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Instructional Design: What Is It and How Do You Do It
Dec 15, 2022
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When looking into the sciencebehind eLearning, you will come across the concept of instructional design.


This article will explore instructional design and armyou with everything you need to know to get started in assessing your learners'needs and developing programs to support their learning.


Whether you're an information-age newcomer or alearning and development professional, no previous knowledge is necessary tograsp this article. Everything will be explained using easy-to-understandlanguage and introduce you to crucial industry terminology. You'll be a pro atinstructional design in no time!


Are you unsure if you need to learn the theory ofinstructional design at all? Surely learning from your colleagues and puttingit into practice will be enough? While learning about instructional design,you'll discover that the theory will take your eLearning materials to the nextlevel. Suddenly you'll understand the why as well as the how.


What is Instructional Design?


Let's start with what instructional design is. You mayalso see it referred to as an instructional design system, often abbreviated asISD.


Instructional design is the creation oflearning and the materials required to acquire and apply newfound knowledge andskills. The ideal outcome of a successful instructional design experience isfor the learner to have grasped all the skills and knowledge they need tocomplete their tasks. In other words, to use all the tools available to meetpreset learning objectives.


Instructional design gives you the skills to look atthe demands of new skill acquisition and adapt in a way that supports yourlearners and your organization.


Some of the learning materials you'll commonly make useof are:


·   in-person training

·   eLearning courses

·   instructional videos

·   tutorials

·   learning simulations


The person responsible for creating these meaningfullearning experiences is an instructional designer, commonly abbreviatedto ID. You may be one of these highly skilled, vital people that combines thebest technology with pedagogical knowledge.


What are the Origins of Instructional Design?


Sometimes it's essential to look back at history tounderstand how we got to the present moment. Instructional design is nodifferent. Let's get into our time machine and explore the different stages.


The concept of instructional design first sprung up inthe wake of the second world war. With thousands of soldiers requiringtraining, psychologists and educators were asked to create training manuals toget these people fighting fit. Tests were utilized to assess these learners'abilities before starting to train.


In the 1950s, Skinner researched how the science of learning relates to operantconditioning. He first introduced learning in small steps, receivingfeedback immediately and asking learners questions frequently to keep themengaged in the learning materials.


When we jump forward to the 70s and 80s, we start usingfilms to improve teaching effectiveness.


By the 90s instructional design started to become moreinfluenced by constructivist theory. Constructivist theory believes that learnersacquire knowledge through their own experience, and the meaning of theknowledge they take in will be affected by their previous knowledge coupledwith new events and experiences. In other words, human learning does not occurin a vacuum, and new knowledge builds on a foundation of what has been learnedpreviously.


As we enter the new millennium, online learning becomes more prevalent incooperations and businesses worldwide. Suddenly most employees experience theprocess of receiving their onboarding training via eLearning modules.


Where are we now with the instructional design?Smartphones and tablets have allowed learning to come with us wherever we go.The blended learning process, combining classroom and eLearning, is typicalacross all sectors. Today's analytics enable us to be more targeted than everwith designing learning-building activities.


Basic Principles of Instructional Design: Behavioral,Cognitive, and Constructivist


Behavioral design is all about psychology. There aretons of eLearning theories you can explore, but there are three mostinstructional designers will use daily, whether they're aware of them or not.


These three basic principles of learning are:


·   Behavioral Learning: behaviorism looks at thelearner's measurable behaviors and ensures they are repeated until they becomeautomatic. The focus here is on measurable learning outcomes, providingrewards, and guiding learners to master a set of skills or behaviors.


·   Cognitive Learning: cognitivism is all abouthow we learn. Cognitivism looks at who the learner is and how that interactswith how they take on new information. Unlike behaviorism, the cognitions orthoughts behind behaviors are taken into account. Using a cognitive approach,you will apply learning strategies such as asking learners to reflect on theirexperiences, encouraging discussion, and showcasing how ideas are connected.


·   ConstructivistLearning: this is the new kid on the block. As we previouslymentioned, constructivism believes that the way we learn and perceive the worldis uniquely shaped by our previous experiences and beliefs. Constructivismallows the learner to take control of their learning and wishes them tounderstand meaning rather than memorizing the correct answers.


Once you understand these three psychology theories,you can apply them to your instructional design and gain more significantlearning outcomes. We recommend combining them to reach the learners, thecompany, and your objectives.


Applying Instructional Design with Gagne's 9 LearningEvents


The educational psychologist Robert Gagne created a unique nine-step process of learning events in 1965.These events were based on observing the way adults would process mentalchallenges.


He focused on helping people achieve specific learninggoals and designing instructional events to help them achieve those objectives.To this day, these nine events provide a practical framework for buildinginstructional design. Upon completing each step, the learner is more likely tobe highly engaged with the course and retain the information and skills neededfor success.


If you feel lost in building a new eLearning course,return to these steps for inspiration rooted in educational science.


#1 Gain Attention


You need to get your learners' attention whether you'rein the classroom or introducing an eLearning module. It sounds straightforward,but you're competing with a million thoughts and life experiences buzzingthrough their minds simultaneously.


Every other task will likely fail if you fail at thisfirst hurdle. That means it's wise to spend a little extra attention here.


Some tricks to gain their attention right off the bat are:


·   Open with something exciting or challenge anexisting thought


·   Gamify the experience to keep their attention aswell as gain it


·   Use (business-appropriate) humor; a meme hereand there is never a bad idea


·   Open up with video or audio


The point is to transition their minds into a readystate to take on information.


#2 Describe the Goal


Have you ever been in a learning situation where youhad no idea why you were introducing something? It's frustrating and makes yourmind wander off.


You want to start by telling your learners whatinformation they'll come across in the lesson. Describing what will be coveredgives them a moment to look forward to specific areas and even prepare themselvesfor the things they may struggle to comprehend.


How do you describe the learning goal? Outline the concrete learning objectives and outcomes inas simple language as possible. What criteria will they meet by the end of themodule, and can they expect to be tested on it?


#3 Activate Prior Knowledge


Brilliant, you have your learners' attention, and theyknow what to expect in the lesson. You need to give a quick refresher on whatconnected things they've learned previously.


Picture this like the recap section of your favorite TVshow. "Previously on Meeting Business Objectives, wecovered..."


Why is it important to give them this refresher? Itdraws on strengthening their recall and allows the foundational knowledge to bebuilt upon.


Some ways you can stimulate their recall muscles are:


·   Ask them questions that relate to prior modules


·   Use audio and visuals of previous materials


·   Continuously incorporate past elements into yournew module


#4 Present the Material


You've made it to the point where your math teacherprobably used to start. Do you see why you may have struggled to get engaged inlessons in the past? When we skip steps 1-3, we do not set our learners up forsuccess.


Carefully plan out how you'll be presenting new information. Especially if thesubject matter is dry, you'll want to use your engagement toolkit to keepeveryone interested. A good rule of thumb is that if you're bored whiledesigning the instructional materials, the learner will also feel bored.




·   Short chunks of information are easier to takein


·   Fit in video and animated demonstrationswherever you can


·   Fill the spaces with plenty of graphics andillustrations


·   Case studies show off how something theoreticalwill look in the real world



#5 Provide Learner Guidance


As an instructional designer, you have a duty of careto ensure your learner can make the most out of the unit they're studying.


By providing them guidance on achieving their goals,you achieve your own goals as an author of educational content. This step isyour chance to show off strategies that help learners use and remember contentmore easily.


Some of the ways you can provide learner guidance are:


·   Mnemonic devices to help recall - e.g., SMARTgoals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound)


·   Tips on how to achieve goals - e.g., re-readingyour detailed notes ahead of seeing a new client


·   Suggestions on how often the learner shouldreturn to the course


#6 Elicit Performance


At the elicit performance stage, you're giving yourlearners a chance to apply the knowledge they've been acquiring. In otherwords, you're giving them practice opportunities.


This gives your learner a chance to play with their newskills. The act of using knowledge encodes it into long-term memory. Yourlearner will remember what you taught them a few months from now!


This can seem easy in a classroom situation, but how doyou elicit performance within eLearning?


·   multiple-choice questions

·   gamified interactive experiences

·   real-life scenario-based questions

·   simulations


#7 Provide Feedback


To our minds, eliciting performance and providing yourlearner with feedback are a marriage made in educational heaven,


You must provide constructive feedback to your learnerwhenever you give a practice opportunity. Feedback ensures that they feelpraised for what they're doing well and learn what can be improved. We do notwant them to repeat 'wrong' information or actions.


In an eLearning scenario, this means that whenever anincorrect answer is given, you must explain why it was wrong. It would help ifyou also provided feedback on why a correct answer is correct. This means thateven those who may have taken a chance and guessed at a correct answer willstill be given a learning opportunity.


Remember, rather than leaving this feedback to the end,give the feedback as soon as an answer is given. This is a vital step toperfecting learning outcomes!


#8 Assess Performance


Assessing learner performance is vital for youas an instructional designer and for the learner.


The simplest way to do this is to provide the learnerwith a set of questions at the end of the eLearning course and score them. Thelearner can use the result to assess how well they've taken in the newknowledge or skills.


If you discover that many learners score poorly, youknow you need to adjust the course.


#9 Retention and Transfer


You've reached Gagne's 9th and final learning event.The idea is for you to help a learner transfer their new skills to theireveryday lives and career.


Some of the ways you can improve transfer and retentionare:


·   Include questions about the application ofknowledge


·   Encourage the learner to consider how they'lluse their new skills


·   Mirroring the work environment in the learningmodules


·   Giving them helpful pdfs to take away and apply




As you can see, instructional design is an innumerablyhelpful way to improve eLearning and reach business goals.


This article should have given you a detailed overviewof instructional design and how to apply it.


We have so much to learn from how you can incorporateinstructional design in the past and present.


Remember that your learners will improve when youadjust your processes to their needs.


Let’s talk!

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