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This post is inspired by a profound essay from Mike Caulfield called Design Patterns and the Coming Revolution in Course Design. It’s the text of his keynote address at the Northwest eLearning conference earlier this week. While Mike’s examples come from the arena of academic course design, instructional designers and learning consultants in the corporate world will recognize the issues and relate to the recommendations. I urge you read Mike’s post before continuing with this one. Get a cup of coffee first; it’s a long one – but worth every word.

Thanks for coming back… here’s why I’m so excited about Mike’s propositions:

The need for a pattern book

I am sometimes bothered by the way we can block-copy design ideas from one context to another, resulting in same-same course designs that lose something in the translation. Since I am educated in adult learning theory and research, I have always recommended that designers get solid grounding in the theory and research around how learning works so that they can make more informed decisions about design. I can see, though, that documenting design patterns and using these as guideposts for course design is a fabulous idea.

Patterns translate key principles from adult learning into clear recommendations. Folks like Julie Dirksen, Karl Kapp, Michael Allen, and Ruth Clark (references below) have done some of this translation work for people in L&D, but I don’t think they quite constitute design patterns as Mike describes them.  I’ll have to check out the book that Mike mentions,Technology-Enhanced Learning: Design Patterns and Pattern Languages, edited by Goodyear and Retalis.

We need a design pattern book for our work. I’ve no idea how to create that, but I’ll be noodling on it for quite a while. As I think about it, it feels like a herculean task. There may be too many if-then’s (or when… therefore…’s) that form the foundation of design. And if you do create a pattern book, would it be too big to be really useful? You’d have to categorize the patterns, I think. But I bet it would be more useful than reading and trying to apply a textbook on learning theory. (Don’t tell my adult learning students I said that.)

The design process

Another aspect of Mike’s post that resonated with me was the analogy between course design and music composition. He says, “When you work solo on multi-track, as I do, and you are scoring 5 to 20 instruments you become acutely aware that each decision you make constrains you further. As you progress, there really are limited ways these things can fit together.”

I have come to the point where I describe design as a set of decisions (audience, objectives, content, delivery method, activities, and structure). These decisions can’t be made in a linear fashion because each decision imposes constraints and opportunities for the other decisions. There are many different ways to finalize the decisions that will work, and some that simply won’t work. The music analogy is truly applicable. While you are composing/designing, you constantly adjust your decisions to ensure they continue to blend together as a whole. There are limited ways these things fit together, but there are multiple ways that would produce a pleasing piece.

Design Decisions

This insight is timely because next week, I’m working on the design process section of my Learning Environments by Design book. Designing a learning environment isn’t as constrained as designing a course – it’s a much more emergent, ongoing process. I want to be sure I communicate that eve though you might need a vision to launch an environment, it will morph and change over time – perhaps more like an improvised jazz piece.

Design Processes 10-25-14

Thanks to Mike, then, I’ll have lots to think about – as I am designing courses and learning environments – and as I am helping others to develop their design skills. Comments welcome!

 

Books referenced above: Julie Dirkson’s Design for How People Learn, Karl Kapp’s The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, Michael Allen’s Designing Successful e-Learning, and Ruth Clark’s e-Learning and the Science of Instruction.

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The following is truly a work in progress, and I’d be happy to hear comments…

Last weekend, I completely redesigned the way I teach “what is design?” for my advanced instructional design course, and we had two sessions on the subject this week (which went pretty well).   Nonetheless, I’m still mulling over how to best explain this “inside your head” process.

“Design” is a bit of a slippery concept, and I’ve taken to describing it as the result of a number of decisions made in the context of your overall project. 

Designing involves decisions regarding targeted audience, goals and objectives, scope and content, delivery methods, techniques and activities, and structure and timing.  While it might appear that these decisions are made in a linear fashion, they are in practice made through a kind-of balancing act wherein the designer thinks through the consequences and risks of each decision, adjusting here and there until he or she is satisfied that a solid design has been outlined. 

In addition to balancing all these decisions against one another, the designer also needs to consider other factors like cost, time to launch, capabilities of facilitators and developers, logistical possibilities and limitations, and preferences of designers, facilitators, and clients.  All of this must be underpinned by a deep understanding of adult learning and how to promote it in the environment that your learners work in every day.

Slippery concept indeed.

Here’s how I outlined the major decisions that eventually constitute a design.  In class, we talked about component design rather than curriculum or learning environment design, but I think the same decisions are made at the “grand” level and the table below reflects both perspectives.   Feedback is welcome.

Design Decision Grand Design
(e.g.  learning envrionment, curriculum)
Component Design
(e.g. course, learning resources)
Audience(Who) Who is the audience?

How might the audience be subdivided (if at all)?

For whom is the component piece being designed?

What are the critical audience characteristics to account for in design?

Objectives(Why) What are the business goas and performance objectives? What are your business goals and performance objectives, and your learning goals and objectives?

How complex are your learning objectives?

Content(What) What knowledge and skill areas need to be “covered”?

What aspects of these topics are in scope and out of scope?

What information, procedures, skill models, etc. will be shared with learners?

What is in scope and out of scope for the component?

Delivery Method(Where) What delivery methods will best accommodate the needed techniques, the overall environment, and learner preferences?

What is the entry interface (e.g. learning suite, LMS, web site)?

How are you going to deliver your component?

What tools will be used to develop materials?

Techniques and Activities(How) What techniques will best support the learning you are trying to promote? What techniques will best contribute to the achievement of your objectives?

What is the high level design of the activities?

Structure and Timing(When) What aspects of the learning need to be self-directed (pulled) vs need to be instructed (pushed)?

What apects of the learning need to be organized vs. what aspects can be available as needed?

Is there an overall arc or specific order to the learning?

How will the learning be tied together across multiple components or courses (thematically, graphically)?

What is the intended overall duration of the grand scheme? 

How do we organize the delivery of the components?  

How do modules break down within a component?

What order will the activities take (and does it matter)?

How do we represent the content (graphics, sound)?

What will materials look like (graphics, package)?

How long will it take to complete individual activities or components?

What is the intended overall duration of the component? 

 

Here are some of the things I’m still grappling with…

The “theme” decision.  I originally had a seventh design decision that I called “theme” but it felt a bit out of place especially when I realized I could tag all the other decisions with the famous questions, who, what, when, where, why, and how.  But I’m still waffling.  Coming up with a unifying metaphor, a graphic, a mnemonic, or a color and graphics scheme are important aspects of design that may need their own category.  Most of us don’t have graphic designers who take over that role for us, and our success often depends on creating something memorable. 

The structure and timing decision.  I may want to break this decision category up.  The way I’ve described it, structure decisions are about modularization, sequence, and graphical theme (see above).  Timing decisions are about pull vs push approaches, seat time, and duration.  Here are the issues with having them all as one decision category:  it’s a lot to absorb in one category; the category doesn’t align as well with one question (when); and the complexity of the decisions might get buried.

The other factors.  I need to consider how to represent the “other factors” so they don’t come across as an aside.  Cost, time, capabilities, logistics, preferences, and adult learning are critical influences.

Thanks for letting me share my musings – any comments or insight you might provide will help me fine-tune this for the next time I teach it, so please feel free to critique!

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Every where I turn these days, I’m thinking about the instructional design process.  I’m teaching an advanced ID course that begins with an overview of a number of different approaches to instructional design and an in-depth discussion about what each brings to the table.  We talk about how designers use these models in their day-to-day work, and about the ID Debate – the occasional round of blog posts that take a stand on whether or not ADDIE is dead.  I’ve also been reading up on constructivist ID, which has a slightly different take.  And at work, we’re in the midst of a reevaluation of our ID process, looking to get LEAN in our approach to getting the work done. 

With all that input, I’m beginning to think that part of the problem is that we try to conceive an overarching process when it might be more fruitful and useful to break the process apart so that we give each aspect the attention and flexibility needed to get the job done.  One process just can’t handle all the potential variety.  Think about it…

Analysis comes in many shapes and sizes.  Organizational analysis, performance analysis, learning environment analysis, job/task analysis, learner analysis, and more – each conducted using any number of possible data collection approaches.

Design is a creative, heady part of the process that almost defies definition. A variety of important decisions get made during design, including delivery method and choice of instructional techniques or activities. And as we move to more specific detail design, new flavors of design are needed: game design, web site design, simulation design, social media design – techniques that weren’t much in the picture when most instructional design models were outlined.

Development needs to be managed on a case-by-case basis, because these days we could be developing anything – a traditional classroom program, a series of podcasts, a user-populated web site, a stand-alone e-learning program, or a combination of any or all of the above and more besides.  One development process can’t be conceived to fit all of these situations.

Implementation requires facilitation of many different kinds of live events – on-the-job training, coaching, webinars, online learning and traditional classroom-based events.  Administrative implementation requires its own expertise and might involve rules regarding elevation of web materials, set-up on a learning management  system, or reserving and configuring physical rooms or virtual classrooms. 

Evaluation seems to be the one area stuck in place – we still haven’t found widely accepted approaches to supplement or replace traditional models.

So with all that in the mix, maybe we should hone in on deconstructing ADDIE and using our best judgement to tackle each aspect of the process as it comes to the forefront.  I really like knowing the features and strengths of a variety of approaches so that I can consider well how each project should be managed.  A little of this and a little of that may seem at first to be too unstructured, but I don’t think so.  All ID seems to be following an overarching ADDIE arc, but our watchwords are flexibility and iteration. 

The only problem is, newer designers need and want more definition than that, and we need to figure out how to help people become skilled at crafting an appropriate process in relatively short order.  Like all arts, it takes practice and experience to do it well.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am something of a stickler about objectives.  I advocate for a set of tri-level or “cascading” objectives and insist that these objectives be established at the very beginning of a design project.  My logic is that in order to create something that is effective, you have to start by knowing what your client is trying to achieve in business terms (business objectives), the context for how the learning you engender is meant to be applied (performance objectives), and what your learning solution will address (learning objectives). 

But I’ve been teaching a course on constructivist learning environments, and constructivism is a perspective that matches a lot of what I believe about adult learning.  In his book about constructivist instructional design, Jerry Willis has this to say about objectives:

The beginning of a project is probably the worst time to create specific detailed objectives.  That is when there is the least agreement about what should be learned.  The beginning is also the worst time to complete learner, task, and concept analyses.  Such work can begin there, but that understanding will emerge across the design process and will be of much higher quality than information and perceptions gained primarily at the beginning.  Knowledge and understanding will emerge across the design and development process.

Mmm…  That may sound easy to dismiss when you’ve been trained to conduct thorough front-end assessment and to define your objectives as the starting place for the design process.  And I want to dismiss it – truly I do – my friends at work will gasp aloud if I don’t dismiss it and argue, as I always have, for the idea that objectives come first.  But…

We recently held a course review session at work that also really caught my attention on the subject of objectives.  The course that we discussed was really terrific… it was performance-based; the activities were interesting and engaging (and not the same-old same-old); the discussions were designed to go deep; and the course had a nice e-simulation at the end that brought everything together.  There was only one problem.  On the question of whether the course met the objectives as defined, the answer was an unequivical “no.”  As written, the course’s objectives required that participants would be able to perform complex tasks, and there wasn’t near enough individual practice activities to achieve that end. 

In discussions about this particular project, a couple of things came to light… it was possible that the objectives for the course were actually written after the course was designed (kind-of similar to how middle school students go back and write the required outline after they’ve finished the essay).  Of course, if you’re writing objectives after the fact, it should be easier to write objectives that match what you did.  But regardless, this terrific course was likely the result of having a real strong understanding of the performance we were going after, and designing learning activities that would help employees get there, maybe without ever solidifying the learning objectives in behavioral terms.  Mmm…

As I read further into Jerry Willis’ conceptualization of constructivist design, I found that his description of the design process rang true for my own practice of doing design.  I’ve always recognized that ADDIE (or any ADDIE-like instructional design process you might pick) is iterative, not linear.  As such, while I craft objectives to get started, I constantly compare how the end product is shaping up against those objectives.  And when the design and the original objectives don’t match, I’m more likely to change the objectives than I am to change the design.  I’ll add in some objectives that I find I need to address but failed to account for up front.  Or I’ll decide I don’t have time to go as deeply into an area that I might have liked, and so I have to cut back on more ambitious objectives.  By the time I’m done, the course meets the objectives – or is that the objectives effectively preview the course I have created? 

Mabye it’s semantics, but maybe we don’t have objectives when we start.  (Gasp!)  Maybe the objectives “emerge across the design and development process.”

As I’ve taught this constructivist design course, I’ve advised students that we need to understand the business and performance objectives of the learning solution we’re designing, but we don’t have learning objectives in the same sense that we do when we are creating and instructional solution.  (The specific constructivist techniques taught in my course include: experiential learning, reflective practice, action learning, job rotation, developmental relationships, communities of practice, online collaboration, webquest, problem-based learning, simulation, case study, and more.)  The constructivist perspective is that learners construct their own meaning, we can’t guarantee they will learn specifically what we intend, but we can craft an environment that is likely to help them to develop ideas and practices that are in alignment with what we hope.  (I probably just got myself in trouble with a lot of constructivists… I’m sort-of a practical constructivist.)

So here’s where I think I’m landing… 
It’s ridiculous to think that we can nail everything we need to know about a project before we even begin to design the solutions.  The world is too complicated for that, and the variables that influence decisions too numerous.  That doesn’t mean we work without objectives.  Developing a strong understanding of business and performance objectives has to be among our first priorities – they help us to decide whether the project is worth the investment of time and energy, and they give us a starting place for analyzing whether learning is an important input to the desired performance.  It’s an important practice to draft learning objectives early and to constantly compare them against the emerging program so that by the end of the project, the objectives are a true reflection of what is accomplished in the program.

I’m going to stop this post here (it’s already too long), but there are tons of implications…related to handoffs (to my colleagues at work: like between Consult and Produce?!), decision-making authority, validation of learning, client relationship management, and more.  I’d be pleased to hear reactions, questions, and other perspectives…

Quote source:  A General Set of Procedures for Constructivist Instructional Design by Jerry Willis (p. 317).  In Constructivist Instructional Design: Foundations, Models, and Examples (2009) edited by Jerry W. Willis.

To regular readers… thanks for your patience regarding the long pause since my last post.  So much to do, so little time…

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