Graphics and Instructional Design

One of the responsibilities of an instructional designer is to use cognitive science and instructional design principles to inform the creation of efficient and effective learning experiences that are suited to the learner and context. The content created should not impose unnecessary cognitive load (extraneous cognitive load) on the learners, rather content should be created so that relationships, concepts, and ideas are readily obtained by the learner.

I am developing an elearning module for a new product offered by a corporate client. In this project, as well as with paper-based instructional content I’ve created, I have found that a good graphic is worth a thousand words. For my current project, I used a 4 X 5 table to illustrate declarative knowledge that would take several paragraphs of text.

As an instructional designer, it is my job to create content that is displayed in a more efficient, less cognitively-taxing way than strictly text-based delivery; the way I do that is with graphics.

The role of the textbook; the role of the instructor

woman standing at podium; foreground are backs of students headsThis semester, I am teaching a face-to-face Social Problems class. After the first class meeting, a student asked, “Will the test be mostly memorization of terms in the book?” This question prompted two thoughts. First, do most large undergraduate level classes focus on memorization of terms for assessment purposes, and second, I must make it explicit to the class what is my role as its instructor.

For me, the instructor’s role is to connect abstract concepts to concrete examples/illustrations. The textbook is a necessary tool for introducing students to the language of a field or content area, and providing definitions of concepts, terms, and ideas; however the textbook is just the beginning of the learning experience. A skilled and thoughtful instructor must establish the relevance of the content and use relevant media and multi-media to draw a clear line from the abstract to the concrete- guiding the learner to a depth of learning that the textbook alone cannot provide. Indeed, most of my preparation for class meetings consists of searching for and vetting media that will assist with demonstrating the concept, terms, and ideas covered in the textbook.

For more on the importance of demonstration in learning to illustrate concepts; procedures, processes, and behaviors, see M. David Merrill’s paper First Principles of Instruction, particularly the Demonstration Principle, or his book by the same name.


Backwards Design and Stephen Covey

The Backwards Design model is one of my favorite Instructional Design models. Perhaps I like it so much because it is similar to the Dick and Carey Model of Instructional Design, the first instructional design model I learned. Perhaps it resonates with me because of my training as a Quality Matters reviewer; quality matters reviewers are taught the importance of beginning with measurable objectives and aligning all other course components to those objectives. The Backwards Design model starts with determining what learners should be able to do at the end of a unit of instruction. Next, assessments and performance tasks are developed, and finally, instructional material and learning activities are designed and developed to help learners achieve the stated ends, aka learning objectives or learning outcomes.

Urban legend has it that a popular qualifying exam question for the Instructional Design and Development doctoral track student at the University I attend used to be, “Name a person, living or dead, who would make a good instructional designer and why?” I was a first year instructional design student when I heard the story of that question. I immediately thought, Stephen Covey would make a good instructional designer because of one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 2 of Covey’s list is Begin with the End in Mind. The point is to think of your future self then bring all decisions and actions into alignment with that vision of your future self. It is like Backwards Design; the model begins with a vision of what learners should be doing at the end of instruction then performance tasks, assessments, instructional materials and learning activities are designed and developed to align with that vision of the learner at the end of instruction. Begin with the end in mind, in instruction and in life.

Information on Backwards Design and Curriculum Planning 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People



Instructional Analysis- Working with SMEs


Analysis is one of my favorite parts of the instructional design process. Today, my team and I worked with a group of subject matter experts (SMEs) to conduct task detailing- a step in task analysis. The aims of task analysis include (1) enumerating the steps involved with completing a task and (2) stating the prerequisite knowledge for each step. The prerequisite knowledge is where things got a bit fuzzy for the SMEs today. Prerequisite knowledge in task detailing refers to what the learner must already know in order to learn a particular step. Prerequisite knowledge  is not general knowledge about a concept, process, or procedure; it is specific knowledge the learner needs to possess in order to learn a step required to complete a task.

When conducting task analysis be sure to ask the SME what the learner needs to know in order to learn a step required to complete a task; ask it specifically: What does the learner need to know in order to learn this step?

A New Educational Paradigm

Today, I started Reinventing Schools: It’s Time to Break the Mold, by Charles M. Reigeluth and Jennifer R. Karnopp. Reigeluth and Karnopp (2013), argued the current Industrial Age Paradigm of education includes time-based progress in which time is constant and learning is variable; learners are given a pre-determined amount of time to learn content and the learning outcomes are variable, with some mastering the content and some requiring more time to master it. Reigeluth and Karnopp (2013) insisted a new Information Age Paradigm was necessary in order to accomodate society, including the workforce, as it currently exists- the Information Age. In the Information Age Paradigm learning would be constant and time would be variable, all learners would be required to master the same skills before moving on and the time required to master the skills would be variable as learners learn at different rates.

Do you have any experience with this new paradigm? Please share your experiences here.



Three Types of Feedback

Dictionary entry for the word Feedback
Nick Youngson – link to –

Good instruction provides learners opportunities to practice the objectives (sometimes called learning objectives, performance objectives, behavioral objectives). Practice without feedback is futile.  Here is the takeaway, instruction should provide practice opportunities and practice opportunities must include feedback.  Mager (2012) described three types of feedback–

  1. Adequacy feedback tell a learner if his or her performance is acceptable
  2. Diagnostic feedback tells a learner what is wrong with his or her performance
  3. Corrective feedback tells a learner how to improve his or her performance

Mager, R.F. (2012). Making instruction work. Carefree AZ:  Mager Associates, Inc.

Instruction will not solve the performance problem when…

In a previous post, Training is Not Always the Solution, we asserted training is rarely the fix, at least by itself, for a performance problem. In this post we put forth three questions, derived from Mager’s (2012) work, to ask during analysis that will definitely rule out instruction or training as the solution for deficits in performance. If the answer to all three questions is Yes then instruction or training is not the solution.

  1. Do your people know what is expected of them?
  2. Do your people have the tools and resources to perform?
  3. Do your people know how to do what is expected of them?

When people know what to do, how to do it, and have the tools they need to perform, instruction is not the solution for a performance problem.

Mager, R.F. (2012). Making instruction work. Carefree, AZ: Mager Associates, Inc.

Know Your Audience

Recently I was asked to complete a brief instructional assignment before proceeding to the next phase of consideration for a project. I was given the assignment and asked if I had questions. My first question was, “Who is the audience for this assignment?”

Knowledge about the audience– average age, occupation, average education, technology skill level, interests, and so on– inform the design and development of instructional materials, from the development of learning objectives; the creation of assessment items; and the development of content.

Knowledge about the audience should be used to develop instructional materials that promote motivation by being relevant, meaningful to the intended audience. Information about the audience will also assist with the development of instructional materials at the appropriate level of skill and language.

For more on audience analysis see Dick and Clark’s (2008) text The Systematic Design of Instruction.

For more on motivation in learning see Keller’s (1987) article the Development and Use of the ARCS Model of Instructional Design


Performance Solutions- It’s Not All or Nothing


Performance solutions can be costly and viewed as cost-prohibitive by organization decision makers. Businesses and organizations err when targeted, comprehensive performance solutions are not implemented.  Mager and Pipe (1970) discussed the “hidden cost” that result from failing to address performance problems. According to Mager and Pipe (1970) the hidden costs of ignoring a peformance problem by failing to implement a solution include “inefficient performance. . . lost or angry customers, employee turnover and absenteeism. . . ” (p. 94).

When resources are not available to implement a total soulution, Mager and Pipe (1970) recommended using a partial solution- address part of the problem or implement a part of the solution. A partial solution is better than no solution.

Mager, R., & Pipe, P. (1970). Analyzing performance problems or ‘You really oughta wanna’. Belmont, CA: Fearon Publishers, Inc.


Performance Improvement: Consider the Conditions and the Consequences

I am still rereading Robert F. Mager and Peter Pipe’s seminal work Analyzing Performance Problems or ‘You Really Oughta wanna’. Like any good work, chock  full of pearls of wisdom, I see something new everytime I read the book. A couple things that stood out to me this reading are conditions and consquences.

When analyzing performance problems, the thorough analyst must consider the conditions of performance and the consequences of performance. For example, are there obstacles that prevent a performer from performing a desired behavior, is management supportive of desirable behavior: those are conditions of performance. On the other hand, an analyst must determine if the desired performance or behavior is punished, ignored, or rewarded; he or she must also determine if behavior other than the desired behavior is rewarded: those are consequences of performance.

A thorough analysis sets the stage for approprate solutions for performance problems.