From Instructional Design to Learning Design

Student-Centered Design

Back in 1997, I was a member of the Ed Tech faculty at Northern Arizona University. We had decided to move our Masters of Educational Technology online—and did what an inexperienced faculty without support would do.

 We took our face-to-face curriculum and put it online. 

It went about as well as you would expect.  

So, as we went back to the drawing board, we began researching quality online design.  We kept asking ourselves one core question: How can we help our online students learn?

A major paradigm shift came when we understood how important building community is in an online learning environment. The development of community became a parallel development to content in the designing quality online learning.  We began to focus on student-centered design by providing students with engaging, meaningful activities, quality resources and effective assessments. As we grew in our understanding of student-centered online design—so did our online degree enrollment.  We exploded to over 600 students in a few short months. 

Instructional Design and ADDIE

My career transitioned from educational technology (helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms) to instructional design (using my newfound understandings to preparing IDs to design student-centered quality online courses). Just as I was moving to the world of online education, so were students.

Between 2002 to 2012 the number of students taking online classes grew by 187%.  But there’s more to the story.  As the pie charts above show, there was a major shift in higher education—with institutions adding full online programs.  

In these days of rapid online program expansion, the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) method became the go-to framework for designing courses and programs.  

ADDIE’s hierarchical structure and its basic linear fashion made the model a great fit to quickly develop large numbers of quality online programs. Over the years, ADDIE has had several revisions in the stages of the original hierarchical model, and its influence can be seen on most ID models being used today. 

From Instructional Design to Authentic Learning Design

Today we’re at a significant learning junction.

There’s a whirlwind synergy of knowledge and innovation coming out of neuroscience, learning science, experience design, cybernetics, AI, virtual reality, augmented reality, biometrics, social networking, real time 3D technologies, cloud computing, and on and on.  

The most significant epiphany coming out of this explosion is our understanding that development models and learning strategies are not equally effective. 

We need to understand that while waterfall models like ADDIE helped us succeed in the past, they may not meet the dynamic needs today. 

Successive Approximation Model (SAM), is the new development model on the block.  SAM consists of repeated small steps, or iterations, and is considered to be an Agile approach. Tina Rimmer in An Introduction to SAM for Instructional Designers reports that proponents of SAM find it can help alleviate many of the challenges we are experiencing with waterfall processes like ADDIE, including: difficulty meeting timelines, staying on budget, and challenging collaborations with Subject Mater Experts (SMEs).  

Unlike ADDIE’s five big sequential steps, SAM is a more cyclical process which can be scaled from basic (SAM1) to extended (SAM2), to meeting needs. 

SAM1 is the basic process with three iterations on familiar design steps – evaluation/ design/ development.  This basic SAM can be a good fit for smaller projects that don’t require complicated technologies. 

SAM2 is an extended take on SAM1 – recommended for more complex developments.  It consists of eight iterations across three phases but the most notable feature is the preparation phase that consists of gathering information, holding a brainstorming session and developing a prototype meeting known as a “Savvy Start.” 

Which is better – SAM or ADDIE?  I am not sure that’s a question that needs asking.  The reality is, waterfall models like ADDIE which helped us succeed in the past may not meet the dynamic needs today. We may need to investigate new design methods such as those offered up by SAM or other agile models like Design Thinking.  

As we embrace these new innovations our biggest challenge is to anchor all our approaches to sound learning science.  We also need to continually remind ourselves that technology is never a solution, it’s only a vehicle for a solution.

And, as an industry we to need to do our best to move from designing instruction to designing authentic learning experiences.  

Author: Gary Tucker, Executive Director of eLearning

An early adopter in online education, Gary helped develop and deliver one of the first fully online Masters degrees in Educational Technology. Still an early adopter, he now depends on the expertise of his dynamic eLearning team. When off-the-clock, he reads and rides his bicycle.

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