I’ve been reading some Henry Mintzberg recently. His books–Managing and Managers Not MBA’s–both question prevailing thinking on management and leadership and present alternatives for effective management practice and development. Both books include a model of management as a balancing act between science, art and craft. His argument is that effective management requires all three and an overemphasis on any one results in dysfunction.
I think it also offers some insight to effective Instructional Design. Much of the recent debate regarding Instructional Design models and practice (see my own view here) seem to revolve around the prescriptive, process based models of ADDIE (and like models) versus more open constructivist approaches, presumably more relevant for our networked and collaborative work environments. The arguments tend to get unnecessarily polarized. The following table is adapted from a similar one Mintzberg created for defined management styles. I believe it works equally well for for Instructional Design practice.
Most graduate programs in Instructional Design and Educational Technology are squarely in the science column (psychology, human learning, and systems design). New graduates emerge with a scientific bent seeking order, precise applications and and predictable results from their models and approaches refined in the scientific tradition. We quickly (or perhaps not so quickly) learn from experience (craft) what really works and what doesn’t, and also that often unexpected creative ideas and insights improves our solutions (art). Clearly, effective design of learning experiences requires all three.
The diagram below, again adapted from Mintzberg, shows how these three approaches to learning design might interact and the potential consequences of relying on any one dominant style. We have all seen examples at the extreme end of each style. Bringing only an artistic design style to a project may result in a truly novel, creative or visually stunning result that wows and inspires but does not teach. Relying on proven learning science often results in dry, uninspired or demotivating instruction that may result in learning, but can be mind-numbing. Craft, uninformed by art or science, and often from untrained instructional designers working from common sense rarely ventures beyond personal experience, with hit and miss results at best.
Combination of the approaches can also be less than optimal for producing effective learning experiences. Art and craft together without the systematic analysis of science can lead to disorganized learning designs. Craft and science without the creative vision of art can lead to dispirited design, careful and connected but lacking flare. Learning design based on art with science is creative and systematic, but without the experience of craft can produce, impersonal and disconnected learning.
Effective learning designs then, happen most when that elusive combination of art, science and craft come together. Where the three approaches coexist, through a skillfully assembled learning team the result is usually effective, motivational learning grounded in the realities of the organization. I suppose a tilt toward one or two would make sense for certain subjects, skills or audiences. For management, Mintzberg says too much balance of the three may also be dysfunctional since it lacks any distinctive style at all! Perhaps, a good lesson for instructional design as well.