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Come, now…

In response to an article about the death of instructional design, Stephen says… “there is not a (practical) sub-discipline that is (strictly) the design of instructional materials.” There are many parenthetical caveats in this statement, but it is still wrong. Stephen’s evidence for the argument that there is no discipline of instructional design?

The success of sites like Common Craft, designed with an apparent indifference to instructional design principles (“The Lefevre’s have no instructional design background at all,” writes Schlenker) seems to me to be evidence of that.

It’s like saying, “The success of the bridge Bob built over the irrigation ditch in front of his yard, with an apparent indifference to engineering principles (“Bob has no engineering background at all”), is evidence of the fact that there is no practical sub-discipline of structural engineering.”

Which is most likely: (1) that Bob and the Common Craft folk have learned important principles through life experience without having ever taken courses on these topics and applied them successfully, or (2) the fields of instructional design and structural engineering don’t exist?

It’s difficult for me to believe that Stephen would argue that the only disciplines that really exist are those that require formal training to gain proficiency in…

11 replies on “Come, now…”

The point about the common craft example is not merely that the authors created the videos in ignorance of instructional design principles, but also that the videos do not instantiate instructional design principles, and yet are still successful. The analogy would be the creation of a bridge not only in ignorance of engineering principles but in such a way as to fail to instantiate them at all. In the case of the bridge, of course, the design would be unsuccessful; that it is successful in the case of the video is what speaks against the proposition that there are practical or accurate instructional design principles.

The second point of my commentary is to assert that insofar as there are principles involved, these are principles of design generally, and not principles of instructional design specifically. That, in other words, instructional design, insofar as it contains any useful principles at all, is nothing more than an expression of design principles generally, and that there is nothing specific to instruction in instructional design over and above design.

I think this is a defensible position.

I think it is important to point out this statement from the Common Craft website:

“Our videos are designed for use in training and education. Specifically, they serve as great introductions to topics like Saving Money, Computer Software and Electing a US President. Playing a Common Craft video at the beginning of a training session gets students engaged and onto the same page quickly.”

Instructional design is not just about getting a learner’s attention or introducing a topic, although those are very important events.

Stephen, I think it’s logically awkward to suggest that disciplines do not have their own design principles.

A glance at books on instructional design, boat design, landscape design, interior design, clothing design, job design, research design, and so forth would certainly find sets of design principles specific to those disciplines.

The “interactivity principle” in instructional design and the “rhythm principle” in landscape design are just a couple of examples.

Certainly philosophy, technology, economics, etc., have affected each discipline sufficiently to generate discipline-specific principles.

In fact, in, say, boat design wouldn’t we further expect sailboat-design principles, and then sail-design principles, and so forth?

My experience would support Stephen’s assertions. I have been a “designer” for over thirty years. I was schooled in architectural design, but have applied those problem-solving principles I learned, oh-so-many-years-ago-now, to just about every task I undertake.

I have designed houses, business facilities, community, municipal and provincial buildings. I have used that same skillset in the manufacture of stained glass and jewellery, restoring old motorcycles, creating online university-level course materials and developing IT infrastructure and facilities. The process for each is essentially the same (i.e. ADDIE), though we have added iteration to the model to help manage the current pace of change (added to the model, but not necessarily our practice).

That the folks at commoncraft have no formal credentials in instructional design is pretty much irrelevant. They are creative (a quality lacking in much, so-called design – the artistic or aesthetic aspect of design seems to be missing in most educational efforts) and have put considerable thought into their productions…well scripted, probably on storyboards, consistent look-and-feel and simple. They are designed for a specific purpose and work, well. The simplicity is deceptive. It takes a fair amount of work to create a message that clear and easily understood, which I am sure many academics can appreciate.

Your position maybe defensible put it is not understandable. Who uses instantiate?

Your reasoning is faulty. You argue that If Bob built a bridge that didn’t follow the fundamental principles of effective bridge design it would result in a faulty bridge. Two problems with that. Bob could in ignorance build a bridge which follows the design and engineering principles of effective bridges. This you acknowledge. Thus if the engineers find evidence of those principles they already know, they have validated is that the principles of design hold true. If Bob on the other hand designs a bridge that doesn’t conform to any known engineering or design principles ( it doesn’t instantiate any principles known) and it is successful does this show that all design principles known are now wrong? No, what it does do is requires further investigation into why it succeeded leading to new insights into the design process. You argue that a bridge that doesn’t “follow the rules” would not be successful, but there are anecdotal cases of this from all realms of design where things work that boggle the engineers and designers.

CommonCraft is a good example of the latter. The fact that these folks use a highly effective technique (which I argue follows Instructional Design Principles) without formal training (even if it doesn’t follow design principles) is simply evidence that there are more aspects to effective instructional design than have yet been formalized.

Stephen, your argument seems to be that design is design is design with no reference to what you are designing. I am an Instructional Designer and I taught a course in the principles of design for 16yr old Career and Technical Engineering students. While I agree good design carries from one field to another, there are fundamental guidelines and rules that have shown to help create good instructional design which are peculiar to Instruction and don’t hold true for other disciplines.

Just curious to know which instructional design principles are missing in the Common Craft videos. Apart from assessment I’m not sure I see anything lacking. What I do see is a very creative approach.

The purpose of structural engineering is to build things like bridges. The purpose of instructional design is to facilitate learning. Building bridges and facilitating learning are sufficiently different activities that it seems pretty obvious that there are at least some underlying principles unique to each. For this reason alone I don’t think it can be easily claimed that any instructional design principles are just general design principles, and thus there is no such thing as instructional design.

It may be worth thinking about this question in historical context. As professions (like engineering) emerged practitioners worked to define their fields. Part of that definition has traditionally been to create structures that both ensure quality and provide barriers to entry–here think licenses, professional associations, competency exams, and academic disciplines. In the early history of professions, “certified professionals” compete alongside people who are good at the work but who lack credentials. But as the profession advances, fewer and fewer non-certified professionals can make a living in the field. So today, in a field like engineering, nearly all engineers are certified professionals with degrees in the field. People who build bridges in their yards, regardless of the standards they use, are do-it-yourselfers.

So the question for instructional design is whether it will follow the traditional path to becoming a profession, or whether the tools of instructional design are so easily available that it will remain a field without becoming a profession. If predictions about the reach of open learning come true, that is likely to be the case.

Gary raises an interesting question here regarding the distinction between a field and a profession. If instructional design principles are clear and simple enough for anyone to grasp (such that they can design good instruction without any formal training as long as they know the principles), where does that leave those that call themselves instructional designers? Where do those of us who consider ourselves “professionals” fit in?

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