Notes on Instructional Design

A lot of good thinking has been provoked by Tony Karrer’s provocative questions. Manish and Geetha have also been responding to these thoughts. Here are my 2 cents.

For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to approach Instructional Design in a manner similar to my approach for Software and Database design. There are many parallels including subtle ones as the use of normalization to create storyboard frames or the design of SCORM in an EJB-like framework. It is not oversimplification because both disciplines are inherently creative and have a sound predisposition towards innovation. 

Similarly, development models and tools used in software do have a natural place in discussions around development models in e-learning. There are significant differences as well primarily in the emphasis placed on the user and the use of language, culture and context.

Software design and development faces challenges common with e-learning design and development. One important challenge really is common sense and intuition (see Jay Cross’s comments). However, a bigger challenge is that common sense is really not all that common. Nor, unfortunately is intuition.

Another important challenge really is around time to market / cost, which is sometimes used as a really common excuse for producing page turners, sometimes with just cause, but mostly without thinking design.

Software practices are, however, more deterministic than e-learning – if a purchase order needs to be created at the end of a data entry process, it gets created. The same cannot be said about learning outcomes resulting in actual learning.

One of my pet peeves really is that there are sophisticated methodologies, tools and techniques around not only in software (Agile, RUP, Waterfall; UML, ERD, DFD; Rational Suite, Visual Studio) but also in initiatives like Six Sigma (VOC, FMEA, QFD) that can be effectively employed in e-learning design and development.

However, tools for rapid e-learning (synonymous with code generators, object oriented development) must be used judiciously in the e-learning context, just as Reuben Tozman warns us.

I think the time has come for Instructional Design to devise effective and quick low-cost ways to do the page turners and routine stuff (like rolling out enterprise software training) using technology and design working together.

I strongly believe that technology is still playing catchup with Instructional Design and not the other way around. Its time we did something about it.

2 thoughts on “Notes on Instructional Design

Add yours

  1. Viplav, one of my favorite quotations is from the retiring headmaster of a private school in Washington, DC.

    He was praised for having great common sense. He thanked the speaker for the sentiment, but said that in his opinion, common sense tells most people the earth is flat.

    …And, not to argue too strongly with you, I’m hoping something comes along to eliminate page-turners, not make them even easier to produce…


  2. Dave, that’s a great quote! I have found often enough a different understanding of common sense coming from different people. Sometimes they forget that what they call “common” sense is not all that common really, just what they believe should be common to everybody else!

    Yet another view was Einstein’s who said “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”! And a humourous satirical one has been posted at – “Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense” 🙂

    Sure, common sense could be plain wrong. I would say that is one of the dangers that we may have to be aware of as we approach learning 2.0 through a social constructivist approach.

    I would love to eliminate page turners too, and I really want to push Instructional Designers and corporations away from creating them. The only way, in my opinion, is to create higher quality learning experiences at lower costs through concerted action from both the designers and the technologists behind learning.


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