Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Final Part, The best instructional design models for today...

Now that we have clarified the question (part 1), conducted a Discovery (part 2), and framed up our media, limitations, and objectives (part 3), we can now answer the original question: How do you go about choosing the best Learning, Instructional, Delivery, and Assessment models--given all the technologies available for eLearning today?

Define your models. These models all overlap one another and inform one another, and none of them stand alone. They should be considered together, as significant parts of a single whole.

The Learning Model. This is the path your learners will take as they navigate the experience you have defined for them. Let's start with Gagne's Nine Events:

1. Gain attention
2. Inform the learner of objectives
3. Stimulate the recall of prior learning
4. Present stimulus material (content)
5. Provide learner guidance
6. Elicit performance
7. Provide feedback
8. Assess performance.
9. Enhance retention and transfer

Other research-based events:

--State the purpose of the learning
--Model the behavior/skill/application
--Provide guided practice, without assessment
--Provide student-centered closure
--Provide opportunity for self-reflection

Each of the above events is backed with solid research findings that show an increase in learning and retention if they are included. In order to generate a learning product that has the best chance of producing the desired learning outcomes, pick your events and put them in a standard order. That's your Learning Model. Each lesson, each unique module, should follow your chosen pattern, your Learning Model... until you decide that a lesson or module should follow a different one. Then define that one.

And let me just say that, as someone with a deep media background who understands impact, I can absolutely vouch for the power of these steps. If they didn't work, I never would have started using them--I'd have just added more video, more animation, more of that powerful media stuff. But in fact, getting this right is the single most effective thing you can do to increase learning. No exceptions.

So. By carefully choosing the order and matching your media with these events, it is possible to include almost the entire array of instructional options ever conceived, from the case method to discovery to self-paced and differentiated learning. You can also include group work, projects, discussions, whatever learning methods are appropriate. They all fit, because they can be used to achieve learning events. There is art to this, absolutely. Talent and experience are very helpful companions here, but the threshold is low. Creating a Learning Model is neither rocket science nor the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Assessment Model. Notice Gagne's event numbers 8 and 9... they are about assessment. This is why I consider the Assessment Model to be part of the Learning Model. How will you assess that the objectives have been met? Decide it early, and build it in. It is your proof of success. Most technology platforms have test engines, which suffice for most uses. High stakes assessments are more science than art, however, and creating reliable ones will require some psychometric expertise. Factor that in if you need it.

The Instructional Model. Did you notice that while Gagne's events define learner activities, they are actually written from the instructor's point of view? He wrote them in 1965, a classroom-only era... and in those classrooms the space between what the students were asked to do and what the instructor was doing was very, very narrow; pretty much two sides of the same coin. Online, though, the space between can be as wide as you want it. Self-paced instruction is one end of the spectrum, where there are no instructors at all. Live videoconferences or webinars are the other extreme, pretty much a traditional live grouping, but instead of being enclosed by walls all are connected by the web. Your Instructional Model defines what you want the presenter/instructor to be doing, event by Gagne event.

The Delivery Model. And here is where all the above comes together in your technology. Here is where you find ways to use all the exciting new technologies at your disposal. Or not. What you want to do now is to balance all that you want to accomplish with your audience, all your media choices and your constraints, and (this is a really, really important moment) build your Learning Model into your technology. And particularly, into your user interface.

The Learning Model cannot fight the technical infrastructure. If you want to be successful, your Learning Model needs to work within the actual user interface, it must become one with the learner experience, and be facilitated by all the screens and prompts and media that your learners are facing. Your goal is to build the learning model into the technical interface. At its best, the technology enhances your Learning Model at every turn, and wonderfully supports your Instructional Model (what the instructors are doing) as well.

Wait, I already made my media choices, you may be thinking. Doesn't that define my user interface? No, the two are not identical; your media will always be a subset of your user interface. While participants are watching a video, for example, that video and its controls are the user's interface. But how did they navigate to the video? Where do they go after watching? How do they know where they're going next and do they know why? All of that, all the steps that move learners through the entire experience, add up to your User Interface.

Everything about the student's pathway through the material, then, even their navigation panel or menu, should reflect your order of instructional events. And that order of events is, of course, your Learning Model. My teams and I have gone so far as to name the buttons on an interface after Gagne. We have had students, for example, click on "Recall Prior Learning" at the appropriate point in the lesson.

So about all those new and different technologies... how do you factor them in? You've already chosen your primary media, so you should at this point have a standard media approach enfolded into your standard Learning Model. If you've decided that podcasts are key to delivering your message, for example, then you are probably going to use them for many of the first four or five events on Gagne's list. But this should not limit you. At each point in your Learning Model, at each event, you are plugging new content into what is in effect an outline, right? So keep an open mind about what would be effective. Maybe a video will help now and again. Maybe construct a little interactive element. It doesn't have to be your primary media every time; if your technology can deliver it, and you can build, borrow, or license it, factor it in where it will help. With a solid Learning Model, everything is possible if your technology will support it.

What if you can't make your delivery platform perfectly reflect the Learning Model you want? It means that you need to start adjusting each of your models, based on all you know and all you want to achieve, so that they all work together as a whole. Each model informs and often limits the other models, and you will be making trade-offs. But your mission is to make all of the models fit together, beginning, middle, and end, providing your learners with a unified experience, driven by the most powerful media you can manage, to the end that your message is has a measurable, effective impact.

So that's my answer. It wasn't as thorough as it could be, nor as concise as I would have liked. But if you want to get the bang for the buck, then this is how I recommend going about it. At least, it's how I do it, and it's been very successful in many arenas, with many technologies, over a worthy period of time.

So to my original inquisitor, and any and all with questions in this area, I hope that helps! (And don't be such a stranger... you have my contact info.)

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