Who’s the Diva?


Instructional design models can be confusing since they seem more like process models and could be simply labelled as instructional design methods as defined by McGriff (2001) “systematic guidelines instructional designers follow in order to create a workshop, a course, a curriculum, an instructional program, or a training session”. These models are more of an adapted development life cycle for e-Learning with a flavour of instructional design involved where educational theories should be applied to ensure learning objectives are met.

Throwing up stuff on the screen because the technology allows it and saying hey we have e-Learning fools no one – you may be able to tick off quarterly objectives but the online experiences do nothing to improve behaviours. These types of sessions are viewed with disdain and most customers will be thinking to themselves hey I know Powerpoint, I could do that… what’s so special about an instructional designer? Well the application of a ISD(Instructional System Design) , ADDIE(Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation) and HPT(Human Performance Technology) is what ensures learning takes place with or without the bells and whistles. The “aha” moment does arrive once a customer is forced to follow the model… its only when we’re asked to cut corners and speed things up do things fall through the gap …. maybe we should have skipped the design phase of the construction of the channel tunnel? Working on a hunch is not good enough – hoping learners learn from the super Powerpoint session and then not having time to evaluate them helps us fool ourselves in believing these short cuts have worked.

When using the above mentioned models problems begin to arise when stakeholders ask for changes or a faster turnaround. We never ask an accountant to speed up an audit… we never ask a doctor to take half  as long to conduct an operation – or change the destination of a train after we’ve built the platform … but due to technology advancing at break neck speeds stakeholders are constantly asking us to speed up development and pushing to change scope – this is when the old tried and tested instructional design methods which hold true even when using the most recent Web 2.0 tool are ditched. Instructional design principles of audience analysis, organisation and information chunking are just as applicable to an informal educational experiences –  a blog such as this one is a perfect example ! Would you conduct an audience analysis on your blog? Would you have any sort of written goal or objective? The fundamentals are still important and technology or proceslittle-diva[1]s should not supplant our models – without following instructional design processes the result are sure to be failed learning.

Rigid models such as ADDIE and ISD are synonymous with traditional waterfall models of software development and a more flexible approach is required. The cost of change is expensive the further along the process you go, and the final product is not visualised until late in the process. More modern Agile approaches on the other hand use successive increments to accept changes through the whole process while using SCRUM like sprints to create production versions as we move towards our final goal. SAM (successive approximation model) developed by Allen Interactions uses this approach and has achieved considerable notoriety.

Looking at Agile as an approach we can see how to stay aligned while meeting competing demands. Agile works by producing something every 2 weeks rather than one final product at the end of the development;

  • Short iterative cycles, of 2 weeks (called Sprints), instead of one prolonged design, develop, test, and implement cycle
  • Delivering small chunks of usable content frequently, rather than the entire course at the end of the project

The Agile manifesto helps to guide the whole structure of the approach;

  • Agile Teams: Build a team of self-organized, cross-functional people. Getting all the experts around the table early on is the key to successful Agile
  • User Stories: Look at the content needs from a user perspective. The most popular way to do so is to use the following User Story template:

As a {type of user: Course Admin; Trainer; Student}; I want to {goal: Add a Student; Grade a test; Select a course}; so that I can {reason: Complete the registration process; Evaluate progress; Start a lesson}

User stories are documented then chunked into backlogs of work for each iteration of development and pushed out in sprints

  1. Sprint Along: Each Sprint starts with a select number of User Stories (e.g. 7 User Stories about “How To Enrol In The Company’s Benefits Program”), and ends with a complete chunk of content that addresses all those Stories.
  2. Feedback: Each Sprint must culminate with a “Sprint Retrospective” review, where what worked and what didn’t work can be discussed candidly.
  3. Manage Backlogs: At the heart of a successful Agile project is the successful management of User Story backlogs, both for the Sprint, and for the entire project (Product backlog).

Knowing what content (or which User Stories) should be developed for the entire course, and prioritizing which Sprint should contain which User Stories, is an essential part of the entire Agile development process.

Agile opens up communication both within the team and stakeholders while ADDIE is much more regimental in its approach of sign offs and discrete steps. This inflexibility raises its ugly head when management starts pushing back for last minute changes or a quicker response, ADDIE is dumped and a do-or-die approach is taken without any guiding process – an agile approach would have had this flexibility built in, and as SAM attests, keeps everyone aiming towards the same goal post throughout the development.
Wizzy e-Learning that doesn’t work will not help us in either the short or long term.  We need to understand and apply a number of different models which range from defining learning objectives, e-Learning design, pedagogical approach, psychology of imagery and design  to produce e-Learning which make a difference and in fact key to the organisation’s success and competitiveness.



Driscoll, M., Carliner, S. (2005) Advanced Web-Based Training : Adapting Real World Strategies in Your Online Learning, Pfeiffer. ISBN 0787969796

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