Why Instructional Design Matters
If you are an Instructional Designer or a beneficiary of Instructional Design you instinctively know its importance and value. But have you ever systematically analyzed Instructional Design’s strategic purpose; its topmost goal?
If not, those who use Instructional Design as a means of teaching, coaching, or training others should consider proving to themselves what Instructional Design is before delving into the specifics of how it works, or how to apply its principles, or what kind of Instructional Design is more appropriate in a given set of circumstances.
A definition is always helpful as a starting point, and a generally accepted one is this: “Instructional Design is the practice of creating instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” But what I would like to help explore is more than a definition – I would like to answer this question: What is the strategic objective of Instructional Design; what is its topmost goal?
My first premise is that all activities have a strategic purpose; the question is whether we know or are even aware of that strategic purpose. My second premise is that thinking about and identifying the strategic purpose of something should be a vital first principle of any human activity.
So, think of the strategic or topmost goal as the what. If a practitioner cannot identify what something does and clearly articulate its purpose, then trust from other participants in the endeavor and good results will be harder to come by.
No project ever gets far without the strategic what being clearly identified, as well as a series of complementary tactical steps (the how) without which the strategy remains unattainable.
How does one go about identifying the strategic purpose of anything? The identification of the strategic goal and the supporting tactics can only be discovered by critically thinking about the issue. And a really good way to start is by asking why it matters.
To answer the question about why something matters, the best place to start critically thinking about it is 30,000 feet up. The bird’s eye view allows us to “zoom out” on an issue, ensuring we first see and take into account the surroundings or context of the issue, before “zooming in”.
If a commander planning an assault only sees the lie of the land at his own eye-level from at most six feet above the ground, even with binoculars, most information about the true contours of the battlefield will elude him. There is a reason why hot air balloons made their appearance on the field of battle very soon after being seen as mere entertaining curiosities floating above Paris in 1783.
So, the obvious next question is this: By what means can one discover the strategic purpose –the topmost goal– of Instructional Design and identify the tactics necessary to accomplishing that strategic purpose?
The answer is critical thinking. And critical thinking is all about questioning. The key is to ask and answer questions beginning with these six words: WHO. WHAT. WHY. WHERE. WHEN and HOW.
STEP ONE. Begin with the “zoom-out” questions. The questions that identify the context, hierarchy, or taxonomy of Instructional Design before drilling down. Here goes.
Q. WHAT is Instructional Design and learning a part of?
A. Those activities which educate, instruct, and impart knowledge or skill.
Q. WHAT are those activities which educate, instruct, and impart knowledge or skill a part of?
A. The human body of knowledge.
So, thinking of Instructional Design in a hierarchy - it is part of all our educational activities, and educational activities are part of the human body of knowledge – that’s the bird’s eye view or context of Instructional Design.
STEP TWO. Now you have “zoomed out” and established the context of Instructional Design in its correct hierarchical position – methods that help add to the human body of knowledge, it is time to “zoom in”.
The methodology is simple. First, ask and answer as many questions as you can, beginning with the words WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW.
Here is an example of how it could work. Note, your questions and answers might differ and, since we are dealing in a subjective area, your conclusion might be different but equally valid.
Q. WHO benefits from Instructional Design?
A. The five stakeholders (directors, shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers)
Q. WHO is responsible for the Instructional Design process?
A. Business, military and civic leaders.
Q. WHAT is the purpose of Instructional Design?
A. To facilitate the discovery of new knowledge and sharing of existing knowledge.
Q. WHAT connects the discovery of new knowledge and the sharing of existing knowledge?
A. The need for an entity –an enterpriser or a business– to survive and evolve.
Q. WHY is Instructional Design important?
A. Society is changing rapidly and the transfer of knowledge and the discovery of new knowledge is becoming more important and more difficult.
Q. WHY is the transfer and discovery of knowledge more difficult?
A. The volume of data is increasing exponentially making meaning more difficult to decipher.
Q. WHERE is Instructional Design most valuable or important?
A. Wherever competition for resources exists.
Q. WHERE should Instructional Design be implemented?
A. Wherever change is a constant and obstacles to success exist.
Q. WHEN should Instructional Design be deployed?
A. Whenever change is a constant and problems need to be solved.
Q. HOW should Instructional Design be deployed?
A. Optimally, by identifying and implementing the necessary tactical steps.
STEP THREE. Go back over the questions and answers and highlight the handful of words or phrases that stand out as intuitively most important – this is best done in a team.
For example: Educate, instruct, and impart knowledge or skill; the human body of knowledge; the five stakeholders; the discovery of new knowledge and sharing of existing knowledge; the need for an entity –a person or a business– to survive and evolve; everything is changing rapidly and the transfer of knowledge and the discovery of new knowledge is becoming more important and more difficult; The volume of data is increasing exponentially; wherever competition for resources exists.
STEP FOUR. Summarize the highlighted words and phrases into a coherent paragraph beginning with the words “The strategic purpose of Instructional Design is”. Like a poem the goal is to convey the most with the fewest words.
So, for example, “The strategic purpose of Instructional Design is to systematically uncover new information, synthesize it with known information and share the results with a view to optimizing the company stakeholder’s interests”.
Or, “The strategic purpose of Instructional Design is a human/machine interface for turning raw data into useful information and then into relevant actionable intelligence as a means of survival through continuous innovation”.
Or, “The strategic purpose of Instructional Design is knowledge mining”.
In this article I have used the Terego Enterprise Training Method to methodically analyze an issue; in this case Instructional Design. To see more detailed examples of exactly how this method works click here.