Instructional designers have some grand ambitions.  They hope to create a course that will work for all of the learners that they are designing it for.  If the course is an online course, then their learners are unfortunately faceless individuals whom they’ll never meet.  If they’re helping to design a traditional course, then they may or may not have the opportunity to meet their learners face-to-face.

If the instructional designers do get to meet their learners, they’ll of course realize that each learner is a distinct individual with varying needs.  They come from different backgrounds and different learning styles.  What works for one learner is certainly not guaranteed to work for another learner.

ringWith the above in mind, the instructional designer should accept the fact that unlike the Ring, there’s no one set of instructional design techniques to “Rule Them All”.  However, rather than taking a defeatist attitude, the instructional designer can create a course that will “most likely” have the largest positive impact on their learners.

Combine Learning Theory And Examples

First, always be sure to combine learning theory with practical examples.  Having talked to many learners over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are two general types of learners: learners who want the theory and learners who want the examples.  And, for a long time, it was tough for me to appeal to both groups using my current set of instructional design techniques.

rocketship with formulaOne day, however, I realized that I could entice the theoretical learners to enjoy the practical examples when I related specific examples to the general theory behind them.  And, using this approach, I also realized that the practical learners became part of the conversation as soon as I would motivate the theory by a practical example that I first presented.  What this did was to create a bridge between the theory and the examples, regardless of the learner’s initial inclination.

Provide An Outline Of The Concepts

Regardless of a learner’s background, a well-structured course with clear objectives is another one of the instructional design techniques that will make a course better regardless of the individual learner.  Providing an outline of the course on the first day with the specific concepts that will be learned can be a great way to give the learner an initial framework with which they can use to mentally prepare for the learning to come.

And, if the objectives can be explained to the learner  using vocabulary which they already know, then the seeds will be planted for the new material, building on the fertile soil of previous experience.

Have Reasonable Assessment Expectations

Since learners are so different, assessing the learning can be challenging.  And, there are two opposing styles of assessing.  On one extreme, the learner is pushed to the limit with the assessment, testing the boundaries of what they already understand.  On the other extreme, the assessment is merely a regurgitation of facts or a way for the learner to demonstrate a basic understanding of the concepts.

thinkingOf course, we would hope that the learners like to be pushed, but as we all know, some learners really like to be pushed, while others hate it.  A good compromise to this problem is to develop assessments which have a balance of the two types of questions.

Most questions should be relatively straightforward.  This gives the learner the chance to demonstrate their basic knowledge and it also builds their confidence.

Then, every assessment should have a few questions that push the learner.  With these more challenging questions, there is always the potential of frustration for those who don’t completely understand the material.  However, when determining which instructional design techniques to use when developing assessments, one has to balance out the needs of those few students who do like to be pushed.

In addition, even if the learner is not successful at answering this type of question, the mind will have been stretched and the tenuous synapse connections made in trying to answer the question may develop into a stronger connection somewhere down the line.

Your thoughts?

Deciding which of the instructional design techniques to use would be so much easier if there were “One Instructional Design To Rule Them All”.  As the learners are individuals, this is of course not the case.

However, regardless of the type of learner, there are some aspects to the course design that can work for the different types of learners.  And, if the instructional designer focuses on these, then they can at least develop a framework which gives their learners the maximum chance of success.

Do you use any specific instructional design techniques to “Rule Them All”?  Share your thoughts in the comment form below.

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