Monday, December 15, 2008

Back to Basics #2 - Instructional Design is More Important than Ever

Time for a rant!

I am tired of people claiming that instructional design is no longer valid. If something is crap you will not learn from it! Period!

Instructional Design is now more important than ever so learning is enhanced; not left to chance.

In the second of my back to basics approach I thought I would focus on our taxonomies as a profession. Not for any other reason except that they make sense, are still valid and enhance the value of what we produce. I have chosen my three favoured taxonomies and I round the conversation off with a contrast of objectivism verses constructivism.

One of the first taxonomies of learning was devised by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950’s. It specified three learning outcomes:

· cognitive
· affective
· psychomotor

This was the first time that a formal systematic distinction was made between such diverse goals as, learning how to ride a bike (psychomotor), solving a mathematical problem (cognitive) and changing attitudes, eg how to generate commitment to a political goal (affective).

Furthermore, a range of differing learning/teaching strategies could be employed depending on how the learning objective was classified.

In the 1960’s educational psychologist Robert Gagne further developed Bloom’s Taxonomy by classifying five learning outcomes:

· intellectual skills

This kind of learning enables the learner to do something that requires cognitive processing. Intellectual skills are divided into concepts, rules and procedures.

· verbal information

Instruction is often designed to convey systematically organised ideas in various discourse forms such as description, exposition and narrative. This kind of learner knowledge is known as verbal information. The acquisition of verbal information enables the learner to state information.

· cognitive strategies

Cognitive strategies are skills which allow learners to exercise control over their own processes of learning and thinking. Strategies can range from very general rules about self regulation (“break the problem down into parts”) to detailed strategies that relate to particular problem domains.

· motor skills

Motor skills are productive actions involving movement controlled by the muscles. These skills can be refined in timing and smoothness by the learning that occurs during practice.

· attitude

An attitude is an acquired internal (motivational state) that influences the learner’s choice of action.

Gagne also described how instruction could be designed to provide the conditions required by different types of learning outcomes.

Merrill’s taxonomy, the Content-Performance Matrix (Fig 1), is described by Ruth Clark as “... a very effective and succinct basis for designing effective instructional materials.”

According to this taxonomy, for every performance outcome or objective written at the Remember Level, there must be a corresponding objective written at the Apply Level.

For example:

· Recall (by listing) the steps to cash a cheque (Remember /Procedure)

· Demonstrate (by doing) the steps to cash a cheque (Apply/Procedure)

Four types of learning are categorised:

· facts - simple associations between names, objects, symbols etc

· concepts - categories or classifications defined by a common set of characteristics

· procedures - a sequence of specific steps or operations performed on a single type of object

· principles - explanations or predictions of why things happen based on cause effect relationships

The Content-Performance Matrix: An Educational

A Tried and True Approach

Another aspect is Robert Gagne’s work which provides invaluable insight for instructional designers, by specifying those events he believes are fundamental to the learning process. These are known as Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning:

1. Gain and Control Attention
2. Inform of Expected Outcome
3. Assist with the recall of prior prerequisite skills or knowledge
4. Present the stimuli related to the content, skills to be learned
5. Offer guidance for learning
6. Provide feedback on performance
7. Appraise performance
8. Provide for transfer
9. Ensure retention

Gagne’s work and later that of Dick and Carey focused on a systematic approach to instructional design.

Constructivism and Objectivism

Instructional design theories have their roots in Behavioural and Cognitive Learning Theories. The underlying philosophy of such theories is that the purpose of instruction or education is to help learners understand the “real world”. This is referred to as instructivism. This approach assumes that there is one “objective” interpretation of the world (objectivism) and that certain “pieces” of this “world knowledge” are important enough for everyone to learn.

An alternative approach is based on a philosophy of human learning and cognition known as constructivism. Constructivists believe that each of us defines the world (and ourselves) by what we know and believe. A constructivist approach would consider the major goal of education to be the creation of a rich assortment of “cognitive tools” that are made available to learners to help them explore their environments.

Consider two instructional designs for teaching Newton’s first law (ie, an object at rest remains at rest and one in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by some outside force). First consider a physics class where a teacher lectures about the principle to a roomful of students, followed by a series of homework problems from a text book. Then consider a class where the teacher has each student build and test a series of ramps with a variety of objects (to test different levels of friction).

The first scenario has students interacting with information selected and interpreted by someone else. In the second scenario, students begin by interacting with the principle itself. The teacher’s job is to facilitate, manage or at times guide the students’ interactions. With the help of the teacher, the group may form some consensus about Newton’s first law, but the “truth” of the law rests within each individual.

Thus, instructional designers may intend to map a particular reality for learners, but, ultimately, learners interpret the message in the context of their own experiences and knowledge and construct meaning relative to their own needs, backgrounds and interests. Thus, rather than attempting to map an external reality onto learners, constructivists recommend that designers help learners to construct their own meaningful and conceptually functional representations of the external world.

Accepting constructivistic assumptions would result in the following changes in design practice:

    • instructional goals and objectives would be negotiated, not imposed
    • task and content analysis would focus less on identifying and prescribing a single, best sequence for learning
    • the goal of instructional design would be less concerned with designing instructional
      strategies to lead learners to specific learning behaviours and more concerned
      with setting up environments in which learners could discover or develop their
      own theories or strategies in a particular domain
    • evaluation of learning would become less criterion referenced. <

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