How do your professors decide what to teach? A tool called “instructional design” guides them. AU offers post-baccalaureate certificates and post-baccalaureate diplomas in instructional design (Athabasca University, 2019, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate; Athabasca University, 2019, Post-Baccalaureate Diploma). As an instructional designer, you may take on careers in large organizations, at e-learning vendors, or as a freelancer or consultant (Tucker, n.d.).
I once yearned to do instructional design at, say, an energy firm. I longed to work with online course design software, but I needed more than design skills. I needed to know how instructional design began, who does it, and what is its theories.
So, let’s start at its roots. War led to destruction—and instructional design: “The discipline known as ‘instructional design’ originated during World War II, when the military developed training materials based on principles of instruction, learning and human behavior” (Shillington, 2017, p. 59 of 72, 80%).
The psychologists modeled instructional design: “psychologists began developing various instruction methods with specific strategies to accomplish different learning outcomes” (Shillington, 2017, p. 59 of 72, 80%). Psychologist B.F. Skinner laid much of its foundations: “the model for much of today’s instructional design models came from B.F. Skinner’s 1954 article titled ‘The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching.’ Skinner suggested that instructional materials should allow for self-pacing and include small steps, frequent questions and immediate feedback” (Shillington, 2017, p. 59 of 72, 80%). From a student perspective, I prefer learning materials that ask questions but don’t demand on-the-spot answers. I like to steal away with the problems until I master them. Only after hours of home study do I feel ready to face an exam.
Now let’s look at the theory behind instructional design, namely its models. One type of instructional design model is called The Addie Model: “Addie stands for Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate” (Shillington, 2017, p. 59 of 72, 82%). These letters stand for different stages of course design.
First, the analysis stage centers on setting goals: “This … stage involves defining your target audience and ensuring that the program matches the skill level and educational level of your audience” (Shillington, 2017, p. 60 of 72, 84%). Instructors sometimes struggle to set goals. I made course goals for a marketing class at a college once. But I hadn’t taken a single marketing course. At times, instructors get assigned courses for which they have no background. A computer science post doc, who was my colleague, taught a course he learned on the spot. And he succeeded.
Second, the design stage demands “strategy for the course design …. The focus is on writing learning objectives, developing the content, analyzing the subject matter, lesson planning, assessment tools to be used in selecting media” (Shillington, 2017, p. 60 of 72, 84%). Students should photocopy and laminate a good syllabus. A good syllabus saves you stress come exam time. While some profs struggle to make syllabi, many profs write thoughtful ones. They may teach the same course, year after year, steadily refining their syllabi.
Third, the development phase acts on the analysis and design stages (Shillington, 2017, p. 60 of 72, 84%). The development “phase includes writing, production and evaluation” (Shillington, 2017, p. 60 of 72, 84%). As a TA, I received one criterion for teaching my class: do class discussion only. I couldn’t make slides or instruct. If I had been crafty, I could’ve written, produced, and evaluated scripts for each lesson. But I didn’t receive the textbooks until a few days before the class began, which I later learned is common practice.
Fourth, the implementation phase depends on constant tweaking:
“It continually modifies the program to ensure it achieves maximum efficiency and positive results. Instructional designers strive to redesign, update, and edit the course to make sure it can be delivered effectively. The majority of work in this phase is continually revising and evaluating the further improvement …. Through feedback from instructional designers and participants, much can be learned and addressed” (Shillington, 2017, p. 60 of 72, 84%).
Why constant tweaking? It’s like editing a theatrical film script—you want every sentence to advance the story. Similarly, instructors want every lecture, assignment, media choice, or group activity to advance the goals listed on the syllabus.
Lastly, the evaluation phase checks whether “goals have been met and to establish what will be required moving forward” (Shillington, 2017, p. 61 of 72, 86%).
Thus, if you sense within you a passion for instructional design, you’ve now got a taste of its theory. And if you love its theory, you may find yourself in a comfortable office at a large corporation.