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What are the principle behind effective instructional design?

Instructional design is the ‘art’ of creating a learning journey that engages your learner from start to finish – and delivers a quality learning outcome. In a well constructed education program, your learner should maintain:

  • Interest
  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Motivation

Additionally, the learning concepts of repetition and reinforcement – along with decades of research in the fields of neuroscience, education and psychology lead to these basic steps when creating learning content:

  • Present the content in an engagement format
  • Guide the learner through practice opportunities
  • Provide opportunities for the learner to practice independently
  • Provide feedback on how well the learner is doing (by formative and summative assessment)

To achieve this, there are a number of models that may apply when designing your program. 

1. The “Agile Learning” model takes a lead from the project management philosophy, where the learner applies the skills they just learned before going on to the next. This makes it easy for anyone to join in at the “apply and try” stage. They continue only if they get it wrong. This helps maximise the instant return on investment from the learning, because not everyone has to study the entire learning program before making progress.

2. 9 instructional steps (by Robert Gagn ) define a process for effective learning:

  1. Gain attention.
  2. Inform learner of objectives.
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning.
  4. Present stimulus material.
  5. Provide learner guidance.
  6. Elicit performance.
  7. Provide feedback.
  8. Assess performance.
  9. Enhance retention and transfer.

These steps provide a way of developing a logical flow of information, but strict adherence to this flow might dis-engage a learner. Instead, additional principles need to be applied.

3. Context-Dependant Learning. Mager & Pipe, along with Dick & Carey have worked on a model where the purpose of learning depends on the context.  What makes people perform can be summed up by the following ‘self-statements’:

  •  “I know” what to do
  • “I have” what I need to do it
  • “I may” – or “I have authority to do it.” 
  • “I will” “ or “I want to do it.” 
  • “I can” do it.

The model relies on the idea that there is s a predictable and reliable link between a stimulus –  the learning materials – and the response that it produces in a learner.

4. Goal-based learning (by Roger Schank) is based on the principle of “learning by failure”.

It focuses on critical mistakes and works with a range of content types, including case-based simulations. The designer produces a scenario and allows the learner to make a mistake. The learner can’t continue with the program before receiving tutoring or mentoring. When he or she goes back, he hopefully doesn’t make the same mistake again, and so progresses through the scenario. This approach works well for independent learners and can provide a quick way to gain learning, since the learner is only checked when he makes a mistake.

5. There’s also a hybrid ID model – based on the work of Gagn and Malcolm Knowles – and known by the mnemonic PETER HASSLE:

  • Prepare – remembering that getting people prepared and motivated to learn can happen outside of a formal learning program.
  • Engage – remembering that the one thing that bores learners is learning content that’s too “low level.”
  • Tutor
  • Explore – remembering that learners need to try out things for themselves.
  • Review

and, for online learning:

  • Help
  • Assess
  • Study
  • Share
  • Learn
  • Enter

While content accessibility becomes ever more critical in a rapidly changing world – it becomes even more important to create a better user experience from a design point of view. In this landscape, designers of both off-line AND online learning must exploit the possibilities of technology to transform their learning solutions into engaging formats.