A Practical Check-In With 4 Of The Most Popular Instructional Design Models

4 Of The Most Popular Instructional Design Models

You could write volumes—and some have—contrasting the virtues and liabilities of old and new Instructional Design models. Perhaps because so much theory has emerged in recent years, the following article offers a few practical examples of how my own team continues to utilize them.

1. Bloom’s Taxonomy

No conversation about Instructional Design models would be complete without Bloom’s Taxonomy. In recent years, Learning and Development practitioners have begun wondering if Bloom’s Taxonomy holds up in the digital age. It’s an intriguing question, the answer to which I do not mean to oversimplify. For the sake of practical nature of this article, I can say Bloom’s Taxonomy, which has been around (and evolving) since 1956, continues to play an important role in all of our projects. Admittedly, we gravitate primarily towards the verb-centric nature of the model, which asks at every turn, what is it learners need to be able to do after this training or this activity is complete? During client design meetings, Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a method to help our stakeholders articulate and understand the real performance objectives of the course, and determine the right learning activities to employ.

2. The ARCS Model

Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, The ARCS Model, appears to have incredible staying power. Through application, our teams have found that the two constructs serve to inform one another. For example, Bloom’s may tell us the best way to teach or reinforce a particular concept would be through telling a story, but the ARCS model helps us explore which kind of story would be most effective. Should it incorporate, humor, conflict, or perhaps the personal details of an event as told by the person who witnessed it? Whether we are creating a facilitator guide for instructor-led employee onboarding or a 3D-simulated factory floor experience for Oculus Rift, as a project or individual activity unfolds, my team and I periodically pause and issue an ARCS litmus test: Will this hold our audiences attention? Will our audience find this relevant? Will this activity instill confidence in our learners? Will they feel a sense of satisfaction?

Clients are usually excited about the training they’re helping to create, and sometimes want to put everything and the kitchen sink into it. The ARCS Model is a helpful way for us all to ensure that the content we include deserves to be there.

3. The ADDIE Model

The ADDIE model is often described as the most popular framework for creating training materials. Its 5 linear phases—Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate—are phases a project will probably go through no matter what. ADDIE simply solidifies them and provides teams with questions to consider during each phase.

Detractors claim (among other things) that the ADDIE model’s linear approach lacks flexibility. In other words, to avoid any serious issues with their project, design teams must get everything right during the Analyze phase, and so forth during the Design and Develop phases, so that by the time the Implement and Evaluate phases are reached, the final deliverable is just what the team and the client had hoped for. In reality, clients often change their minds about key aspects of the project—or only have a vague conception of it at the outset; productive analysis often takes place during one of the later phases, and budgets and scope targets often change.

Even with its flaws, my teams and I still see the ADDIE Model as a useful tool, one we regularly use when working with clients. Not only is the ADDIE model’s linear flow easier to understand, but it helps stakeholders realize the urgency of collaborating early and often. It emphasizes the need for rigorous data gathering and analysis early on. Some may argue that assigning hard and fast cut off dates to the successive phases is limiting. It is, but those limits lend needed organization to the project, and we’ve found clients appreciate those limits when they understand the benefits. On the client side, thinking in terms of concrete phases encourages clients to stay engaged and to collaborate with us early and often.

4. The Agile Model

If you’re familiar with the ADDIE Model, you’re likely to be familiar with at least some of the alternatives that have emerged to address its criticisms. Chief among them is Agile, which comes to Learning and Development from the software development world. Agile is an iterative approach to delivery in which the development of learning materials is created incrementally from the start, instead of through a single, previously-unseen deliverable near the end of the project. Other resources can provide you with a more in-depth look at Agile principles, including The Agile Manifesto.

Even as we emphasize a more linear approach with clients, behind the scenes my team and I pull several Agile elements into our work. For example, we do a lot of work upfront so we can deliver mockups or prototype portions of the deliverable during our first design meeting in an effort to engage, and quite frankly, to delight clients. Consistent with Agile’s iterative structure, if we do our job well, these very assets will be altered and enhanced over the next few months and serve as the basis for the final deliverable. Clients are thrilled to see something early on, and they understand that this is a first draft. Our team proves that we’ve hit the ground running, and even when the design is not in line with what the client has envisioned, it gives them something visual to which they can respond.

Yet, in keeping with the ADDIE Model, final approval of, say, a working prototype, still signals the end of the design phase. All elements of design are thus locked down, and the rest of the course can be developed—scripted and programmed—in accordance with what has already been done.

Final Thoughts

When choosing which models to employ, it’s often helpful that you can use them together. Older methodologies aren’t necessarily outdated, and newer ones, like Agile, do not necessarily have to serve as wholesale replacements. In other words, take what’s proven to work well—and iterate.

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