Instructional Design: Science, Art and Craft

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.

ADDIE is dead! Long live ADDIE!

flogging-dead-horseI’m at risk of flogging a very dead horse here, but some recent posts from Ellen Wagner (What is it about ADDIE that makes people so cranky?) and Donald Clark (The evolving dynamics of ISD and Extending ISD through Plug and Play) got me thinking about instructional design process and ADDIE in particular (please  don’t run away!).

 

Ellen’s post focused on how Learning Designers on a twitter discussion got  “cranky” at the first mention of the ADDIE process (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation).  On the Twitter #Lrnchat session  participants had a gag response to the to the mere mention of ADDIE (sound familiar?).  Don responded with some great comments on how ISD (ADDIE) has evolved and adapted.

Much of my career has been involved in applying ADDIE in some form or other and I’ve landed on a conflicted LOVE/HATE relationship with it that that you, lucky reader, will now be subjected to .

addie_model

HATE (Phase A, Step 3.2.6)

Throughout the 90’s many Instructional Designers and e-Learning Developers (me included) grew disgruntled with ADDIE (and its parent process Instructional Systems Design—ISD) as training struggled to keep up with business demands for speed and quality and as we  observed process innovations in software and product development field (Rapid Application Development, Iterative prototyping etc).

In 2001 that frustration was given voice in the seminal article “The Attack on ISD” by Jack Gordon and Ron Zemke in Training Magazine (see here for a follow-up)

The article cited four main concerns:

  • ISD is too slow and clumsy to meet today’s training challenges
  • There’s no “there” there. (It aspires to be a science but fails on many fronts)
  • Used as directed, it produces bad solutions
  • It clings to the wrong world view

I have memories of early projects, driven by mindless adherence to ISD, where I learned the hard way, the truth in each of these assertions.  As an example of what not to do and a guard against blowing my brains out in future projects,  for years I have kept an old Gagne style “instructional objective” from an early military project that would make your eyes burn.

Early ISD/ADDIE aspired to be an engineering model.  Follow it precisely and you would produce repeatable outcomes.  The engineering model assumes a “one best way” and the one best way of the time was grounded in the science of behavioral psychology and general systems theory.  The “one best way” thinking appealed to the bureaucratic style of the times but it couldn’t be more of an anathema to the current crop of learning designers, especially those focused on more social and constructivist approaches to learning.  And they are right.

Another criticism of ADDIE I have parallels Ellen’s comments.  Adherents and crankites alike view ADDIE as an “instructional design” methodology when in fact it should be viewed more as a project management process for learning projects.  Viewing  Instructional Design as synonymous with ADDIE does both a disservice.  There is loads of ID going on inside ADDIE but it is primarily in the Design phase of the process, and it can be much more creative than the original model prescribes.

In the end, the Achilles heel of formal ISD/ADDIE rests in its prescriptive posture and foundation in behavioural psychology.  Behavioural psychology and performance technology–its extension in the workplace–have added greatly to our understanding how to improve human learning at work, but we have learned much since then, and technology has provided tools to both designers and learners that profoundly change the need for a process like ADDIE.

Of course the ADDIE process was (and is) not unique to the learning design profession.  For many years the five broad phases of ADDIE were the foundation for the design of most systems.  Software engineering, product development, interactive/multimedia development are all based on some variation of the model.   Most however have evolved from the linear “waterfall” approach of early models (can’t start the next phase until the previous has been done and approved) to iterative design cycles based on rapid prototyping, customer participation in the process and loads of feedback loops built into the process.  And learning/e-learning is no different.  It has evolved and continues to evolve to meet the needs of the marketplace. Much of the current gag reaction to ADDIE, like that experienced by Ellen, is based on the old waterfall-linear approach and the assumed instructivist nature of the model.  And again the gag is entirely valid.

However, if you can break free from the history, preconceptions and robotic application of ADDIE, you may find room for something approaching…

 

LOVE (Phase B, Step 2.3.7)

I can’t say I ever use ADDIE in its purest form any longer.  For e-learning and performance applications, I prefer processes with iterative design and development cycles that are usually a variation of rapid application development process like this one from DSDM.

DSDM_lifecycle

Or for an example specific to e-learning,  this process from Cyber Media Creations nicely visualizes the iterative approach:

Or for the Michael Allen fans out there, his Rapid Development approach described in Creating Successful e-Learning is very good.  There is a respectful chapter in the book on the ADDIE limitations and how his system evolved from it.

But at the heart of all these processes are the familiar phases of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation,  albeit cycling through them many times along the way.

For me ADDIE has become a useful heuristic,  not even a process really, but a framework for thinking,  coaching instructional designers,  and managing learning and e-learning projects.  Many e-learning designers these days are not formally trained in Instructional Design and initially think of it as instructional “writing” more than the holistic and systemic approach at the heart of ADDIE.   Likewise customers and subject matter experts are much easier to work with once they understand the broad project process that ADDIE represents.  For these two purposes alone I am thankful for ADDIE as a framework .  ADDIE has staying power because of it’s simplicity.  Purists will say it has been watered down too much but in many ways that’s what keeps it alive.

ADDIE phases are also a useful way to think about organization design and structure of a learning function.  They are the major processes that need to be managed and measured by most learning functions.  Just think of the functionality of most LMS systems have added since their inception.

In the end ADDIE (and its more current modifications) is probably most valuable because it makes the work of learning design visible. This is an essential feature of productive knowledge work of all kinds.   Almost every learning/training group uses a ADDIE as a start point to design a customized process that can be communicated,  executed,  measured and repeated with some level of consistency.  Equally important in knowledge work is the discipline of continually improving processes and breaking through to better ways of working.  This has resulted in the many innovations and improvement to the ADDIE process since its inception.

SUMMATIVE EVALUATION (Phase E, Step 5.2.3)

I’ve come to believe that the power of ADDIE/ISD lies in the mind and artful hands of the user.  In my experience Rapid Application Development processes can become just as rigid and prescriptive under the watch of inflexible and bureaucratic leaders as ADDIE did.

There’s an intellectual fashion and political correctness at work in some of the outright rejection of ADDIE.  It’s just not cool to associate with the stodgy old process.  Add Web 2.0, informal and social learning to the mix and some will argue we shouldn’t be designing anything.

For the organizations I work with, there is no end on the horizon to formal learning (adjustments in volume and quality would be nice!).  Formal learning will always require intelligent authentic learning design, and a process to make it happen as quickly and effectively as possible. If instead of  the irrelevant old geezer in the corner waving a disapproving finger,  we think of ADDIE more like a character from Mad Men, maybe we can refresh the image a bit.

Designing Authentic Learning Tasks

The traditional approach to instructional design has been bruised and battered for some years now.  Sometimes the criticism is legitimate and thoughtful and other times it is shallow and faddish.   I think one of the genuine concerns is its deconstruction of learning into small learning tasks which are categorized into learning domains using a learning taxonomy often based on the broad categories of cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills.  Instructional strategies are selected based on their match to learning domain.

Learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential Brown, Collins & Duguid. 1989

While this approach can be effective for learning discreet tasks, it struggles when trying to teach more complex skills which almost always contain elements from all domains.   Modern approaches are based more on designing learning in it’s the full social, cognitive and skilled based context.  This implies a more holistic approach rather than the deconstruction approaches of the past (although, the vast majority of instructional design continues to use traditional approaches).

This new wave of learning design models come in a many variations and each has slightly differing methods, philosophies and approaches.   Here are a few:

How to design authentic learning tasks

Authentic learning tasks are whole-task experiences based on real life (work) tasks that integrate skills, knowledge attitude and social context.  Instruction is organized around the whole task, usually in an easy to difficult progression, which “scaffolds” learning support from “lots to little” as learners progress.

Identifying what an authentic learning task can be challenging.  The term is often used without any real guidance on how to identify whole tasks and then transfer them to a training context.  I stumbled on the following framework from Authentic Task Design, a research project of the University of Wollongong in Australia.  They suggest 10 research based elements for the design of authentic tasks in web-based learning environments. I thought it was a useful guide.  Hope you do to.

1. Authentic tasks have real-world relevance

Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than de-contextualised or classroom-based tasks.

2. Authentic tasks are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity

Problems inherent in the tasks are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task.

3. Authentic tasks comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time
Tasks are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

4. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources
The task affords learners the opportunity to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, rather than a single perspective that learners must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather than a limited number of preselected references requires students to detect relevant from irrelevant information.

5. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to collaborate
Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by an individual learner.

6. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to reflect
Tasks need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially.

7. Authentic tasks can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes
Tasks encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable diverse roles and expertise rather than a single well-defined field or domain.

8. Authentic tasks are seamlessly integrated with assessment
Assessment of tasks is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment removed from the nature of the task.

9. Authentic tasks create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else
Tasks culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.

10. Authentic tasks allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome
Tasks allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of rules and procedures.