Category Archives: Instructional Design

Course Design – Plan for Evaluation

Evaluation, like needs assessment, is not always given the attention it requires in the process of instructional design. In real world situations, the timeline often drives the work and is usually too short to fully incorporate everything that should be done.

Creating an Evaluation Plan, as part of the initial design, helps you to make a lot of decisions before getting underway and to integrate evaluation tasks as you move forward with a project.

Your Evaluation Plan should include at a minimum:

  • List of objectives for the evaluation – why are you evaluating the instruction and to whom will the results be reported?
  • Description of the data you need to collect and why – what kind of information do you need to collect in order to find out if the instruction is effective?  This can cover a wide range of measures, including:
    • Content accuracy
    • Learning outcome achievement
    • Usability of delivery format
    • Cost-effectiveness of the project
  • The logistics of how the evaluation will take place – How, when, where, and who will be involved in evaluation? Will you use surveys, administer tests, conduct interviews, etc.?

There are a lot of options in terms of models. You’ll find these to be very comprehensive in most cases. Consider creating a customized plan for your project or work context.

There  are full examples of  evaluation plans available online. Two to review:

What is your experience with evaluation as part of the instructional design process? Please consider sharing your experiences related to priority, timeframe, and method. Is evaluation conducted by members of your design team or by an outside group?

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography, Flickr

Breaking into the Business

Earlier this week a friend-of-a-friend contacted me with this question:

What are some tips that you have for someone who would like to get experience with curriculum design and development and eventually pursue a position in this field?

This new friend is currently working in student services, has some experience as an instructor, and is taking graduate courses in higher education. My response included the following:

Assemble a portfolio – Establish a website, blog, or use an online portfolio tool (like VisualCV) to collect examples of your work. This could include brief descriptions of the projects you’ve worked on in the past, screenshots of items you’ve designed and/or built, materials you developed when you were an instructor, a writing sample. As you plan and complete your course assignments, do so with your portfolio in mind.

Find your niche – What part of the process do you enjoy the most? What are your strongest skills? Designers and developers often wear a lot of hats – graphic design, technical writing, project management, programming, multimedia, editing, testing.  Do you prefer working on face-to-face courses, blended courses, or all online? Do you want to work in higher ed, K-12, industry? From your coursework and previous experience you can probably also list areas where you need more practice.

Seek out opportunities to practice – Instructional designers get better with each project. Are there projects in your area, where you could assist, that would help you gain experience (creating user’s guides, training materials, etc)? Are there opportunities for you to volunteer your design and development services in exchange for the experience and additional portfolio items?  For example, another friend is building a website for a community youth organization.

Emphasize related skills – You already have some very valuable experience. Curriculum designers and developers are almost always working as part of a team. Faculty members are usually on that team. Students are the reason for building the courses in the first pace, so your experience working directly with students – as an instructor and as an advisor – gives you a level of familiarity that will be an asset.

Network – Keep talking with professionals in the field and asking questions. Consider joining a professional organization (AECT, AACE, ISTE, ASTD, Sloan-C are a few – but there are a LOT more). Set up a profile on a professional networking system (such as LinkedIn), join instructional design groups, and participate in the discussions.

Look for a position – While you may not be ready to apply, you might be closer than you think. Register for job search ‘alerts’ related to curriculum design and development and read through the vacancy announcements as they arrive via email. What are they looking for in terms of experience, computer skills, etc? These announcements can be helpful in identifying areas where you need practice and items you might include in your portfolio.

What else would you recommend to someone trying to get their first job in instructional design? Other sources of experience or education? Do you think a degree in instructional design is required?

Photo credit: NotMicroButSoft, Flickr

Course Design – Start with an Outline

From a project management perspective getting a brand new course moving can be a challenge. With a course revision, you’ve got a full draft right from the beginning in the form of the exiting course. With a new course, the momentum has to come from a complete stop. The work of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is critical in the design stage to ensure that the scope and sequence of the specific content and source(s) of content are all appropriate. SMEs who are also filling other professional roles, such as full-time faculty, need support that helps them to provide their expertise, stay focused on project goals, and complete assigned tasks on schedule.

The project manager/instructional designer can provide tools that both manage the process and result in the information developers need to build the course. For a new course, starting with a high-level outline can be helpful.  A simple table can serve this purpose: organizing thoughts and documenting a plan for the course. The format allows for moving things around and review by others on the team.

In the illustration below, columns list the components of a course unit and each row represents one unit (one week per unit is a typical – but not required or even recommended – way to plan).

Possible advantages of this approach:

  • Provides easy access for others on the team – to contribute, review, edit (Consider posting as a GoogleDoc or in a system that allows for file sharing and version control like Sharepoint or Basecamp).
  • Structures the course before moving to the more cumbersome and detailed development guide for full writing of the course.
  • Becomes a primary reference document for the course – you can go back to it.
  • Allows for division of labor later on – multiple people working on separate units at the same time.
  • Offers flexibility – add columns as needed (e.g. case study) and your own course/program nomenclature.
  • Provides documentation for approval at a critical point in the process – before development goes forward.

This is a plan, not a prescription. Not all units will require a synchronous seminar or have assignments due. In the next phase of development (writing the course content in a development guide) the outline may change somewhat, but it is there in the beginning to show the way forward.

It’s a simple tool that takes some time to complete early in the process. This time on the front-end will likely save your schedule later on. Take the time to frame the house before you begin to buy the furniture, or even put up drywall.

Do you use something like this to get a new course project moving? How do you provide initial support and guidance to content experts and course writers? Please share!

Review: The Essentials of Instructional Design

I was recently asked to make textbook recommendations for an Instructional Design course. One member of the team recommended I review The Essentials of Instructional Design: Connecting Fundamental Principles with Process and Practice by Abbie Brown and Timothy Green.  I had never heard of this one among the standard instructional design texts of Dick & Carey, Smith & Ragan, Morrison, Ross & Kemp*… but wanted to take a look.

This book is a concise guide to the process of instructional design. The authors mention in the preface that “this is a book for beginners”.  It’s not highly detailed, but is a solid overview. The most impressive aspect of this book is the direct link to practice. The authors add several components to each chapter to drive home the need to be able to apply the concepts in a workplace environment.

Connecting Process to Practice – This section presents five or six mini scenarios related to the chapter topic, often placing the student in the position of the Instructional Designer who is faced with a decision or challenge of some kind. These are not clear cut, right/wrong situations, but ones in which a variety of approaches might be selected. What approach would you take and what is your rationale? K-12, higher ed, and business examples are provided throughout. A couple of examples:

You are the instructional designer for a nonprofit organization with a number of volunteer workers. The volunteers are often familiar with the telephone system of the organization, which makes transferring calls difficult for them. What might you do to address the problem?

Describe an instructional design scenario in which you believe a formal needs analysis would not need to be conducted.

Professionals in Practice – These brief entries provide perspective on the chapter topic from working instructional designers. These professionals represent a range of work settings and international locations and present some sort of lesson learned or example from their own experiences. Job titles and organizations are also listed providing a link to career exploration for students.

Each chapter also includes a Recommended Reading section that provides a short list of items to explore for more information. These include books, articles, and websites.

Recommended for:

  • Students studying for comprehensive/qualifying exams in instructional design programs.
  • Undergraduate courses in instructional design.
  • Instructional design/curriculum design related courses in non-ID programs.
  • ID professionals currently working in the field who haven’t gone through the formal coursework, but want to learn more about the theories, etc.

*For more information about the selection of instructional design textbooks, check out this study published in 2009, Essential Books in the Field of Instructional Design and Technology. The authors surveyed instructional design and technology professionals asking them to rate the importance of various books to the field. The result is a list of 10 books that “should be included in every instructional designer’s or technologist’s personal library.”

Photo credit: qualtiero, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Instructional Design Documents

This blog recently went through a name change, from “Talking and Typing About…” to “DesignDoc”. One interpretation of “DesignDoc” is a formal outline of what will be developed for a course, as in an Instructional Design Document. This document can be used to map out what will be developed and is often used as an agreement of work to be done before development starts. My experience has been that every workplace has its own version, requirements, and format, but the elements are pretty consistent.

What are the main components? A design document for an online course or module might contain items from the following list:

  • Purpose of the course/module
  • Learner description – technology skills and resources, prior knowledge
  • Goals and objectives of the course/module – learning outcomes to be measured
  • Plan for assessment of learning – methods for measuring achievement of learning outcomes
  • Selection of
    • specific instructional strategies – asynchronous and/or synchronous
    • specific media methods to be developed – video, slideshows, audio narration
  • Information related to time to complete
    • the development process
    • the course/module from the learner perspective
  • Scope and sequence of topics to be covered
  • Resources required for development of the course/module
  • List of team members and primary responsibilities – ID, SME, Media Experts, Graphic Artists, Editors…
  • Plan for maintenance and update of the materials
  • Approvals – to be acquired before development begins
  • Plan for testing and quality assurance

What’s missing? Please reply with any recommendations you have for adding to this list.

Online Resources and Examples:

Photo credit: ragnar1984, Flickr

Learning Instructional Design: in school and on-the-job

I have been asked several times to serve as a guest speaker in graduate level instructional design/technology courses. (All but one of these events occurred online via synchronous classroom!) The topic I am assigned is usually something like:  “Working as an Instructional Designer” or “Managing Online Course Development”.  The two questions I field most frequently are listed below along with my responses.

What are the important things about instructional design that you learned in school?

  • Coursework helped me to learn and understand different approaches to designing courses and modules. In school you become familiar with the standard processes and models and practice taking an idea for a learning event through the steps and stages.
  • Through the completion of individual and group course projects I learned the basics of how to do the work. Putting the pieces to together in the best possible sequence takes practice. I like many other students often dreaded the group work, but that’s the way it usually works with an employer. You rarely work a project start to finish on your own. It’s a team effort.
  • Planning a project was also part of many course activities. Being able to organize the work and resources at the outset makes the rest go ever so much more smoothly…although the plan will change – more on that below.
  • Through my coursework I gathered a pretty substantial set of resources. Different instructors have different favorites as well and that helps you grow your own library or tool box. These resources include textbooks, key journal articles, professional organizations, and countless checklists and templates.

What did you have to learn on the job?

  • Management skills are a critical piece of the puzzle, in my opinion, and although I was required to take a course in project management, this is a skill that truly comes from practice. You get better with each project at considering all of the variables and making decisions. It’s about people, resources, and time. These skills include learning to communicate and collaborate with all levels of management and team members. Check this link for more on the ideal skill set for an Instructional Designer.
  • The plan changes. Learning how to deal with this in terms of people, resources, and time also comes from experiencing projects take an unexpected turn. Some variables are hard to predict and leave you in reaction mode. Strategies for getting everything and everyone back on track can be read, but experiencing and trying them out adds them to your tool box.
  • On the job you also learn the real-world consequences of a plan and timeline. It’s one thing for you to miss the mark with your classmates when designing a wine selection tutorial for a fictitious grocery store chain (remember that one, guys?) It’s another thing to miss the mark with an academic calendar or corporate budget.
  • Keeping current with trends and research in technology is a constant effort. The schoolwork and interaction with classmates started the conversations. It’s the continued work, reading, investigating, and experimenting at work that help you stay as current as possible. The pace at which the options and possibilities for online learning are changing is fast and furious.

The skill set of the Instructional Designer is wide and varied and can largely depend on where you are working and what type of course you are designing (K-12, higher education, military, corporate). Get as much experience as you can while you are in school!

Both schoolwork and practical experience should work together to prepare you for the work to come. Try to tie in current or past employment in terms of topic area when working with an instructor to outline a course project. Take on internships, volunteer work, and part-time jobs when you can to not only open up opportunities to practice what you are learning in your courses but also to gain the experience your future employers will be looking for.

photo credit: MAMJODH, Flickr

Reading about Learning Science, Psychology

This post was inspired by a question I saw on Twitter (thanks, @Ryan_Eikmeier!): “Can anybody recommend a text that summarizes current research in learning science, the science letters in stone of learning, that is?”

My response included several books that together cover most of this territory, but I couldn’t put my finger on just one item/volume that would cover it at all. My recommendations are below. Please add yours to the comments area!

Psychology of Learning for Instruction – Marcy P. Driscoll

  • I have an early version of this, but it looks like a new edition is on the way. This book is a solid, easy to digest, overview of learning psychology. Major learning theories are presented in detail. This one has become a handbook.

Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology – Robert A. Reiser and John V. Dempsey

  • This book adds to the previous, bringing technology and instructional design and strategies into the conversation. A number of notable chapter contributors give this one a nice scope, including industry, and some general guidance on competencies for those entering the field.

Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide – Sharan B. Merriam and Rosemary S. Caffarella

  • My response to Ryan included this as a ‘classic for adult learning theory’.  A good reference and a different perspective from the previous two. Also provides an overview of learning theories detailed in Driscoll’s book listed above.

The original question specifically asks for texts. While the books do offer collections and summaries, they certainly aren’t as current as journals and other publications with shorter production times. Another post, perhaps…

photo credit: myfear, Flickr