Instructional Design is a watch, ticking away the seconds, minutes, and hours so that its owner doesn’t have to. The watch’s designers have already spent their time and expertise in building a watch so that all we need to do to learn the time is glance at the watch. A well-designed lesson does the same for the learner in that a learner will be able to grow unhindered by a poorly chosen environment or low-quality materials. The work is done by the designer. The learner simply needs to watch and learn.
A watch is composed of parts that must work together in order to accomplish the goal, that of keeping time. While all working watches keep time, some do so more accurately than others. A finely crafted watch will not only keep time well but it will also be pleasing to the eye and will last for years. The watch’s inner workings are invisible to the naked eye when one looks at a watch, but a watch without the inner mechanism isn’t a watch. It is simply a face with numbers or a piece of jewelry. In the same way, one wouldn’t want to wear just the gears, cogs and springs of a watch and not have the hands and face. All parts are necessary to reach the end goal and the higher the quality of materials and better the workmanship, all the better the watch will be.
So it is with Instructional Design. There are many ways to design instructional materials, and a majority of them will work at least a little bit in the learning context. However, for the design to fully succeed in helping learners to grow and extend the learning to the performance context, the design must be of high quality and excellent craftsmanship. The successful Instructional Designer will include all materials necessary to complete the “watch”. No “gears” or “hands” or even the “wrist band” will be left out. All the materials provided will be above reproach, even to the most scrutinous eye, and will be accessible to learners. The lesson will be complete from analysis to evaluation. The teacher’s guide will be complete and of high clarity so that anyone can teach the lesson. The content will flow in such a way as to enhance learning. All steps of the process will be polished and honed to meet the needs of all stakeholders where possible. The inner workings of a finely crafted instructional design project will be invisible to the learner’s eye because the center of attention will be the learning, not the design. Finally, the project will be completed on time and accurately and it may even be sustainable, like a fine watch.
Connie Malamed, The eLearning Coach, has developed a top 10 list of characteristics that define an excellent Instructional Designer. I wholeheartedly agree with her list, particularly her number one point. “The successful instructional designer should conceptually and intuitively understand how people learn” (Malamed, 2009). If a watch maker designs a watch without knowing how the wearer tells time, the project will be a gamble. It may succeed, or it may not. It will most certainly not be streamlined. An Instructional Designer who doesn’t grasp basic learning theories as they relate to age level and learning styles, at the very least, will not be capable of designing a sustainable, optimized, and right-sized project. Such a project will require continuous improvement, but without the requisite skills this improvement will be tenuous, at best.
I must admit that I was skeptical when I saw EDTECH 503 Instructional Design listed as a core course for the M.E.T. program. What could a teacher with over thirty years of experience learn about designing instruction that would be new and useful? I found my answer. Plenty. As is pointed out early in the class, Instructional Design and lesson planning are not one and the same. There is much more to be done in Instructional Design, and it is easy to see how this class will help educational technologists. For example, I am charged with designing professional development projects like this one often during the year. Sometimes I lead the teachers at APS in training. Other times I lead teachers at district and national conventions. I have never gone through this much detail and preparation before, though. I can now see that many of the problems I have run into over the years are self-created problems. I can avoid those problems now that I know what the ADDIE model is and how to design learning that is streamlined and efficient.
It is also clear now why this is a core course. There are many electives that involve designing instruction in one form or another. For example, one of the classes I will take next semester is EDTECH 534 Mobile App Design. The Instructional Design skills I have in my toolbox now will be extremely helpful when designing apps for classroom use. Instead of carelessly diving in and trying to build an app for education, I now know I need to analyze, design, develop, implement, and include a healthy dose of evaluation in order to build an effective app. I expect that all of my future class projects will be better organized and more successful than they might be had I not taken EDTECH 503. Even the work I did at the beginning of this class has been impacted by the work I did at the end of the class. For example, after learning about the evaluation model, I wanted to provide a creative evaluation tool instead of just another survey. I ended up changing the entire summative evaluation process, which required changes in Report #1 and Report #2 and each of the slide shows.** The first part of this project ended up being more enjoyable and more thorough because of these changes. There were also two concepts in the last reading assignment that really caught my attention: Miller’s Law (Larson & Lockee, 2014, p. 213); and the term “field dependent”. I added those two concepts to the original reports, which changed the workshop slide show and made for a more robust design, all thanks to the new skills in my toolbox!
** There was nothing wrong with the original evaluation tool. It can be viewed and copied at this link, if you prefer it over the slide show. I just know my staff (target audience) will prefer the slide show.