A quick guide to understanding Instructional Design

One of the many terms that have gained importance in the past few decades in the area of learning and development is Instructional Design. In the simplest of terms it means development of training material and experiences that enable a person to learn. The creation is not a simple process of developing content. There are principles that have to be applied to ensure that the material is impactful, relevant and applicable. The end goal of learning has to be met, but within a certain time-frame. Therefore, the emphasis is on following a systematic methodology to do the same.

Learning and Development teams in many organizations have used Instructional Design as a great knowledge sharing medium to upskill their employees. There are many benefits that stem from the use of this approach. Here are a few of those that the L&D team values -

  1. Comprehensive and business-centric approach – It has a holistic approach to learning. Instructional Design does not work in silos or exclude the business perspective. It factors it in seamlessly into the content itself. This makes the learning process more relevant and connected to organizational performance.
  2. Blended Learning – Due to the principles of experiential and blended learning that are used, ID allows the L&D teams to cater to different learning styles which the participants might have. This maximizes the absorption of the program’s content by a diverse set of individuals, irrespective of how they prefer to learn.
  3. Anticipated Challenges – When the prototyping takes place and a pilot of the program is run, it allows the team to anticipate the challenges that can arise. This ensures that future risks related to the training program are planned for and solutions already developed.
  4. Diverse Models – ID has several well-established and prevalent models to choose from. Learning teams are in a position to evaluate the pros and cons of each to be able to decide.

There are several models that have been explored in this area. Some of the most prevalent ones are the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation) , Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM), Merrill's First Principles of Instruction , Bloom's taxonomy , Gagne’s Nine Events of Instructions , Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping and Kemp Design Model.  Here is little about each of these.

Organizations should choose the best model that is a fitment to their needs. Some broad steps they should follow in order to decide the most relevant approach would be Needs Assessment and Business Requirements, Participant Profile Identification, Technology Support, Trainer Availability, Budgeting and lastly the type of Evaluation methodology to be followed. Each of the models below can be rated on these parameters in the context of the organization. The industry that the organization is in will also impact this decision.

  • ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation)  The first phase is to understanding the needs and learners which is analysis, followed by the actual design and development of the material including details of how the program will be delivered. This is followed by executing the training which is the implementation stage. Finally, it closes with assessing the effectiveness of the training intervention.
  • SAM (Successive Approximation Model) – This is a flexible type of model which is focus on the fundamentals of ensuring efficiency and improvement through repetition. Unlike ADDIE which is a waterfall or sequential model, SAM is a cyclical one. The idea is to keep improving the learning design through iterations. The broad steps of analysis, design and development remain the same. This model involves creating a prototype and testing it before the actual training program is rolled out.
  • Merrill's First Principles of Instruction  In this model there are five ID principles that drive learning provided there is a conducive environment, the right processes and a core problem to resolve. These five principles are the Problem, Activation of existing knowledge, Demonstration of new knowledge, Application by the learners and Integration into their work situations.
  • Bloom's taxonomy – It is a hierarchical model which has 6 layers each of which signifies a cognitive skill. Typically used by teachers, it is an effective model of learning where there are verbs to describe each skill level. These skill levels in increasing order are Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.
  • Gagne’s Nine Events of Instructions  Gagne’s method is based on the thought process that certain specific mental conditions should exist for knowledge to get absorbed and then retained. The events or steps in ascending order are gaining attention, sharing the learning objectives with the learners, triggering recollection of prior learning, providing the stimulus, guiding the learning process, encouraging learners to respond, providing feedback, assessing their performance and enhancing knowledge transfer.
  • Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping  This is actually meant to be a streamlined process wherein the solutions from the training program are linked to business performance. The focus is on creating simulations rather than theory. It is a collaborative process where training is part of the solution to deal with performance. The concept of training is linked to practicing certain activities continuously.
  • Kemp Design Model – This is a model that is non-linear and is focused on working with the inter-linkages between various components. It has nine core elements and is circular. The idea is to understand various inter-dependencies and apply these elements during designing. The elements are learners’ characteristics, task analysis, instructional objectives, instructional problems, message design, content sequence, delivery, evaluation, instructional strategies.

Irrespective of which model you proceed with, there are certain core steps in Instructional Design that must be followed to ensure that the training has the right impact on performance and learning objectives are met.            

  1. Requirement Assessment – Before you design the program content, the most important step is to assess the requirements of the individuals as well as the business. It can be challenging to combine these two sets of needs but being aware of them and the overlaps, allows the instructional designer to be more precise. Apart from that finding out about the types of learning styles and technologies available should be part of this diagnostic process.
  2. Objective Setting – The objective setting or learning goals are the first step towards the actual design. Determining these and getting buy-in for them, from the process owners or business heads, is important.
  3. Design – This is a critical phase. Organizing the information into blocks which can form the overall design of the learning intervention. In addition to that the tools one wants to use, the props and pedagogy, sources of reference material and so on will form a part of this stage. This will result in storyboarding as well. This enables the designer to see how the actual training will flow and the links between one piece of information to the other.
  4. Prototyping – A lot of instructional designers prefer to create prototypes that can be tested on a smaller sample to understand its relevance. The prototype is also one of the most powerful ways to get leadership buy-in for a comprehensive training program. This allows you to also identify impending loopholes in the same. It gives you insights on what could be probable road blocks.
  5. Training Content – At this stage, the training program has to be actually created by adding the content that is needed for it. This means making the presentations, creating the modules, finding the right set of role plays, creating introspective or group activities, identifying the pre-reads and so on. Some of the recent trends that are reshaping the world of Instructional design are the tools that work with Augmented Reality ( AR) , game-based learning, simulations, micro-learning approaches, social learning platforms and communities. Learning Analytics and data are also making instructional designers revisit their thought processes.
  6. Program delivery – Apart from the actual delivery this also entails briefing the trainers on the participant profile, the learning styles and expected outcomes. The resources that the participants need before and after the program form a part of the delivery process too. If it is being hosted on a Learning Management System, addressing the technology part is important too. There are some programs which have an outbound element to them as well especially since ID emphasizes on application-based learning. The pre-delivery work includes planning for seamless implementation of the program in an offsite location too.
  7. Training effectiveness – Finally the effectiveness of the training needs to be assessed. It has to be reviewed for impact and whether it met the requirements. This is critical for being able to improve the design at the next level or cycle. Many organizations use different ways to assess effectiveness. One of the most common models is the Kirk-Patrick Model. It is believed to be comprehensive in the evaluation techniques it drives.

Instructional Design is not a simple learning approach. It is essential to understand that the principles are also deeply linked to psychology and involve the aspects of behavioral, cognitive and constructivist psychologist. The design of training programs factors elements from these areas such as reinforcement of concepts, experiential tools, personal introspection and so on. In addition to that, designers work on creating content that stimulates or triggers a certain thought process. Engaging the participants when their ideas are stimulated is one of the best forms of learning absorption. That is the philosophy that instructional design believes in.



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