy, simulation and gaming with the business needs of the organization to create optimal learning opportunities. We don’t make someone want to learn, but we do make it easier and more efficient for them to learn. We need the middle person. All learning cannot be trial and error.

Imagine teaching someone survival skills by just dropping them in the middle of the wilderness and saying “survive.” Sure, people are highly motivated to survive, the person would be engaged in the learning process and some will actually survive. However, with no guidance, instruction or training, many people would perish in spite of being motivated and engaged. In spite of having learned something. In fact, one person may actually have learned that eating a certain mushroom was poisonous. Unfortunately, they may have “learned” it too late.

We have a body of knowledge on how to survive in the wilderness, we know already that some mushrooms are poisonous…I think before we drop people in the woods, it would make sense for them to learn a few techniques for survival. That little bit of “training” would increase survival rates of the over all population dropped in the woods. Adding that training is the instructional design process…taking knowledge that an organization or people know and making that knowledge available in a format that is easy to understand and aid with retention and recall is what a designer does and we need that. We need, not a middle person, but, often an interpreter. Do we always need an interpreter? No. In some cases we can guess what a person is saying but isn’t that the long way around?

Great discussion,
Karl

Anonymous said...

Wonderful discussion. Just a few questions:
1. Students are teachers and teachers are students, everyone learn from each other. Do we still need SCHOOLS?
2. Is “motivation strategy” a part of the ID process?
3. Do IDers help create engaging learning environments?
4. Does EVERYONE (without training or self-teaching) in the world know how to create engaging learning environment?

--a student

BARTON said...

Karl Said:
"I might argue that without an ID at all, you suck all the learning out of fun. Game developers can design a game so the person wants to play again and again until they “get it.” People want to spend hours and hours and hours playing games…they paid a lot for the game."

This might be going out on a tangent a bit..but I think it's somewhat related. Game designers used to design games that people had to play over and over and over again to "get it". Eventually, the industry found that those games were being bought, and abondoned almost immediately (via trade-ins, resales, etc). So now you're in a case where the developers put in thousands of hours to create a game, and their audience sees maybe 5% of that game, gets frustrated, and quits. Add to the mess bad word-of-mouth, reviews, etc, and things fall apart quickly.

I've slowly witnessed a shift in early gameplay in nearly all successful games these days. Traditionally, the first time you start up a game, you have the option to jump right in, or go through a tutorial. If you're like me (and based on the literature, like most people in the net generation), you skip the tutorial 100% of the time. "Bah, I just want to play!" It's the same thing with instruction manuals...put me in the environment and let me play first, I'll worry about instructions later.

Most successful games these days no longer have tutorials. The tutorial content is woven into the first 2-3 hours of gameplay, sometimes via instructional strategies like scaffolding. Think of World of Warcraft, where game mechanic hints and clues are woven into early quest dialogue, and the use of the "Tip" feature that is somewhat intelligent and will often recognize what you are trying to do, and then give you advice (something which the user can turn off after he/she is comfortable). Call of Duty is another great example, where you receive an early mission briefing, and your commander informs you of all the tools at your disposal to successfully complete the mission (and gives you playful scenarios to test out the tools, all optional).

So much the ID world can learn from game designers. At a certain level, I believe game designers are doing instructional design work without even knowing it.

learningbean said...

I think there is still some value in instructional design, and it's not just that I'm seeking job security...really.

Students don't always know what questions they need to ask. In the classroom, this is the role of the teacher -- helping clarify the questions, the gaps in knowledge for the student.

In the world of free range informal e-Learning who provides this type of guidance? Your boss? Your mentor? Can instructional design be applied in such a way to ensure that all the many tools people are using to get the information includes the right content? And in the right places?

Maybe this isn't instructional design -- maybe it's just content wrangling.

Tom Haskins said...

Karl said: "Well, most of the time I am brought in because the more experienced workers are teaching the new folks the WRONG things. The process has never formally been analyzed and inefficiencies, quality problems and mistakes are being made unnecessarily".

To get experienced workers to teach the WRONG things, they have to be kept in the dark. Feedback loops must be broken so they don't find out what happens after they take action. If they get the idea that they are doing it wrong or that there is a better way, they must be convinced that management does not care. This is helped by keeping them in the dark and deprived of feedback. If they start to care about inefficiencies, quality problems and mistakes, they need to stop that immediately and tell no one. Giving management the silent treatment comes easily to the front line when that is how they are treated by higher ups. If the workers can be framed as unmotivated, cynical, clueless or scheming, the workplace politics, grapevine and back stabbing will become so active, no one will have time to think of process improvements.

All this occurs when we are designing instruction instead of creating experiences for the learner. We fall into this trap when we forget everyone is playing a role in a game and are free to change games or play another round with a different strategy. We think the workers need "designed instruction" for whatever they can discover "like a bunch of bloggers" who are making more sense by talking things out among themselves informally. (Thanks for the VERY insightful comments Karl, Barton and Brent. I've got 3 pages of notes from all this). Karl's right there is a time for guidance, interpetation, maps and orientations at first - not all the time.

Brent Schlenker said...

Wow! this is some great stuff and I want to answer all of it but can't. I will say that its a shame that corporate environments are as screwed up as they are...I think that's what clouds the conversation.

"So much the ID world can learn from game designers. At a certain level, I believe game designers are doing instructional design work without even knowing it."
- from Barton

Right on! That's what I'm trying to say most of the time. There doesn't NEED to be another discipline called instructional design when other fields are accomplishing instructional goals without evening knowing that ISD exists. (i.e. game designers)

Please read Raph Kosters, Theory of Fun for better understanding here.

Then I would also urge everyone to read "How Computer Games Help Children Learn".

We MUST shift the conversation SIGNIFICANTLY in order to land on the same page. Remember, ISD was created to support a school system that was designed/created to supported the industrial age/revolution. But in the end, School is nothing more than an institutionalized GAME! When reading the above books you will begin to see the amazing similarities between games and the school system (as well as other systems). A desire to succeed, or some other higher goal is what keep us pushing forward in both the game of school and any other game. When you lose the desire, or no longer see value in the system you stop the game.

Karl Kapp said...

Brent,

I am familiar with both books, and the need for transfering knowledge from the boomer generation to the gamers in fact, I included some of the work by Kosters in my work Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning

However, I write about the need for ID to help transfer all the knowledge of the boomers to the incoming gamers. We need a systematic method and ID provides it. You shouldn't teach company jargon and terms using an MMORPG when a simple hangman-type game will accomplish the same goal. Design the game to match the level of learning...I agrue you need an ID person to do that.

However, just for a moment, let's suppose that you won and all those pesky, domain-stealing, non-value added IDers are out. No more in any organization...or even on Earth.

Now, company A decides to purchase a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software program. How is the salesforce supposed to learn the new software? Some have been with the company for 15 years, some are brand new. Some have used CRM programs before and some haven't. How do they learn, and, oh, by-the-way. They need to learn to use it in two weeks because the old system goes away in two weeks.

Karl

Karl Kapp said...

"A Student" had a few questions that I think should be addressed.

"1. Students are teachers and teachers are students, everyone learn from each other. Do we still need SCHOOLS?
2. Is “motivation strategy” a part of the ID process?
3. Do IDers help create engaging learning environments?
4. Does EVERYONE (without training or self-teaching) in the world know how to create engaging learning environment?"

1. I think we still need schools but they need to be dramatically re-configured. We can't bring students into a classroom, line them up and lecture to them for hours and hours. First of all, that's NOT good instructional design. Second, kids are more and more tech savvy and need to have chances to learn online and within facilitated groups not within the four walls of a school. Gamer 4.0 kids need constant feedback interaction and visual cues of success...things missing in many classrooms.

2. Yes, motivation strategy is part of good ID. It is one of Gagne's nine events of instruction and it is the foundation of much of the work of Keller. So, yes a good designer considers the motivation of his or her audience before developing instruction and designs methods to keep the learner engaged.

3. IDers should help create engaging environments. However, as Tom, Brent and Bart point out, many actualzied e-learning environments are not engaging some times because of management pressure, time pressure or lack of sufficient knowledge. But designers should strive to incorporate motivational strategies.

4. NO, everyone does not know how to create engaging environments and that is a problem, in fact, I argue that many so-called "IDers" don't know much about ID and that is why the profession is in the state that it is in.

There is much ID can learn from other disciplines but there is also much other disciplines can learn from ID.

Thanks for joining in the discussion. I really appreciate your input on the blog.

Karl

BARTON said...

I’d like to take a stab at this as well:
1. Students are teachers and teachers are students, everyone learn from each other. Do we still need SCHOOLS?

2. Is “motivation strategy” a part of the ID process? 

3. Do IDers help create engaging learning environments?

4. Does EVERYONE (without training or self-teaching) in the world know how to create engaging learning environment?

1. I agree with Dr. Kapp here that we still need schools, but our educational system (particularly at the K-12 stage) is a disaster. Until the ‘old skool’ hardheads retire, I believe our schools will probably stay in the current state. I constantly debate instructors who insist “students haven’t changed! They learn the same way I learned, so I’m going to teach the same way my teachers taught me”. Not only am I firm believer that students are dramatically different these days, based on the total immersion they’ve grown up with in their digital lives, but neuroscience is now telling us their brains are actually lighting up in places that have been dormant for hundreds of years. But, some people just refuse to buy into this, and continue down the old skool path. Check out Think:Lab for interesting commentary on the state of our school systems.

http://thinklab.typepad.com/think_lab/
2. I think motivation has to be a piece, but unfortunately it is severely overlooked in many cases. Referencing all the rapid elearning threads lately, when you have a team that needs to push out x number of elearning modules per month, how much time can they afford to spend on motivational strategies? Personally, I’d like to see a whole semester-long class devoted to things like motivation in ID. Motivation is a hard thing to quantify for executives…maybe that has something to do with it.

3. I sure hope IDers do their best to create engaging learning environments. If they aren’t, they are adding to all the bad press our profession apparently is receiving!

4. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people DO know how to create engaging learning environments. It’s hard. There’s no formula either, it’s as much an art as it is a science (and ID helps here: RE: audience analysis). Think of all the learning environments you’ve been in. Is the ‘traditional’ classroom engaging, if you have a sage-on-the-stage instructor? How about a CMS like Blackboard or ANGEL? What about something like Centra or Breeze? Instructors who rely solely on PowerPoint? Unfortunately, most teaching programs don’t require instructors to take an instructional design courses, particularly at a faculty level. I cringe at some of the class experiences our students are getting out there because our instructors have NEVER had any formal instruction on best teaching practices.

I attend a lot of Serious Games conferences, and I heard a great presentation by a gentleman who was a CEO of a games-for-learning organization. He said that 50% of the IDs he hires, he fires. I asked why, and he said some simply couldn’t make the jump from theory to practice with an eye towards creativity and engagement. Now that would be a very fun class: Creativity in Instructional Design. I very much value my ID experience and knowledge, but it’s a very fluid framework for me to apply to differing situations, not the end-all, be-all of designing my learning environments.