On Sunday, I attended a very interesting meeting of about 50 instructional designers (what is a good collective noun for instructional designers?) from across British Columbia, at Camosun College, Victoria. This was a pre-conference workshop before the Educational Technology Users Group of BC’s Spring Workshop (more on that in another post). The group discussed several questions, and I’ve pulled together what I heard:
1: Is there a future for instructional designers? (Facilitated by Paul Stacey, BCcampus). This was prompted by the statement that if we properly trained instructors in post-secondary education, would we still need instructional designers? The main feeling in the group was yes, we will continue to need instructional designers, because all instructors are NOT going to be properly trained (not enough time, too expensive, no rewards for taking time to be trained), the demands of technology and teaching are increasing, and instructional designers have different skill sets from instructors (even when trained to teach): instructors have a focus more on content transmission rather than skills development, for instance.
HOWEVER: if we want instructors to be more like facilitators than deliverers of content, they will need to be trained and this may undermine the added value that instructional designers currently bring to the task. I also wondered what others outside the profession might have said to this, particularly academic administrators and faculty.
There was also some discussion about what was needed to get into the profession. Even people with academic qualifications in ID find it difficult to get jobs without experience. There was strong agreement that it was important for instructional designers to have both classroom experience and experience of teaching online as well as academic qualifications in instructional design. The need for a proper career structure was also emphasised, with opportunities in learning technology units for ‘apprentice’ instructional designers working with more experienced instructional designers. This required HR departments in universities and colleges in many institutions to create new categories of jobs and career and promotion opportunities.
There was also some discussion of demand, with a concern that there were fewer jobs going in the public education system. This view was challenged though. With a move to more online and hybrid courses and the development of learning technology units, there was in fact an actual scarcity of experienced, qualified instructional designers, at least in Canada, although this did not always convert into actual positions. Training opportunities for instructional designers were also limited, especially in central Canada.
2. Goodbye to ADDIE? This topic (facilitated by Roger Powley) looked at the attack on instructional systems design (ISD) by Gordon and Zemke (2001), who have argued that the instructional systems design model is a fake and doesn’t work, in that no-one uses it, and it is based on false or no science.
There was a lot of agreement that the detailed implementation of the ISD model doesn’t work, especially for constructivist or learner-centered teaching, and web 2.0 tools did not fit easily with an ISD model, but questions were raised about what one would use instead. Several people pointed out that the ADDIE or ISD framework was useful, because it forced one to look at teaching and learning from a systems perspective, and that approach was still important and valuable, although slavish adherence to all the detailed steps was probably futile. Nevertheless at the end, there was a general feeling that the issues raised by Gordon and Zemke were not being adequately addressed by the profession.
3. Learning theory and instructional design. Lisa Read facilitated discussions on the question: does instructional design use a particular learning theory? And does ID take account sufficiently of different learning modalities or learning styles? This topic resulted in some very heated discussions, especially around research into learning styles and differences between media.
There was some agreement that different learning theories can all be useful depending on context, especially the ‘state’ of individual learners and the nature of the subject matter. It was considered part of an instructional designer’s skills to be able to identify the most appropriate approaches to learning within different contexts, and not to be dogmatic about any single theoretical approach. There was some discussion about whether we needed new learning theories (such as connectivism) to account for social networking and other recent developments in media, but there was some skepticism about whether theories such as connectivism would fit easily with an instructional design approach.
4. Building engaging activities. There were two groups discussing this, one for post-secondary and one for k-12. I participated only in the k-12 group, facilitated by Maryjanne Yusyp. It was suggested that to build engaging activities, you needed to know your audience and what ‘fired them up.’ Some argued that social learning, and in particular listening to other people’s arguments and how they fitted with one’s own, was important for engagement. However, it was also pointed out that some students were not interested in social learning. They just wanted to know what to do and get the job done as quickly as possible. Finding ways to engage this kind of student was particularly challenging, especially in an online environment.
Building in success was considered important, but this was made unnecessarily difficult by the constraints of the ‘system’. School curricular are too restrictive and cut off student engagement, and in fact standardized curricula and testing inhibit the building of skills, such as risk taking, exploration and personal engagement in learning so needed in today’s society. The comment was made that the distance learning approach in BC was particularly restrictive, not allowing teachers or students flexibility in subject exploration.
What is NOT being looked at instructional design.
In summarizing the discussion, I also looked at some of things that are not being done very well (or at all) in instructional design. The glaring gap for me was theory or practice or research to determine the appropriate use of face-to-face and online activities in hybrid or blended modes. What’s best done online and what’s best done on campus, when you can do both, but within limited time? In particular, how do we make best use of a limited campus experience? What are the factors or conditions we need to take into account when making such decisions?
Another gap was the design implications of open educational resources. Surpirisngly, this was not discussed much at this workshop, yet there are major issues about how best to create and use OERs.
Although we don’t have good designs or models yet for the use of web 2.0 or hybrid learning, we do have theories of learning. Why are we not applying theory more rigorously to these areas and coming up with new models based on theory that can be tested? (Yes, I’m asking for more innovation in teaching again – and perhaps new theory as well!)
Would you believe that this all happened within three hours and I went to only one quarter of the discussion groups? What struck me was how intense this community of practice was. There was total engagement and excitement during the whole three hours. The room was buzzing and the noise of discussion, laughter and argument was deafening.
Instructional designers live in a weird no-man’s land between faculty, students and administrators. Their role is not well understood outside their profession, (and sometimes not even within it, as it became clear on Sunday!), yet they are, in my view, the essential component that ensures quality in the use of e-learning. Although I am not an instructional designer by training (although I have practiced it often!) I have the greatest respect for their work, and it was a really enjoyable afternoon for me, as well as for them.
If any of you who were there would like to add to or correct comments made here, please do – indeed, I’d like to hear from anyone who has views on these topics.