Smith and Ragan, Chapters 1 & 2

Smith and Ragan open their book with a series of solid, foundational definitions. As they describe it, “instructional design” is “the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation” (p. 2). “Instruction” is defined (for the authors’ expressed purposes, at least) in part as relatively distinct from terms such as “training,” “teaching,” and “education.” The term “design,” in turn, Smith and Ragan note, “implies a systematic or intensive planning and ideation process prior to the development of something or the execution of some plan in order to solve a problem” (p. 4).

The authors go on to describe the instructional design process—or, rather, (indicating that there is no “one size fits all solution” to the design process), they offer a framework or guide to some of the more used/accepted approaches to the process. Smith and Ragan also qualify their descriptions by noting that, while the instructional design process “may often be portrayed as linear, in practice it is frequently iterative, moving back and forth between activities as the project develops” (p. 11).

The two foundational poles the authors present in the second chapter are rationalism–of which constructivism is one form, wherein “reason is the primary source of knowledge and that reality is constructed rather than discovered” (p .19)—and empiricism—”sometimes termed objectivism,… postulates that knowledge is acquired through experience…. [, and that] experience allows an individual to come to know a reality that is objective and singular” (p. 22).

Smith and Ragan subcategorize Constructivism into individual constructivism, social constructivism, and contextualism. Between rationalism-constructivism and empiricism-objectivism, the authors place their own position, “‘Pragmatism,’ which might be considered a ‘middle ground’ between rationalism (constructivism) and empiricism…. Although pragmatists, like empiricists, believe that knowledge is acquired through experience, they believe that this knowledge is interpreted through reason and is temporary and tentative” (22).

Smith and Ragan, “Instructional Analysis: Analyzing the Learning Task”

“The process of task analysis,” Smith and Ragan note, “transforms goal statements into a form that can be used to guide subsequent design” (p. 76). This form “describe[s] what the learners should know or be able to do at the completion of instruction and the prerequisite skills and knowledge that learners will need in order to achieve those goals” (p. 76). The primary steps in conducting such an analysis are:

1. Write a learning goal. 2. Determine the types of learning of the goal. 3. Conduct an information-processing analysis of that goal. 4. Conduct a prerequisite analysis and determine the type of learning of the prerequisites. 5. Write learning objectives for the learning goal and each of the prerequisites. 6. Write test specifications. (p. 76)

I also found useful the authors’ inclusion of Robert Gagné’s taxonomy of learning outcomes, comprised of five “domains” “verbal information (or declarative knowledge), intellectual skills; cognitive strategies, attitudes, and psychomotor skills” (79). Again, I don’t come from an extensive education background, but I do have some training on this front, and I’m surprised (and a little annoyed) that I haven’t come across these notions (i.e. this taxonomy) before.


Michele D. Dickey, “Engaging By Design: How Engagement Strategies in Popular Computer and Video Games Can Inform Instructional Design”

I found Dickey’s article to be one of the most exciting we’ve read all term. I now believe that one of my unconscious hopes in entering the DMDL program is that someone in the field was thinking about (and acting on) many of the issues that Dickey raises. Dickey’s thesis is that the strategies and tactics that computer and video game designers incorporate in order to thoroughly engage players in gameplay can and should be examined for potential uses in education—and instructional design—today. The path that Dickey takes through this landscape of possibilities (vast in 2005; even more vast today) is “an overview of the trajectory of player positioning or point of view, the role of narrative, and methods of interactive design” (67). A couple of points that stuck with me more than others on this path is the notion of utilizing narrative devices such as backstory and cut scenes in designing for engaged learning. Considering where in the design field I might take myself in the future, I wonder if the following statement by Dickey is still true: “little has been written about the pragmatic application of narrative in instructional materials, and how to create compelling narratives to support multiple learning activities in complex, multifaceted environments, and to sustain interest over time” (74). This point—as well as many others throughout the article, really—also made me think of (and made me think to look more into) the Quest to Learn charter school in Manhattan.

Tessmer & Richey, “The Role of Context in Learning and Instructional Design”

Tessmer & Richey begin their discussion by pointing out that “instructional design models contain little guidance about how to accommodate contextual elements to improve learning and transfer” (85). I was surprised to hear that this was true in 1997. Is it still true today?
    On the whole, I found both thought-provoking and helpful the authors’ proposed “general model for contextual analysis for instructional design,” which “identifies contextual factors to be investigated, delineates contextual tools to explore these factors, and suggests a general approach to utilizing this information for instructional design” (111). Tessmer & Richey note, however, that the “central assumption behind the model is that there are three contexts that must be investigated (and designed) for successful instructional development: the orienting, instructional, and transfer contexts” (111).
    One of the particular points I found fascinating was the notion of “content culture” (98). With the growth of online learning communities in the years since this article was published, should this notion be considered in a different light? If so, is a very different light? What differences and similarities might there be between a traditional “content culture” setting (i.e. in a physical classroom) and one that exists online—if you can even demarcate such a thing online in the first place, that is?

Rothwell and Kazanas, “Conducting a Needs Assessment”

In this chapter, Rothwell and Kazanas lay out a thorough-but-concise overview of the various ways one can/should conduct a needs assessment. This process is very much a diagnostic one, looking to “uncover precisely what the performance problem is, who it affects, how it affects them, and what results are to be achieved by instruction” (p. 66). I found interesting, and appreciated, the sheer variety of ways one can do this, dependent on the practicalities of the situation you’re trying to work in (and not based on one, ideal way to conduct such an assessment).

“Instructional Project Management: Managing Instructional Design Projects on Site and at a Distance,” by Brenda Litchfield

In this chapter, Litchfield offers an analysis of the skills and characteristics needed to be a good, effective manager (and/or leader) of an instructional design project in a contemporary workplace environment. Basic principles include appropriately timed and consistent communication amongst team members and adopting flexible management style (dependent on the team members and/or groups involved).

I found a fair amount of Litchfield’s analysis and advice interesting, if a little quirky. Some of her takes on “types” seem a little too sweeping, and her consideration of technological issues seem to lag behind a bit. (I was surprised to remind myself that the piece was published in 2008. I would have suspected upwards of a decade earlier….) However, I did appreciate considerations of the difference between (the roles of) leadership and managment, of the different skills and characteristics required to be a good manager (and her humanistic belief that missing ones can be practiced/acquired), and her breakdown (even if not universal) of the different members/groups that one may find in managing an instructional design project (something I’ve not had experience with before).

“What Is Instructional Design?”, Reiser and Dempsey

In “What Is Instructional Design?”, Reiser and Dempsey present “the phases and distinguishing features of the process,” a “systematic process that is employed to develop education and training programs” (p. 10). The authors describe it further as “complex process that is creative, active, and iterative,” systematic in that it has (according to systems theory) elements that are “interdependent, synergistic, dynamic, and cybernetic” (p. 11). These elements (also known as “phases”), at the core of all instructional design is (again) ADDIE: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation (p. 11).

Reiser and Dempsey also lay out the “Characteristics of Instructional Design”:

  1. Instructional design is learner centered.
  2. Instructional design is goal oriented.
  3. Instructional design focuses on meaningful performance.
  4. Instructional design assumes outcomes can be measured in a reliable and valid way.
  5. Instructional design is empirical, iterative, and self-correcting
  6. Instructional design typically is a team effort. (p. 13)

On the whole, I found this article relatively elucidating, though I’m still a little fuzzy on exactly how instruction in the military, academia and business can all look so similar. I think I need (or need to find) a few more detailed examples.

And, I could be wrong, but I think this article may be the first I have come across (in this or any of my other classes in the DMDL program) that makes an explicit reference to the move to learner-centered instruction as “represent[ing] a paradigm shift of immense power when planning for effective educational environments” (p. 13). The authors don’t say much more about this power shift, and I think any larger statement about the nature of power in education is only implicit, but it has reminded me to think about the topic more.

“Instructional Design,” Molenda, Reigeluth and Nelson

Molenda, Reigeluth and Nelson “address in turn the underlying instructional principles,  the procedural guides by which these principles are put into application, and finally the construction of learning environments as an alternative way of putting the principles into action” (p. 574). The sources they outline for these principles come from behaviorist psychology, cognitive science and cognitive psychology, constructivism (including situated cognition), and “[a] recent synthesis by M. David Merrill (Merrill, 2001),” which  “provides a coherent and comprehensive over- view of instructional design principles from an eclectic perspective, incorporating behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist conceptions” (p. 575).

The procedural guides the authors present are instructional systems development (ISD) process models (which has roots in both the systems approach and behaviorist psychology, as implemented by both the U.S. military and academia, interestingly) and instructional theory-based ISD models (e.g. “structural communication” and the “reflective recursive design and development model”) (p. 577).

The learning environments mentioned include “the personalized system of instruction (Semb, 1997), goal-based scenarios (Schank et al., 1999), problem-based learning (Boud and Feletti, 1997), open learning environments (Hannafin et al., 1999), and constructivist learning environments (Jonassen, 1999)” (p. 577).

While I found the conciseness of this article appealing in some ways, it felt a little too condensed at times. I suspect a bit more narrative, context and examples than what they provide here would have helped me grapple with all these concepts that much more.

“Designing and Instructional Design,” by Gordon Rowland

In the interest of aligning instructional design’s theories closer to its practices, Rowland explores linkages between instructional design and other manifestations of design–from fields such as architecture and engineering–wherein, like instructional design, the “theoretical bases of such fields…have been challenged on the grounds that they fail to account for the complexities and constraints of practice” (p. 80).

He frames his argument with various considerations and definitions of design-as-a-whole. Chief among these is the following:

Design is a disciplined inquiry engaged in for the purpose of creating some new thing of practical utility. It involves exploring an ill-defined situation, finding–as well as solving–problem(s), and specifying ways to effect change. Design is carried out in numerous fields and will vary depending on the designer and on the type of thing that is designed. Designing requires a balance of reason and intuition, an impetus to act, and an ability to reflect on actions taken. (p. 80)

Rowland also argues that “[t]he design process is a learning process,” wherein the designer operates throughout with a sense of “‘reflection-in-action’” (pp. 85, 86).

Concluding his case for multi-disciplinary approaches, Rowland states that “[s]haring of knowledge between design fields, including the field of instructional design, is especially important” in the pursuit of better–and better theory-and-practice-aligned–design (p. 90).


“Constructivism and Instructional Design: The Emergence of the Learning Sciences and Design Research,” by Jonassen, Cernusca and Ionas

Jonassen, Cernusca and Ionas frame their argument by pointing out that constructivism is not, as it is often characterized, an instructional methodology. It is rather “a philosophy that underlies theories from which pedagogies and models are derived. Constructivism is primarily an epistemological and ontological conception of what reality, knowledge, the mind, thought, and meaning are” (p. 46). They go on to describe constructivism’s impact on instructional design as a “shift in philosophical emphasis from the positivistic and deterministic assumptions made by instructional scientists to the social, historical, and constructivist assumptions made by learning scientists,” whose “preferred design method…is design research, a process that integrates design and research. Rather than applying theories (most of which are inadequately established by empirical research), design researchers integrate theories and design activities in an iterative process” (p. 51). The authors conclude by expressing their belief that “this design process is likely to produce more local, and thus more useful, instructional solutions to learning problems” (p. 51).