Monday, August 31, 2009

My Response to "...Instructional Design is Dead" - by many people

I think change is a good thing.  There is no doubt our beloved industry of Instructional Design is way overdue for a serious overhaul, but what is it that needs to be overhauled?  Is it the models?  The designs?  The technology? The professionals?  I think much of what we argue about is semantics which makes it difficult to have the conversation because we can barely agree on the basics of what it is that we do in this profession.  Conversations over the usefulness of ADDIE are tired.  There's got to be more to this conversation.

Our friend and learning colleague Koreen Olbrish (@koreenolbrish) from Tandem Learning sparked my return to this conversation.  And she was inspired by another friend and colleague Ellen Wagner (@edwsonoma) of the eLearning Roadtrip blog.  [aside: I love how inpiration travels around these crazy interwebs] Koreen's link to Ellen's post is not working for me but I think she is referring to this post from Ellen titled "My Prerequisites for IDs" or maybe one of the others that follow that are FAN-TAS-TIC!!!.

I think clinging too tightly to ADDIE is where many get frustrated.  ADDIE, to me, has always just seemed more like a common sense approach to creating something...ANYTHING!  Think about it first (analysis formal or informal), design a rough estimate of what it "might" look like using either pictures or words or more complex media, develop it, and then give it to people (delivery).  Then be sure figure out if it worked, was liked, or whatever (evaluation)...did you succeed in fulfilling the original idea?  That's it!  Mix and match however you'd like from that point.  If there is something more to it, I'm all ears.

So let's look at design.  Everything needs designing, without exception.  Every time you write you are designing: everything from your expressive thoughts in the form of paragraphs, sentences, and words, right on down to the shape of each line of each letter...assuming of course you are writing with a pen (or perhaps a pencil).  I think we design the order of our words as they pass our lips.  Seriously, I believe everything we do has an element of design of some sort.  So it only follows then that all media, before being developed/produced is designed, to some degree. Remember, that's the DD in ADDIE.

I LOVE design!  I know GREAT design when I see it and I REALLY have an appreciation for it.  I mostly appreciate the amount of time and effort that probably went into creating that design.  Great design is insanely time consuming and normally requires a certain amount of obsession and hyper-focus.  Conflicts tend to surface when non-designers (I will define non-designers as those without appreciation for it) start functioning as if the "creative" types just sort of burp and out comes amazing design.  Creativity and innovation just do not work like that.  You will pay a premium for unique, one-of-a-kind, designs in every design field.  It is no different with instructional design.

I have no doubt that the majority of my instructional design colleagues have design sensibilities with some sort of innate drive to teach mixed with our fascination with technology.  If you mix those 3 elements you get yourself an eLearning designer/developer.  The type of design, the topic they teach, and particular technology they prefer does not matter.  These are the basic traits that simply form a solid foundation.  You either have them or you don't.  If you are frustrated by most technologies and would rather do without, then you will not be interested in, or excited about, new ways of using technology to design or teach.  If you lack a passion for design it will be difficult for you to understand the subtle nuances of type, and color selection, white space, balance, and the other design elements that make creating/viewing any type of media pleasing.  And of course, if you can't stand the thought of caring whether or not a person learns something, then anything eLearning, let alone teaching, just isn't your bag.

So, we are cast into the corporate world as creatives believing that we can make a difference and we will be respected by our new corporate colleagues.  And we are dissapointed when our department (training, HR, or whatever) is not seen as a hot bed of innovation and creativity.  Projects we know to take 6 months to "design" correctly, are given 6 weeks, or 6 days.  This gives us no time for the creative process, and we are forced to cut corners with templates and rapid content creation tools.  The product we deliver is consistently WELL below our personal standards.  Then there is the shocking realization that management is thrilled with your sub-par "solution" and you are awarded a plaque for the cubical wall.  And so our minds are filled with doubt.  "How can this be?  It was not done "right"? I didn't even follow the ADDIE model?" And the TRUTH smacks you right in the face.  Nobody cares about instructional design as much as we do.

Koreen is right when she says, "...designing learning is as much art as it is science, but too often I think ID's focus so much on the science that they forget the art."  I agree.  However, I don't think WE, the instructional designers, are to blame for leaning on the science and skipping the art.  There is very little room for artistic experimentation when 500 sales people need to learn about the next product before approaching their clients.  Or if a hospital of nurses are not tech savvy, the "art" of instructional design comes in the form of NOT choosing the sexy new innovative technology.  The true "art" of instructional design does not lie in the tools, or the final product.  The art of Instructional Design occurs well before design and development in the ADDIE model.  It comes in the form of understanding what's right for the business, what solution is right for the people, and what is right based on the context of their work and the content they need.  The art lies in doing what's right for the business and that may not always be what's "best" for the learner.  More often its just good enough.

This leads me to my next point.  And that is this idea that the instructional design community should be creating technologies, or driving their creation.  I believe that technology will always lead and we will always follow.  New and exciting technologies will continue to be created and we will look at them through the lense of learning and decide if it is useful to us or not.  It is not our job to innovate and create new technologies.  It is our job to understand the technologies our learners use and leverage them to the learner's benefit.  If necessary we introduce learners to new technologies and tools that will help them learn more, or faster, or better.  Learning has always been a secondary use for all new technologies and media.  It is never the single driving force for its creation. (and don't tell me about LMSs. They are databases, and the database was never originally created for the purpose of tracking butts in seats)  Google certainly wasn't created just for learning yet we use it too learn all the time.  The iPhone was not created just for learning but I sure do learn a lot on mine.  In this case I do believe its okay for us to follow, and leave the technology innovation and creation to others.

I think the true art of instructional design blends the work of other disciplines.  There are too many to list but anthropology is my current favorite with neurobiology taking a close second.  HOW anthropologists do the work they do is something we should do when analyzing people and the cultures of our learners.  Understanding people, and their culture, on many different levels gives us the information we need to design solutions.  The processes and skills of the cultural anthropologist are exactly what we need.  Or at the very least some version of them.  New brain research is exposing many new insights into how learning occurs in the brain.  I would think this is VERY important to the passionate instructional designer.  Having these insights should drive an entirely new approach to instructional design and yet, it hasn't.  Perhaps its has and change is simply slow to take hold.

What are we to make of sites like commoncraft?  The Lefevre's have no instructional design background at all and yet their tag line is "our product is explanation".  And they are DAMN good at it!  Their website also states "Our three-minute videos help educators and influencers introduce complex subjects."  Sure does sound like a lot of my ID projects from my early years.  And I can guarantee mine were no where near as cool as the commoncraft videos.  Nobody really cares if they followed the ADDIE model or not.

The issue isn't whether instructional design is dead or not.  The issue is simply that other people are doing it...namely EVERYBODY. You see it on YouTube (TeacherTube), Wikipedia, etc.  The more appropriate question to ask is "Is the learning market changing?"  And to that question, the answer is yes.  It is changing in much the same way as the record industry and the newspaper industry.  The learning institution cannot hold its model under the current strain of the growing internet and "free" content.  The corporate training center cannot sustain a 6 month development cycle on ONE course (at least if they still want to get the plaque for the cubical wall).  The internal corporate learning market will gradually change into a more dynamic system or network largely maintained by the employees.  Part of everyone's job will be to teach and to learn...constantly. 

You may agree a little or a lot.  But the bottom line is that we all need to stay connected and continue to teach and learn from each other.  Many of our elearning colleagues cannot attend more than one conference a year...if that.  Others lucky enough to attend more inside and outside of our learning field can help us all by continuing to share.  Despite the amazing technology leaps that have occured we must still connect with each other on a more human level.  While I love all of your avatars, I'm always most happy when I see your smiling face in person.  There is certainly lots of work to be done in our field.  Let's get together and make good things happen. And by that I mean, I hope to see you at DevLearn09!

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