Reclaiming the Discipline
of Instructional Design
ID2 Research Group
Utah State University
Education and its related disciplines continue to flutter this way and that by every philosophical wind that blows. In an uncertain science and technology, unscientific theories flourish. People are anxious for answers. When answers are slow in coming, uncertain in statement, and difficult to find; then the void is filled with wild speculation and philosophical extremism. This brief statement attempts to make clear that instructional design is a science and technology, to identify some of the assumptions underlying the scientific discipline of instructional design, and to clarify its role in the larger context of education and social change.
The discipline of Instructional Design
- There is a scientific discipline of instructional design.
- The discipline of instructional design is based on a set of specific assumptions.
- The discipline of instructional design is founded on scientific principles verified by empirical data.
Those persons who claim that knowledge is founded on collaboration rather than empirical science, or who claim that all truth is relative, are not instructional designers. They have disassociated themselves from the discipline of instructional design.
Instruction and Learning
- Instructional design is a technology for the development of learning experiences and environments which promote the acquisition of specific knowledge and skill by students.
- Instructional design is a technology which incorporates known and verified learning strategies into instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.
- While instruction takes place in a larger organizational context, the discipline of instructional design is concerned only with the development of learning experiences and environments, not with the broader concerns of systemic change, organizational behavior, performance support, and other human resource problems.
- Instruction involves directing students to appropriate learning activities; guiding students to appropriate knowledge; helping students rehearse, encode, and process information; monitoring student performance; and providing feedback as to the appropriateness of the student's learning activities and practice performance.
Students and Learners
- Students are persons who submit themselves to the acquisition of specific knowledge and skill from instruction, learners are persons who construct their own meaning from their experiences. All of us are learners, but only those who submit themselves to deliberate instructional situations are students.
- Learners today are not significantly different from those of a decade ago, a generation ago, or a century ago. The basic learning mechanisms by which learners acquire knowledge and skill have remained constant amid societal change.
- Groups don't learn, individuals learn. While learners may be part of a group while learning, while learners may learn from one another, and while the social context of a learning environment may provide support for its members; the change in cognitive structure, the acquisition of knowledge and skill is an individual event.
- A student cannot learn without individual practice which is the demonstration of their knowledge or skill.
Knowledge and Skill
- There is a body of knowledge and skill that has been developed and archived by generations of scholars, scientists, technologists, artists, and others. The purpose of instruction is to enable students (novices) to acquire this knowledge and skill. The purpose of instructional design is to develop experiences and environments which facilitate the student's acquisition of this knowledge and skill.
- There are known instructional strategies. The acquisition of different types of knowledge and skill require different conditions for learning (Gagne, 1985). If an instructional experience or environment does not include the instructional strategies required for the acquisition of the desired knowledge or skill, then effective, efficient, and appealing learning of the desired outcome will not occur.
- These instructional strategies (conditions of learning) can be verified by empirical test.
- Appropriate instructional strategies can be discovered, they are not arrived at by collaborative agreement among instructional designers or learners. They are based on natural principles which do exist, and which nature will reveal as a result of careful scientific inquiry.
Many persons associated with educational technology today are engaged in a flight from science. Instructional design is a scientific and technological field. It is not merely philosophy; it is not a set of procedures arrived at by collaboration; it is a set of scientific principles and a technology for implementing these principles in the development of instructional experiences and environments.
Invention and Discovery
- The discipline of Instructional Design is a combination of discovery and invention. Instructional science, a subset of the field of instructional design, is the discovery of instructional strategies. Instructional science involves identifying the variables to consider (descriptive theory), identifying potential relationships between these variables, and then empirically testing these relationships in the laboratory and the field.
The development of instructional design procedures and instructional design tools, the technology portion of instructional design, is invention. The technology of instructional design is not a natural phenomenon. It is man made, designed to serve our needs. Design research involves inventing procedures and processes which incorporate what we learn from instructional science. These instructional design procedures are not governed by any natural laws. They are developed by creative invention to make them work better. However, they must incorporate those scientific principles involved in instructional strategies, just as the invention of the airplane had to incorporate the discovered principles of lift, drag, and flight. It was not until the Wright brothers discovered the correct principles of aerodynamics that they could invent an airplane that would sustain powered flight; it is not until we discover the correct instructional strategies that we can invent instructional design procedures and tools that will promote student learning.
- The field of instructional design involves these two important activities: the discovery of the natural principles in instructional strategies; and the use of these scientific principles to invent instructional design procedures and tools.
Too much of the structure of educational technology is built upon the sand of relativism, rather than the rock of science. When winds of new paradigms blow and the sands of old paradigms shift; then the structure of educational technology slides toward the sea of constructo-babble. We're tired of the shifting sands of new paradigms and realities. We have drawn a line in the sand. We boldly reclaim the discipline of instructional design that is built upon the rock of science.
M. David Merrill
Mark J. Lacy
ID2 Research Group
Utah State University
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