back to basics

This link explains the process of instructional design very well.

Now, I’m a big proponent of process in instructional design, and particularly fond of ADDIE.  And yes, I read all the “leaving ADDIE for SAM” crap and have little use for it.  SAM’s major claim is that it’s less rigid a process than ADDIE; and I’d argue that’s a bad thing, not a selling feature.

Let’s look at this for a moment.

ADDIE tells us that we should do our analysis prior to our design.  And that we should nail down the design piece before moving into development.  And that something should be developed before it’s implemented and implemented before it’s evaluated.  This seems like a fairly good blue print to use.

I think the issue here is perspective.  If you’re stuck and can’t move forward – it’s not ADDIE holding you back.  The process should not be the problem.  Why can’t you finish your analysis or design?  Why CAN’T you move to the next phase?  In my experience, it hasn’t been ADDIE that’s the problem – it’s been people who don’t believe in it that are the problem.  IDs, or more likely their “clients”, don’t want to do analysis.  They want a training solution without figuring out what the training problem is or if there is even one to begin with.  Often, there’s failure on the recruitment or operational end of things more often than an issue with training.  We either aren’t taking the time required to ask the right questions or we’re not being allowed the time to ask the right questions.

SAM, on the other hand, says “hey..  it’s all happening at once, just keep going and don’t worry“.  REALLY?  That seems to me to be an amazing recipe for choppy, fragmented training.  You can’t write content before deciding on objectives and you certainly can’t start developing before you’ve even designed what it is you want to do.  SAM is lazy, although he markets himself as “accommodating” and “efficient”.   Not following ADDIE isn’t being all cool and new and hip in the industry – it’s being a poser who doesn’t believe in one’s craft.

Our grandmothers told us that if you’re not going to do something right, you shouldn’t do it at all.  I think that’s wise advice.


Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Mindset, and Technology

An interesting perspective!


This summer, I read Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave for a course assignment. If you’re not familiar with it, see this YouTube video of a professor’s lecture and animation:

Plato’s allegory reminded me of the chains we place on ourselves as adult learners.  Ever since I graduated from college, I have encountered adults who profess the age-old idiom: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  As an educator, I confronted this in the Peace Corps when working with artisans, in college when teaching languages, and even within my own family dealing with challenging tasks.

I exclude my mother and myself from this.  She never allowed anything to keep her from learning something new.  She instilled in me the gumption to apply myself to any task, no matter how difficult it may appear to be.  From experience, I can assert that I have been successful at learning various difficult things as…

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the importance of instructional design in creating bounded learning communities

The following is my review of this article:

The article Bounded Community:  Designing and facilitating learning communities in formal courses, originally published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, November 2004, remains relevant a decade later.  In the article, the authors (Brent G. Wilson, Stacey Ludwig-Hardman, Christine L. Thornam, and Joanna C. Dunlap) outline not only why a learning community is a vital aspect of learning in a formal course, but the importance of instructional design and facilitation in creating healthy learning communities in formal courses.

As an instructional designer, I believe this article remains relevant because of the renewed focus on social and practical learning in the workplace, as well as the focus on design in creating these communities.  The authors note that “That participation, however, is mediated by the rules, incentives and structures that together form the course infrastructure” and that “the formation of a community within a course takes leadership, support and facilitation”.  The focus on the importance of deliberate design to create learning communities in formal courses in order to make learning interactive and contextual reminds me that community does not just happen – it is created.

The article begins by explaining that bounded learning communities have specific borders in a formal course; learners do not pick their community, especially in distance education, and it is kept to a specific time frame.  And while these borders may seem like limitations, they may also present unique opportunities to share uninhibitedly in the right environment (page 3).   The article also provides an overview to why fostering a community is important in adult education as it provides a social context for the learning, allows distance students to feel more connected and provides a “practice field” (page 3) for trying out new skills.

Once these baseline assumptions are established, the article begins to discuss the design implications for creating community based on Ludwig-Hardman’s (2003) review of learning communities.  They suggest that shared goals, safe and supportive conditions, collective identity, collaboration, respectful inclusion, progressive discourse toward knowledge building and mutual appropriation are features to include (page 5), as opposed to criteria to be satisfied, when designing courses that foster learning communities.  The difference between criteria to be satisfied and features to include is alluded to on page 8, where the authors note that “course resources may be analyzed and determined to be strong or weak in one or more of the seven features, leading to adjustments in the environment, tasks and support structures”.

Another important aspect of the article is the idea that bounded learning communities have life cycles with three stages:  initiation, participation, and closure (page 11) and that the design of the course factors heavily in creating an effective life cycle.  A job aid is presented for designers and facilitators to ensure that the right rituals, stories, symbols and language are used to build community in the course (page 12, 13) and another is provided to help strengthen the community in established courses (page 13 – 16).  The authors also outline which strategies to use at which stage; as an example, the initiation phase may best focus on developing safe conditions and community identity while the participation phase may best focus on identifying shared goals, collaboration and respectful conclusion (page 16).

The article concludes by providing an assessment tool for designers and facilitators (page 17) to ensure that “the participation skills gained relate very well to the lifelong learning roles expected of adults…”

What I appreciated most about this article was insistence that learning communities in formal courses need to be designed.  In my experience, we often “hope” that what we build will foster community, but there is a lack of intentionality to our design.  This article not only provides the theory behind the importance of design, but some practical tools for designers and facilitators to ensure community is designed and strengthened. I also appreciated the authors’ understanding that technical skill “… is doubtless of value, but even more valuable is the ability to use a skill to solve an authentic problem” (page 18).   Using a bounded learning community to collaborate and practice new skills brings value not only to the learning experience, but the design of the course itself.

As a criticism, I would have preferred if less of the article made a case for bounded learning communities and more examples were given to help designers (like myself) implement these strategies.  Having said this, I still believe that the job aids provided in the article will help me, as an instructional designer, be more intentional about creating learning communities in formal courses and less likely to rely on chance.

In conclusion, I would recommend this article for any instructional designer who endeavours to create community in his/her courses to ensure that the participants feel connected with each other and the content.  Knowing how learning communities that are time-bound and restricted to a specific course can be designed to bring context and collaboration as participants practice new skills is a valuable resource for any instructional designer, especially those like me who are working in virtual spaces.  I would even go so far as to recommend this article for managers of virtual teams – as many of the theories and job aids would help foster a sense of community for teleworking teams, although the communities would be less time-bound than the article intended.

taking an analogy too far

Yesterday, my manager sent my team this link.  It’s a great resource, actually, for someone like me:  an instructional designer heavy on the design side of things and a tad light on the whole visual/development side.

However, the title got me thinking.  If visuals are the pimp, what’s everything else?  So let’s think this through.  Pimps rent out prostitutes for sex in exchange for money.  Let’s do this like a math question:  If visuals are the pimps – they are renting out x for y in exchange for z, what are the x, y, and z of my world?

I came up with this:  Visuals rent out a conduit(x) for a learning (y) in exchange for attention (z).  Is that true, do you think?  Let’s think about this.

  • Visuals want someone’s attention they way pimps want money.  I think this is a reasonable, if unorthodox, statement.
  • Visuals rent out a conduit, the way a pimp rents out a prostitute.  I think this is not too big of a stretch; the same way visuals are NOT the idea, the prostitute is not sex.  It’s a conduit.  I’m sorry – please don’t be angry at me for explaining it this way.
  • The customer wants learning as a goal, the same way other customers want sex.  Well, probably not at all the same way.  I wonder how many people this will end up offending?
  • Customers are willing to give money to pimps to get sex the same way learners are willing to give attention to visuals to get trained.

Assuming you’re still reading and you’re not completely disgusted with this analogy, consider, then, when renting a prostitute for sex, one can cut out the pimp.  Probably saving a lot of money in the process but still acquiring sex with the prostitute.  Think about that.

Can we also, then, assume – in the most disgusting math equation I have ever dreamed up – that if we omitted the visuals – you could still end up with learning while putting less attention on the conduit?

And if that’s true…

Content stays king.

the learning environment

Usually the responsibility of the trainer, or learner, or human resource person, this subject rarely falls under the umbrella of the instructional designer.  But is that correct?

Today, I was going to facilitate a class.  A small, 2 hour class that I continue teaching because I really like keeping my facilitation skills as I hone my instructional design skills in the workplace.  When I teach – facilitate, instruct, train, whatever word or action you prefer – I like to go in early to be sure that the learning environment – the classroom – is ready for learners.  And when I say ready, I mean set up well with flipboard paper or whiteboards available, a working projector, enough chairs, no garbage laying around from the last class – enough interesting “things” around the room without being a distraction.  As trainers, you have enough to worry about without your smile sheets or discussions going awry because of a dirty or ill prepared environment.

And so, I got there 90 minutes early and was glad I did so.  Not only was the original room unavailable but most other rooms in the building equally so.  Some cleverness found me a room on the main floor – so i sent a last minute email and riddled the walls and elevators with signs about the room change.  By 8:45 my new classroom was set up, all props ready to go and I was greeting learners.  Such is our role.

So why am I mentioning this on a blog for IDs?

As we construct eLearning, virtual classrooms and real classrooms, I think we need to give some thought to the learning environment.  What sort of PLACE is this learning taking place in?  While maybe I cannot control the terminal or tablet or smartphone my training is being taken on, or the distractions present, I can control things like file size and resolution and audio.  I can make sure that any additional resources are allowed at the place learners are taking the training.  As an example, I won’t link to a youtube video that stores are blocked from viewing.

But is it more than that?

I think in our current culture where learning needs to be bite size and moment-specific, maybe that’s part of the environment we need to consider.  Maybe as IDs we need to be lobbying for more succinct solutions that present the information required in almost a bullet point format with additional resources available as required.  If, for instance, a video is meant to be viewed on the floor and rapidly in order to quickly learn about a product, perhaps my learning environment is about how quickly the video loads, ensuring it doesn’t lag and that it doesn’t contain anything other than the information the person needed.   Perhaps the way I militantly prepare my classroom is the way I should guard the content being added – is this needed?  is this a distraction?  is this meeting the objectives?  is it window dressing?  is it extra?

Or maybe it’s partnering with our HR partners to ensure that the environment that people take our training in is exactly as we’d expect a classroom to be for a live trainer.  I wouldn’t teach in a room that was crowded and dirty and noisy and distracting – so why am I expecting my virtual learners to sit in such a room and take eLearning or a virtual class?  Maybe it’s my role to explain, like we had to however many years ago with the training rooms, how it affects learning to be in an inappropriate environment.

tracking learning – how and why

As part of my daily work, I do research into new ideas and innovation.  Lately, my team was tasked with researching the Tin Can API.  In case you’re not familiar, let me give you a bullet-point primer:

  • Typically, we capture eLearning or course registrations in our LMS.
  • Learning professionals, more and more, are being asked about experiential, social and mobile learning.
  • API means “application program interface”, which is fairly clear:  Tin Can creates a portal for applications and programs to talk.

So, you know where this is going, right?

We could CAPTURE everything a person does to learn.  Reach out to peers?  Google something?  Watch a video?  We could capture it on your transcript.

And in my research I’m learning more and more about how we’d be able to do it and all the amazing things we could capture and what the risks and benefits are to an Instructional Designer without coding skills.. but no one is answering me this:


Why do I need every piece of extra information I find out or request mapped?  Unless we’re giving them credit for it or monetizing it or gamifying it?

But here’s what I think is wrong with this:  I don’t care how many sites you google, videos you youtube, peers you talk to – I want to know if you used that information to change what you do on the job to get better results for yourself and the company.  And that can’t be measured by an LMS or an API.  Who cares how innovative we are in offering learning if nothing changes or if we can’t figure out what worked and what didn’t in getting that change?

Yay, John Doe watched a video and it’s tracked.

Now what?

emerging concepts

I’m taking a course right now for my certificate in Adult Education with a specialization in Workplace Learning.  It’s about Adult Learning and the Community and thankfully it’s my last before I get my certificate.

Interestingly, the text is about 20 years old and what it defines as “emerging concepts in adult education” are not much more defined and established than they were way back when.  My text talks about learning environments, training and development, experiential learning and situational cognition (which is my personal fave).

As I think about “learning environments” – and there is discussion in the text around the physical classroom, I’m also reminded that this continues to be an emerging concept as we look at virtual classrooms, mobile learning and different points of access.  Training and Development is also a concept that is emerging, as we look at the evolving interest in competency based objectives.  As a group of learning professionals, I think we agree that experience needs to count for something – and that those with experience shouldn’t be forced to sit through endless training sessions – but situational cognition asks the question:  can you take your experience and put it into this new context?  If you have experience as a children’s teacher and now teach adults – yes, you have experience but can you contextual what’s the same, different and how you will adapt?

And then I ask myself, and you, this:  Does all this theoretical knowledge mean anything as we’re doing our day-to-day, designing training?  I think it does.