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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