The instructional design process

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Consider the following hypothetical situation, you have been approached by a faculty member at UNC who has just received a large grant for developing educational materials in her field of expertise. Although the faculty member knows her subject very well, she has never been involved in a large development project. Her one-year project involves working with other faculty members as subject matter experts and coordinating the efforts of various media production contractors. The faculty member has approached you to help her plan this project. Describe for her what is meant by instructional design in relation to this project. In particular, she is interested in how instructional objectives, selecting the right media, and formative development will help her project.

Instructional design is a messy process. It is a non-linear iterative process that includes numerous visions and revisions. Sims and Koszalka (2008) define instructional design as "a purposeful activity that results in a combination of strategies, activities, and resources to facilitate learning" (p. 570). Merrill, Barclay, and van Schaak's (2008) definition suggests intent and purpose when they describe the process as one which involves "creating blueprints for effective, efficient, and engaging instruction" (p. 174). What we know about this particular grant is that it is a "large grant" with the purpose of "developing educational materials" for one year. Furthermore, this project will involve working with various faculty members as well as media production contractors. Given these conditions, the instructional design model created by Morrison, Ross, and Kemp (2004) will be the underlining guide for this discussion. The sections on objectives, message design, and formative development will be written in more detail than other sections based on the request by the faculty member.

Typically, the first step in the instructional design process is identifying the problem. This involves figuring out if instructional design is appropriate. Because the grant has already been approved, it will be assumed that the needs assessment, goal analysis, and performance assessment for the project have been conducted and it was determined that instruction is the appropriate way to solve the problem.

The second step is to assess the needs of the learners. Morrison et al. (2004) suggest taking a look at three aspects of the intended audience: a) general characteristics, or "broad identifying variables such as gender, age, work experience, education, and ethnicity" (p. 57); specific entry competencies, or "prerequisite skills and attitudes that learners must possess to benefit from training" (p. 58); and learning styles, or "traits that refer to how individuals approach learning tasks and process information" (p. 58). For the project, the instructional designer must take into consideration who the learners are. Are they traditional undergraduate students? Are there international students? Are they from Colorado? Depending on the characteristics of the learners, instruction will be altered to fit their needs.

The third step is the task analysis. Morrison et al. (2004) describe three methods for defining the content: topic analysis, procedural analysis, and critical incidence analysis. A topic analysis "is used to define the facts, concepts, principles, and rules that will make up the final instruction" (p. 80). For the project, it is important to find the key materials that are relevant to the instruction. If the other faculty are from different disciplines, each subject area will need to analyze their own list of topics. The procedural analysis "…is used to analyze tasks by identifying the steps required to complete them" (p. 84). Doing walkthroughs with other faculty members serving as subject-matter experts may be a good approach. The critical incidence method "…is used to identify the content related to interpersonal interactions and attitudes" (p. 96). Because in many cases, the objective of an instruction is for students to gain the skills that experts in the field have acquired, the subject-matter expert becomes a crucial part of the design. Thus, it is necessary to sit down with the other faculty to better understand the conditions and reasons for which they do what they do and how they do it.

Taking into consideration the outcomes of the task analysis, the fourth step is to create instructional objectives. Objectives are "…a collection of words and/or pictures and diagrams intended to let others know what you intend your students to achieve" (Mager, 1984, p. 3). Kaufman (2000) suggests creating an ideal vision, or "…in measurable terms, the kind of world we want to create together for tomorrow's child" (p. 92) as a starting point. This may be a good recommendation, especially in a large grant where people's ideas about the means by which they get to the goals may be different or may conflict. By identifying an ideal vision, planning is set at the mega-level, safely beyond the boundaries of the grant, allowing different views to agree upon a common ends or outcome. When this is completed, objectives for the grant can be written so that they align with the ideal vision. One of the issues in working with a large group of people is that, without clearly stated objectives, after a while, people may get off track. When objectives are clearly stated, both those involved in creating the instruction (i.e., instructors, instructional designers, subject matter experts), the stakeholders, as well as learners fully understand the intent of the lesson or curricula.

There are three types of objectives: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. Typically, objectives are written for the cognitive domain, or "…objectives related to information or knowledge, naming, solving, predicting, and other intellectual aspects of learning" (Morrison et al., 2004, p. 109). Thus, only objectives for the cognitive domain will be discussed here. A simple way of remembering how to write objectives for the cognitive domain is by using the mnemonic ABCD. A refers to the intended audience of the educational materials. B is the behavior, performance, or cognitive process that will be demonstrated by the learner as a result of the instruction. C is the condition or catalyst by which the behavior or cognitive processes will be evaluated. D is any degree or criterion that specifies and clarifies the B and C portions of the objective.

According to Morrison et al. (2004), objectives can be behavioral objectives or cognitive objectives. If the objectives are behavioral objectives, it is recommended to state the terminal objective and any enabling objectives that are aligned to those terminal objectives. A terminal objective is "a major objective for a topic or task" (p. 116). These objectives tend to be more general and focus on the overall goals. Enabling objectives are "the subobjectives that lead to accomplishing the terminal objectives" (p. 117). These are more specific and may describe certain lesson activities or procedures that are related to the learning task.

If higher order thinking is one of the goals of the instruction, it is recommended that the objectives be classified in a taxonomy in order to ensure that they are indeed measuring higher level goals, and are aligned to learning tasks and assessment. If the objectives are behavioral objectives in the cognitive domain, the original Bloom's Taxonomy is recommended (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). If the objectives are based on cognitive processes, more recent models such as the one by Anderson et al. (2001) or Marzano and Kendall (2007) are recommended.

After objectives are stated, the instructional design process involves sequencing of content "…in such a way as to help the learner achieve the objectives" (Morrison et al., 2004, p. 136). Morrison et al. (2004) suggest three methods: Gagne's Prerequisite Method, Posner and Strike method, and Reigeluth's Elaboration Theory Sequencing Method. Because it is difficult to determine sequencing without a discipline-specific outline of the content, it is beyond the scope of this paper to suggest sequencing procedures. However, for more information, it is recommended to review Morrison et al.'s section on sequencing.

The step after sequencing involves determining the strategies for the instruction. Morrison et al. (2004) describes two types of strategies, delivery and instructional. Delivery strategies describe the degree of individualization. These strategies can be individualized or group-paced. Instructional strategies "prescribe sequences and methods of instruction to achieve an objective" (p. 150). Such strategies are written to create instruction that is effective, efficient, and appealing. The authors describe various prescriptions for teaching facts, concepts, principles and rules, cognitive procedures, psychomotor procedures, interpersonal skills, and attitudes.

With strategies determined, the next step is to create the message. Message design is the process " to prepare the instructional materials by translating the instructional design plan into a unit of instruction" (Morrison et al., 2004, p. 174). This includes the preinstructional strategy, strategies for signaling, and using pictures and graphics in the instruction.

For the project, one preinstructional strategy is a pretest to evaluate prior knowledge of the students. Cognitivist researchers believe that prior knowledge is an important factor in determining how to maximize learning, or change in long-term memory. Another preinstructional strategy is simply stating objectives at the beginning of the class. Overviews and advance organizers serve to identify relevant themes and content of the lesson.

Signaling is another strategy that is a part of message design. Signaling is "…to design the message so that it is communicated effectively" (Morrison et al., 2004, p. 178). Some suggestions for the project include explicit signals or pointer words to help learners discern the most relevant material. Morrison et al. (2004) states that this can be done through lists, comparisons and contrasts, temporal sequencing, cause and effect, and through definition and example. Typographical signals are those signals in the text that emphasize important information. Paying attention to headings and layout, as well as altering the type will help maximize students' focus.

Using and manipulating pictures and graphics is the third strategy of message design. According to Morrison et al. (2004), pictures are beneficial to understand abstract information and to show spatial relationships. Pictures and graphics such as original art, clip art, or photographs may enhance learning. However, costs effectiveness and copyright laws are necessary considerations for its use.

In developing the actual instruction, Morrison et al. (2004) provide good recommendations. The first recommendation is to make the instruction concrete. One of the major cognitive goals in instruction is to help students create mental models. By providing illustrations and graphics, concrete and shorter text, and numerous examples, students will be able to solidify the mental models, making it easier to retrieve the information from long-term memory. The second recommendation is to control the step size. This means that the instruction should flow from one topic to the other. Some of the strategies to maximize step size is using consistent terminology and making references to previously learned material. Pacing is another issue that must be considered through altering the number of examples and providing elaboration on topics that may be confusing.

Another major consideration is cognitive load. According to Lohr and Gall (2008), cognitive load theory is the "cognitive model of information processing that emphasizes a conceptual mental workload in understanding human thought" (p. 86). According to Lohr and Gall, cognitive overload and underload may both impede learning. Effective learning means that the instructional material cannot over-burden the students' working memory. The use of multimedia in learning as it relates to cognitive load has been researched extensively (see Mayer, 2001). It is important to understand basic multimedia principles regarding the use of text, animation, and narration prior to their use in instruction.

The last step that needs to be considered is evaluation. As stated in the introduction, all of these steps are non-linear and iterative. As it will become evident, the evaluation section is no exception to this rule. Morrison et al. (2004) define three types of evaluation: formative, summative, and confirmative. The function of formative evaluation is "…to inform the instructor or planning team how well the instructional program is serving the objectives as it progresses" (p. 240). These types of evaluation provide feedback to the instructor, the instructional designer, the stakeholders so that changes can be made to improve the instruction. During the development of the project, one-to-one trials are recommended. This involves testing out the instruction on individual learners. As the draft of the instruction becomes developed, small-group trials can help the instructional designer look for strengths and weaknesses in the design. When the design is completed, field trials are conducted. This involves the actual implementation of the instruction in real classrooms.

Summative evaluation "is directed toward measuring the degree to which the major outcomes are attained by the end of the course" (p. 243). Issues that will be considered include effectiveness and efficiency of learning, cost of development, attitudes to the program, and long-term benefits.

Finally, confirmation evaluation is done over time. This is done by conducting a follow-up evaluation (p. 244). Through questionnaires, interviews, observations and other records, effectiveness of the instruction can be evaluated and reflected upon.