Pontfications on the field of Educational Technology and Instructional Design.

Bare with me as I ponder the meaning of education in the 21st century from the perspecitive of an instructional designer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wee Three Things...

You know the words...."we three kings have traveled so far....daaaa, da, da, du, da, da, da daaa". So it's not Christmas, although I do like Christmas as much as the next guy. But what I really want to talk about are the THREE THINGS. Yes, the three things that I love in instructional design. In fact, they have traveled a long way as well. What are these things you ask? They are performance analysis, principles of design, and learning efficiency. Let me suggest that these three things have a significant future in instructional design, and hopefully education as a whole.

Thing #1
Let me start with a little background on performance analysis in case this term is new to you. Performance analysis is a process by which individual or organizational performance is analyzed in light of deficiencies in knowledge, skills, and motivation. Performance analysts also search for environmental barriers such as disincentives to perform duties, as well as hindrances that make it hard for people to do their jobs. In other words, they fix organizations and people so they do their jobs as they should be doing them.

Star Light, Star Bright...

I think the future of this field is bright and has become mainstream in the corporate world. The growth area is in government, and education. This love of mine will need to be applied in government offices and school districts if our problems are going to be solved. It is not totally different than a previous topic I addressed where I lectured everyone on the need for ecological (or transformational) systemic change. within our school systems. This type of change process, which has been championed by Frank Duffy of Gallaudet University is fundamentally rooted in a total performance analysis of the district, department by department, with a an eye towards eliminating barriers to performance. Sooner or later, things will get bad enough that the public will start demanding that a true and impartial performance analysis be done on our public institutions. At least that is what I keep repeating over and over in my head.

Thing #2
Secondly, I love the principles of design. Humorously, the name which is traced back to Robin Williams of the Non-Designers Design Book, make an acronym which spells CRAP. Ironnically, Robin's own website doesn't abide by ANY principles of good design that I've learned. I'm pretty sure it is a reflection of her offbeat sense of humor.

But I digress, fortunately, for my purposes in education, this acronym can be retooled to say PARC, CARP, PRAC, or RPAC,...although I'm not sure how to pronounce the last one. So CRAP stands for the design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. Now I don't think these principles are on the cusp of educational research, but they are certainly not going away. In fact, as a fairly young technology educator I intend to propagate these to my students for use in design projects of every ilk. Now granted, there are many design principles that can be applied, but these ideas can help students design their posters and flyers, book reports and PowerPoints, and web pages and blogs. The sooner kids understand their are actually guidelines behind how something should look, the better off we will all be.

Thing #3
I am most passionate about thing #3 which happens to be a theory with practical guidelines called learning efficiency. This theory is grounded in a brain science called Cognitive Load Theory(CLT), which as been researched and formulated by the likes of G.A. Miller, W.G Chase, H.A. Simon, and John Sweller. Notably, John Sweller has summarized the findings of CLT research and packaged them into a neat and tidy little book called Efficiency in Learning: Evidence Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load. This theory packs a punch, however, as the proven guidelines are spelled out in proven techniques for helping learners and instructors to maximize their learning. The goal is to NOT overload the learner's working memory so they don't lapse into a conscious stupor called cognitive overload. What has amazed me about this theory and the resulting principles is that educators, for the most part, don't really know about them. And this is love of mine is going to play a role in the future. As the public demands more accountability from teachers and schools, perhaps due to performance analysts picking everything apart, schools will need to prove that their methods for teaching are not just based on educational gurus trying to make a quick buck, but on educational science. For my part, I intend to teach these principles every time someone hands me a microphone in front of a group of teachers. Teachers need to know this stuff!

So in the end, the wee three things that I love will have to move forward with my efforts, and the effort of designers throughout the field. If instructional designers committ to play an active role in tthe educational field, using their skills and knowledge, then education will have a good opportunity for reform. If this doesn't happen, then education will be left up to the whims of politicians and beurocrats.

Note: This blog post was published as a response to FutureWatch #3 in EDTEC 795B.

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