Reflection on instructional design

The majority of my work has been in creating materials for distribution online. There are clear processes and approaches that have stood out over the years that help yield a consistent quality in terms of design and content while getting things out the door in a timely fashion. In a nutshell: you figure out what you are building and what it is supposed to do, you gather the content, you organize it, you create a visual design to support the information, you integrate the design and content, and you apply a final polish before finishing things out.

First and foremost, having a clear objective about what needs to be done is important. Projects that don’t have a clear goal are hell and take forever to complete. In terms of instructional design, knowing who your learners are, what they have learned before, what they need to get out of the activity or lesson, what their age is, and their overall anticipated learning approach are necessary parts of establishing a clear objective. As important as the learners, as a designer/developer, you need to get to know your client too. The faculty’s impressions of technology and instructional methods is important. Even if you are confident one approach is better, if the client hates it, your collaboration is going to get no where by pushing a specific approach that doesn’t gel well. So you have to balance your knowledge along with what the client will be comfortable working with. Some strong salesmanship and interpersonal skills will help you bridge the gap between your experience and what the client desires — but sometimes you have to let go and just do things a different way.

One thing that I didn’t think was discussed as much in the chapter this week is a review cycle. Yes, there are different steps of an instructional design process. But, the review cycle is important. You should touch base with your client/instructor on a regular basis to make sure the “progress” really is “progress”. If the changes you made don’t fit, it is much more helpful to know on a week-by-week basis vs. getting to the end of a 130 hr project only to find that you ran in the wrong direction.

In most cases user testing is a luxury that most project will not be able to afford. Ideally, you would run your instructional design past some real students to see how they interact with it. Unfortunetly, this takes time and money that you will rarely have. So, you’ll need to build experience of what works and what doesn’t by reviewing existing tools, auditing classes, and reading a lot of theory/articles/publications. It also helps to build relationships with peers in your field. Be part of a usergroup that discusses best practices. Lots of experience through varied projects and knowledge building will help you to replace user testing in many cases. One other note about working with real students — I think it is important to include a feedback mechanism — so if as students are working on a class or with a technology and they find a problem or something just sucks in terms of them learning a topic — it is better for them to be able to tell you so that you can fix it later. Nothing, repeat nothing, will ever be perfect the first time. Instructional design products should be considered organic — always improving, changing and growing.

Those are my thoughts on this topic for this week. 🙂

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