Staying on top of rapidly changing business and technical environments is a challenge. To accomplish this, education or training in some form is necessary in every field, very often and usually on very short notice. Creating instructional materials under these circumstances can be a daunting task, to say the least, but it is possible to do so by applying some basic instructional design principles.
1. Begin At The End
Begin by pinpointing, as precisely as possible, what it is that the learner will know and be able to do when the instruction is completed. This is often the hardest part in the instructional design cycle, but is the foundation upon which the rest of the process is dependent. Avoid ‘soft goals’ that are imprecise and include vague verbs such as ‘will understand’. Classify your instructional objectives according to the three learning domains – cognitive, affective and psychomotor and try to create goals for demonstrable skills and behaviors.
2. Know Your Audience
This principle is just as important in instructional design as it is in public speaking. Especially in a distributed learning situation, you may not have as much information about your learners as you would like, but you should be able to ascertain some essential facts such as approximate literacy levels, prior knowledge of the instructional content, level of comfort with the instructional technology and degrees of motivation.
3. Develop a Game Plan
Develop instructional strategies based on your analysis of both the learners and the course content. This can be a fairly lengthy step in the process because it is so open-ended and diverse. Very different strategies would be used to teach a psychomotor skill such as golf, for instance, as opposed to the affective behaviors that might be required to train customer service representatives.
4. Find or Create the Instructional Materials
The strategies you identified in the previous step will guide the process of finding or creating your instructional materials. You may find that course content already exists that would work with just a little tweaking. Or you may need to start from scratch. Sometimes it is necessary to reinvent the wheel if the existing wheel does not do what is needed.
At this point you should revisit your learner analysis and consider what types of materials would be most effective. Computer-based lessons that would work in an office setting might be less useful on a noisy factory floor. Above all else, do not construct a barrier to learning by choosing the wrong format. Do not expect low-literacy populations to plod through pages of written material.
5. Evaluate Your Learners
Assessing learning in the artificial environment of an instructional space can be tricky. Unless the instruction covers procedural knowledge only, you may not be able to create a highly accurate assessment tool. Unless the group is small or the budget unlimited, demonstrations of learned skills are probably not feasible. Written tests can be made more accurate by including several types of assessment instruments: multiple choice, short answer, matching, ordering and problem solving. These types of questions can be answered to elicit and evaluate how much has been learned.
6. Evaluate Your Instruction
Once the instructional material has been used the first time, look at it as objectively as possible. What worked, and what did not? Ask about all aspects of the instruction – the mode of delivery and the setting of the instruction as well as the content. Ask your learners for feedback and keep the questions as open-ended as possible. Feedback forms that rely on ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses are worth very little. Following up on performance after the instruction will produce valuable information, but takes time. Surveys that measure the learner’s perception of the value of the instruction can be given at set periods after the instruction. Learning is an ongoing process and sometimes the value of the instruction is not immediately apparent.
For any problem that man has ever encountered, at least part of the solution involves education or training in some form. Fortunately there are tremendous resources available for this important task. Instructing is a privilege and a responsibility, and critical to the continued survival of the human race. H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) put it very well indeed when he said “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”.