Vetting our use of ID models

November's big question on the learningcircuits blog has been a fruitful exploration for me. I am grateful to Geetha Krishnan Mumbai for changing the question from whether to use the models, to how we use the models. Her posting got me thinking about my own tacit model for vetting instructional design models that I internalized during 15 years of designing management development workshops and 12 years of college teaching.

As Dave Lee and I explored the use of these models with "forklift operators" on his blog, my tacit model became externalized. Dave's insightful comebacks got me out of my head and into his frames of reference. George Siemens calls this kind of learning "active cognition" in his new book: "Knowing Knowledge".

The abundance of insights this generated then spawned the start of this second blog. My first blog offers perspectives to college students that question how they are being taught, how colleges are managed and how they may be affected by circumstances out of their control.

I propose that we question our use of ID models with the following seven critieria:

1. Avoids a misdiagnosis of the need for training. Like Harold Jarche, I find training is often overused and misapplied. In his words, we fall for "this tendency to slap on the training bandaid once any issue has been labelled a human performance issue". The design of a hammer cannot prevent the hitting of puppy dogs, furniture or windows by the kid who is excited to be hammering away. This pitfall of misuse calls for self restraint. I've explored how to question our misuse of training in two postings here: Misdiagnosing the need for training and Instructional design as a last resort..

2. Learns from each learner. The impact of training is enhanced when the design and delivery have obviously "learned from the learners". I've written about this for college students on my other blog. Said another way: it takes an open mind to open a closed mind. A course design that comes across as a "know-it-all" will encourage the attendees to close their minds or to keep them closed.

3. Responds to each trainee uniquely. The technologies of elearning and Web 2.0 are ideal for mass customizing educational offerings. ID models are getting misused if the designs come across as "one size fits all" or Henry Ford's "any color you want so long as it's black". Dave Lee's responses to my forklift operator questions are a great example of built-in responsiveness to each individual.

4. Improves our design processes. Design methodology was a lively issue during my undergraduate degree program to become an architect. We vetted design methods for being prematurely convergent, becoming suspectible to infatuation with an early solution, and over-emphazing form instead of functionality. Better methods are iterative, as Geetha Krishnan Mumbai and Archana Narayan said. I became a big user of Christopher Alexander's pattern language methodology, which was adopted by software designers as a better alternative to the waterfall, linear sequential method. Anol Bhattacharya explores this issue superbly in his posting to his soulsoup blog for the November question.

5. Considers the transformation of context. It's human nature to become obsessive about the content of an instructional design while losing sight of the context. The context of the business metrics, the on-the-job use of the content, and the needs of the learner are often considered. Yet there are many other aspects of contexts for learning I've explored in this other post and this exploration of good mistakes on my blog for college students.

6. Gets the desired outcomes. It does not matter how well we have complied with the steps of a design model if there is not different conduct on the job, metrics of performance outcomes and indirect results like attendance or job tenure.

7. Gets buy-in from leadership. If the decision makers are not in the loop, the learning outcomes are in jeopardy. It's tempting to use the ID models as "professionals know best" and "executives don't understand". Our expertise justifies this arrogance, but defeats getting buy-in. So these ID models need to be held to a double standard: both professional and executive expectations.

Putting our use of instructional design models to all these tests will serve our credibility, the trainees' active engagement in the learning processes and the desired training outcomes for the organization.

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