I am frequently asked by curious friends and colleagues what my job involves. Most people are interested in better understanding the concept of designing courses as a separate practice from teaching or having expertise in a content area. Others kind of look away as if I am some confusing accessory item at a theme party to be quickly and quietly ditched on the nearest table.
Have no fear, I’m here to help!
At its core, Instructional Design is the practice of creating “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” The process consists broadly of determining the current state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some informed methodologies to assist in the transition.
The history of a systems based approach to Instructional Design began in the 1940s and was primarily focused on evaluating, sorting, and training soldiers during WW II. Behavioral scientists and academics, like B.F. Skinner and Benjamin Bloom added influential data to the field in the 50s and 60s. We got a better handle on how people learn but identified the need for better assessment tools in the 70s – in part because training in the military and industry had little room for error. The idea of differentiated learning and teaching was spawned in part out of what these new assessment tools told us about the relationships between skill acquisition and learning styles.
The introduction of the personal computer in the 80s changed the landscape of teaching and learning forever but we have moved far beyond its initial use as a container for “drill and skill” exercises. The advent of the World Wide Web in the 90s combined with a new emphasis on the individual learner’s authentic experience (as opposed to strict content mastery) opened up the possibility for more interactive and complex relationships between the content and the student and has had huge ramifications for the role of the teacher.
The 21st century is seeing an explosion of internet and online learning. The growth of a global economy, social network sites, sophisticated simulations, and mobile technologies support a full range of educational options from entry level skill development, opportunities to “level up” for professional advancement, and life-long learning from the comfort of your post-retirement armchair.
What is a teacher to do with all of these changes in the learning landscape? Fortunately, most school systems have support for using the bright and shiny but sometimes complicated tools in the classroom – whether that room be on campus or “in the cloud”. With the growth of eLearning, a lot of Instructional Design today is focused on connecting the right delivery system (audio, video, interactive gaming, chat rooms, the list grows weekly), with the course outcomes.
We still begin with the end in mind. Good teaching continues to focus on identifying clear learning objectives or competencies, understanding how to measure those gains, and compiling instructional materials to support that acquisition in an interactive and engaging way that is accessible and supports student success.
In the eLearning world, courses primarily take two forms, asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous means “not occurring at the same time”, Synchronous means “occurring at the same time”. Classes are increasing hybrid in nature where students meet virtually to do group work, or complete online assignments “out of class” and meet together at a set time to share results and explore concepts together in more depth.
A good Instructional Designer can help a teacher take content-heavy power point slides or long-used lectures and turn them into an engaging, interactive eLearning experiences. I offer many resources and tools on my blog roll and have compiled a checklist and rubric for course development thanks to the help of the folks at Quality Matters, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, and UNC’s Center for Faculty Excellence. There are many, many resources available to guide you in either developing a new online class, revamping an existing on-campus class with exciting digital tools, flipping your classroom, or morphing your content into a hybrid delivery.
As Richard Bland College expands its student population, whether for transfer to a four-year school, in support of 21st c. workforce readiness, as part of our dual enrollment program, or for professional development, I am here to help. Beginning with the end in mind, we can find the right digital tools to deliver content in support of learning outcomes. It’s an exciting time to be in education.