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5 Simple Steps to Great Instructional Design
chillibreeze writer — Denise D’Cruz
If you were asked to create a lesson or a training program on a certain topic, where would you start?
As a teacher, you would probably start by thinking about the children who will be learning this lesson. Next, you would have to decide what you want to teach and to what level. This would be your goal and you will have to start constructing your lesson around this goal.
If you are a trainer, you start by listing the skills and competencies that your audience should have after receiving your instruction. This list will be the objectives for your training.
Irrespective of whom you are creating or designing training material for, you will adopt pretty much the same approach. There are some elements that you must include when designing courses and training material. You can be flexible in the way you sequence them during the design process.
What is Instructional Design?
The Elements of Instructional Design
1. Define the learner’s characteristics
If you were to teach a child in grade K-2 (US) about triangles, you would cover the basic properties of a triangle like the number of sides, corners and so on. You would also point out the similarities and differences between triangles and other geometric shapes.
However, for older children, say grades 6-8 (US), your lesson would revolve around the properties that define triangles. For example, the sum of the measures of two sides of a triangle must be greater than the measure of the third side and so on.
2. Set learning objectives
A learning objective consists of three parts, performance, conditions, and criterion. Performance describes the behavior that is expected from the learners. Conditions describe the circumstances under which they will perform the desired behavior. Criterion provides a standard against which the success of the instruction is tested. It helps you evaluate if learning has resulted from the instruction.
When setting objectives, use performance verbs like explain or demonstrate, which are measurable in terms of performance. Avoid using verbs like understands or know, because they are difficult to measure and translate into performance. For example, students will understand the differences between a triangle and a square. It is difficult to figure out what exactly it is that you want the learner to do. This is a poorly written objective. Now, rewrite the same objective, keeping in mind the three components of an objective. This is how it will read - students will be able to differentiate between a triangle and square from geometric shapes shown in the picture.
Setting objectives is an important first step in the instructional design phase. Well-defined objectives set the stage for selecting content, methods, media, and assessment methods.
3. Sequence objectives and content
Next, sequence your content to ensure that learning takes place logically. Make a list of topics and sub-topics for each topic. Consult your Subject Matter Expert (SME) on how to sequence your objectives and content. There are several ways to sequence your content. These are simple to complex, known to unknown, overview to detail, theory to practice, easy to difficult, and order of performance. As you work with the content, you can decide what part of it will be “Need to know” and “Nice to know”. Classify your content into the types—facts, concepts, processes, procedures, and principles. This classification will help you teach, design your learning activities, and test the content more effectively.
4. Develop instructional strategies
The strategies that you choose must enable your learner to master the objectives. Strategies you adopt may include pre-instructional activities, presentation of information, application and practice activities, assessments, and feedback.
There are several theories you can follow when designing your course—Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning, John Keller’s ARCS model, Merrill’s Component Display Theory to name a few. These theories explain how you can treat your content to make sure the learners get the maximum learning experience. Content must flow logically; introduce real world examples, and questions for better understanding and retention.
Introduce your course and the objectives in an interesting way so that the learners are hooked. You can do this by using a story or a scenario that resembles the real world, or maybe a thought-provoking question.
Try to encourage your learners to remember something about the subject they have learned or come across in the past. Present your content in small chunks of information, so that learners can easily understand and digest it. Use learning activities, case studies, simulations (for online learning) and role-plays (classroom training). The options are limited only to your imagination.
Guide the learner through the course with cues and directions that will help in the learning process. Do you remember the saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Use it when designing. Allow for enough of practice and provide feedback.
When providing feedback to your learner, be specific. If they are wrong, tell them why and provide them with guidance, if they are right, you can still tell them why. This will help them retain and transfer information.
When designing instruction, make sure learning takes place for each learner. “The Instructional design process will be effective when major attention is given to designing instruction for individual use rather than for a group.” (Jerrold Kemp, 1985)
5. Access performance
Feedback must be clear and appropriate, as this helps the learner to retain and transfer the learning and the skills appropriately. You may choose to evaluate your learners before the course (pre-test), during the course (formative evaluation) and after the course (summative evaluation).
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