What is design in Instructional Design?
- Is it in the in the outline of a learning program?
- Is it in the approach you adopt to render the program?
- Is it in the questions that you create to optimally challenge the learner?
Yes, to all three!! All these parameters will have a bearing on the learner’s overall experience.
Why then do some Instructional Designers focus mostly on language when they create or review a Content or Program Outline, a Storyboard or the Assessments?
Because it is easy!
Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s is lower-order cognitive thinking. It is the easiest thing that one can do. To make instructional design recommendations, one has to understand the content first. That involves a lot of thinking, learning, and understanding – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.
We have all learned that in order to design an effective and engaging learning program, it is imperative to understand the context – Who is the audience? What is the outcome? What is the medium of delivery? And most important, what is the nature of the content? Is it difficult? Is it perceived to be boring? Asking these questions help us to understand the content vis-à-vis the audience profile and learning outcome – which help us to picture the “learning context”.
Let me elaborate this further with the help of two hypothetical situations.
- Suppose your analysis shows that the target audience will find it difficult to understand the content because the content is intrinsically difficult. If so, you must look at ways to reduce the cognitive load for the learner. Content with an intrinsic cognitive load requires you to create an outline in a manner that will help learners to create mental schemas (germane cognitive load). As instructional designers, this is what we must focus upon when we create a Content Outline or review one. Focusing on topic titles, parallelism and casing is best left to editors!
- Suppose your analysis shows that the target audience is not motivated enough to go through the content. If so, you must think of strategies that will create a pull. Ask yourself whether designing the outline as a series of workplace tasks (as against concepts and principles), will make it more relevant and thereby interesting. Or, will presenting the content through a story, or an overarching scenario add a degree of engagement? Once again, as instructional designers, this is what we must focus upon when we create a Content Outline or review one.
The foundation of an effective learning program is the BIG PICTURE – a well thought-through Content Outline. And once that is in place, an engaging design will automatically emerge out of it. If the design is engaging, everything else is of little consequence!
Just think about this – when we read a piece of fiction, we focus on the plot, the characters and the setting. Of course language matters – but if these three key ingredients are well etched out, most readers will finish reading the piece. In contrast, think about a fictional piece that is full of beautiful language, but has weak characters, and an even weaker plot – is it likely that you will finish the piece?
So, next time when you set out to design a learning program, or review one, focus first on the BIG PICTURE – the three pillars that lend engagement and effectiveness!
- Content Outline
- The Strategy/Theme – Story, Case, Game or Direct Instruction
- Formative & Summative Assessment
ID Mentors has created an online course to help you acquire the skill of focusing on these three pillars (The Big Picture) that are crucial to the effectiveness of a learning piece. It is interactive, workplace- oriented and fun. You may access this course from here: