What do instructional designers design?

Don Morrison has made available his speaker notes for a presentation on “What do Instructional Designers design?” Much of what he says resonates with my own experience and perspective. First, that traditional instructional systems design cannot address the multitude of alternatives available to us today – such as knowledge management, performance support, blogs, workflow learning, communities of practice, etc.

Morrison also says that Google is a learning tool [I agree, it’s how I learned HTML], and that it favours information over instruction. This is an interesting point. A few years back, I had a conversation with the design team at Tecsult-Eduplus about their learning programs for astronauts. They recounted how they had initially designed some courses which adhered to the “standard” rules of using only 7 points of information per screen. The feedback of the astronauts was that they wanted not only more information, but the maximum information possible per slide. For these bright students, time was of the essence and they couldn’t waste it by clicking on the next button. I have noticed that medical school students are the same in their learning style – they absorb information like sponges, and later reflect on it. Speaking for instructional designers, Morrison says:

That if Google is being perceived as the best learning tool ever, it’s because it has developed relevant notions like adjacency, weight and PageRank, implemented them in a smart, innovative process which is embedded in a lightning-fast, user-friendly interface.

What LMS, what LCMS, what competency engine, what third-party or custom course library or curriculum, what instructional design theory has done anything close in terms in responding to today’s learning needs?

I think you and I both know the answer. Not one.

In comparison, our response has been linear, turgid and unimaginative.

Morrison goes on to discuss a number of design models, including some more advanced models (and lesser known within many instructional design teams) such as vanMerrienboer’s Four-Component Instructional Design Model, as well as more general Cognitive Load Theory. The whole text is worth a read, and worth the effort of reviewing or researching Morrison’s references. This text should also be read by anyone in higher education where educational technology is taught, to show that there is a heck of a lot more to learn than how to put courses online.

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