What is Instructional Design and How to use it for eLearning – The Blend Podcast EP007

Tom Payani  00:29

This week, we’re talking about instructional design. I think this is quite a good podcast episode to do. Because there’s a whole industry around this, and no one really knows how to define it very well, or you hear so many different definitions of what instructional design is, or what it even means and sometimes gets a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Brendan Cox  00:53

Yeah, it’s got different definitions. It’s like a catch all term for all sorts of different things. I mean, the official version of it, is that it started as instructional systems design, which is a framework for learning.

It’s of rooted in cognitivism, which is focusing on how people learn and  the learner at the centre of it, and their approach. So that was around in the 50s. It’s a framework for how to build materials for instruction and learning?

Tom Payani  01:29

Well, I think a nice way to describe it, I’m from an educational background, a big part of my my work before was curriculum design, designing courses, designing curriculum for students. Instructional design is just a variation on that really, more focused in for the E learning industry that has started to grow more and more. That’s how it’s helped me understand what instructional design is about.

At blend our roles are pretty defined , where I do the instructional design, we talk about ideas together, and we plan things together. But what I mean is, your expertise is designing in a more traditional sense, or motion design, animation, etc. And I’ll try and fit in, we’ll  build a course around the assets, you design for me into whatever projects we’re doing and the steps of that course, is the instructional design part.

Brendan Cox  02:35

Yep. At the end of the day my background is in storytelling and yours is in teaching people how to do something. So at the start we analyse it together, then you work out what they need to learn for what they need to be able to do. And then I help you make the content that gets them to a point where they can do it.

Tom Payani  03:00

Yeah, I think it’s a nice way of putting it maybe is telling someone or helping someone to learn something by using storytelling. I think storytelling is where we meet in the middle, isn’t it?

You’ve got the design background, I’ve got the education background, and we meet in the middle,  where we have a common ground is we love storytelling and how we implem storytelling into whatever we’re doing.

Brendan Cox  03:27

Yeah, I think that’s the thing . I’ve been doing storytelling for commercial reasons. Once we start doing it for a learning purpose, it’s suddenly levelled up into something of purpose. The satisfaction that comes from it, that’s part of the thing, being able to create quality content for learning, has a massive payoff, you’ve actually helped someone achieve something.

Tom Payani  03:57

Well, yeah, you said yourself, you used storytelling for commercial purposes before. We were sitting there scratching our head saying, hold on, why can’t we use storytelling for creating elearning?

I think as much as instructional design is super important, and that is the core framework of everything we do, why can’t we add that creativity in there? Why can’t we add those storytelling elements in there? And I think that’s our main mission at all times, isn’t it? Whenever we’re creating something.

Brendan Cox  04:28

Because we both come from different backgrounds, we’re both flexibly approaching every problem. I think we feel quite strongly that you should be flexible with the framework as well, learn the rules, and then start asking the question – do we have to do this in such a rigid model?

Okay, we analyse it, we design it, we develop it, we iterate, sorry, i mean implement, we evaluate. The thing is, maybe we can we can prototype more often. So maybe there’s ways we can evolve the process and apply the process to actually improving the framework itself.

Tom Payani  05:16

We found that pretty quickly even though ADDIE model is the go to framework. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the model, per se. But it can be limited if you’re not flexible enough with it.  I think it makes a lot of sense and it’s a good framework to have, but we want to be more flexible with our approach. We don’t necessarily think we have to stick to the ADDIE model 100%. You said the word iterate, but that’s because we often do add iterations throughout the ADDIE model process, even the development stage, even in the design stage, we keep going back and forth.

We don’t want to only go to the next step until the previous one is completely won that we want that option to be flexible in our process. Another thing that’s really important, and I think that’s where your background really helps as well, is we’ve tried to merge design thinking principles and concepts into these more traditional instructional design theories.

Brendan Cox  06:22

Within design thinking, there’s stuff like agile, which is the idea that you come up with an idea, you prototype it as quickly as possible. Then you basically constantly iterate it and improve it. So you’ve got this really tight feedback loop that’s used often for software development, because you need to constantly be on top of it.

Whereas traditionally, instructional design would be a long linear thing, where you’d evaluate it at the end, we’re saying, let’s not lock ourselves down to that, I think there’s a lot that can be achieved by just evaluating it along the way. And the best way to evaluate along the way is prototype.

Tom Payani  07:03

You’re gonna save yourself a massive headache at the end, where you turn around and you give the the customer or whoever it is the end project. And they’re – no, this isn’t what we wanted – because you haven’t iterated and evaluated throughout the process.

Brendan Cox  07:21

I like doing a project where there’s no surprises, it sounds like a weird thing to say. But basically, if you can prototype and evaluate a project at every stage, the chances that it goes off track are so small, that you can even shut down a project after the first meeting. 

We do a thing where we have a meeting, a workshop for an hour. Then you and I storyboard out a project, like literally onto one board. And it means that anyone can prototype the project at that stage and someone can  say – okay, we’re not going to spend money on this, or perfect, let’s go down this route. And everyone’s in alignment.

I think that aspect of, well, let’s not make assumptions, let’s not embrace surprises, let’s just get everyone on the same page, and then make an informed decision. At each stage. It works. It saves a lot of time and money.

Tom Payani  08:15

I don’t really want to get into too many sort of buzzwords, and the boring definitions of things. But I think with instructional design, there are different approaches you can make and you hear words being thrown about, like cognitivism, and behaviourism, and constructivism…but I think, really what that means is, what is your focus when designing a course?

How are you approaching the design and cognitivism is more learner focused. Behaviourism is like more learning objective focus. Constructivism is more building on previous learning.

But I think the problem with these types of definitions is you can pigeonhole what you’re doing. And one thing I found is often, with instructional design and course design, your elearning design, you’re using a combination of different things.

Like we’ve said in previous episodes, you have this sandbox of learning, which is very much falling into the constructivism bracket, but that still needs to have some structure and framework. Otherwise, it’s basically just play without any learning behind it. So you need to tie all these things together.

And I think this is one problem, I don’t know if you agree, but I found when we first started delving deeper into this world was people were not very flexible with their terminology either. They they got caught up in in categories and learning theory with without seeing the practicalities of how learning works, in my opinion. I don’t know if you agree with that.

Brendan Cox  09:57

It is in our nature to categorise everything. I think when someone’s put in a lot of work to work something out, in the same way that I’m precious over design, if I’ve spent a tonne of time making something, I’m almost defensive past the point of reason.

There’s a lot of effort that’s gone into working out these terms, these approaches, it’s quite complex. So their level of flexibility reduces, people become precious. Let’s just get a balanced approach by considering everybody else’s, there’s almost lan objection to. accepting that everything is just a component in someone’s toolkit for teaching, and not one multi tool that can be applied to everything.

I think that that’s what’s interesting at the moment, especially with eLearning, changing the way that we approach everything, you can’t just stick to one way. With the data that you get from using e learning, you can prove that actually a combination is always a better approach. Being flexible is always a better approach than just adhering to one strict style.

Tom Payani  11:05

Also, you can’t say that one’s better because they are apples and oranges, because there’s so many variables. Who are your learners? What’s the subject matter? So it’s pointless saying, this is the best way, because it’s going to change every time you do something anyway.

Then you’ve got all these other factors to consider, are you teaching adults or kids – adults, some are more interested,  intrinsically motivated compared to kids. So  if you’re teaching kids or creating learning for kids, you’ve got to try and build motivation into the game, therefore, you’re going to probably need a bit more structure or a bit more positive reinforcement, etc, etc.

Then that might change the learning theory behind the instructional design you’re implementing, or you’ve got different learning styles. You have visual learners, people like pictures, videos, animation, infographics, you’ve got auditory learners, people who like listening to podcasts, people are like discussing things, we’ve got kinesthetic learners, people who prefer roleplay, or hands on things, experiential activities, so all these variables will inform the type of learning design in the first place. So I think it’s just you’re fighting a losing battle if you put yourself in one of these camps of how instructional designers should be created.

Brendan Cox  12:28

I think that the thing is when you normally teaching, I’m just guessing, but as a normal teacher, you apply what you teaching, but you build in , you fill in the sand around the stones with your soft skills, your approach, you adapt to everybody.

So like you don’t just hammer the same points, you adapt them, you rephrase them, you explore them differently, depending on the student’s needs. And because eLearning doesn’t have an organic analogue approach to it – It doesn’t just automatically adjust to everybody.

It shows holes in the methodology, because a piece of content that you’ve taught in class will work really well, because you’ve put in the effort to actually personalise it to each person. But the same piece of content, when presented to a whole range of people digitally, doesn’t have that buffer of a person in between,  a teacher in between.

That’s where we have to be flexible. We have to be filling those holes with more overlap between the different approaches, and use all the tools in the toolkit rather than just using one and using my soft skills to fill in the gaps.

Tom Payani  13:48

On top of that, you could teach the same thing to two different individuals. The content you’re providing for one of the users is more visual, and the other one’s more auditory.That’s obviously coming back to how you personalise the learning, which is key to any instructional design.

Adding into that as well. How can technology help you inform your instructional design? or How can you use new technology to create content that is good for different types of learners? I think one thing that we’ve spoken about before is virtual reality or augmented reality. Using that to help the design of courses, of learning, of our instructional design, and the eye tracking idea was one, wasn’t it?

Brendan Cox  14:42

So we were chatting to someone about the idea of each learner had different types of learning that appealed to them the most. Like what you were saying before with the auditory, the kinesthetic. And tracking their reaction to benchmarking questions, sets of questions to understand what actually got their attention the most. Obviously, everyone’s a bit of a combo of everything. For example, I am highly auditory. So if someone’s talking off in the distance, and I can hear there’s a voice, I cannot concentrate on what I’m doing, because i want to listen to that instead.

If you could build something with AR or in VR, that allows you to monitor someone’s reaction to different types of content. In theory, you could basically build the same curriculum, but through different approaches,  you could appeal to an all different types of students.

Tom Payani  15:47

Well it is personalised for each user who plays it.

Brendan Cox  15:50

Yes, sensory personalization. I think that’s something that would be really cool to, to introduce. That idea of more flexibility through personalization for users and learners, is where instructional design can definitely improve.

Tom Payani  16:06

There’s so many things you need to consider in instructional design. You’ve got types of learners in terms of their Sensory Learning, you know, visual, auditory, etc. But then you’ve got different types of intelligence. For me, this comes full circle all the way back to Episode One of the podcast we did, where we feel the education system as a whole is quite narrow in terms of how it defines intelligence.

It’s very focused on academic intelligence, learning how to take tests, memorization. Whereas there’s certainly different forms of intelligence, someone who is fantastic linguistically and wins every argument or got the chat – can get themselves out of any dodgy situation by charming.

Or you’ve got a friend who is just amazing practically – give them something broken, and they’ll fix it, that handyman type friend, and these are all different forms of intelligence. And this also needs to be fed into instructional design.

Brendan Cox  17:14

So you just made me laugh because you were basically describing the A-team. And I had to stop you, otherwise, you were gonna get all the way around to describing Hannibal, and I wouldn’t be able to contain myself any further.

Tom Payani  17:31

It’s just these types of intelligences that also need to be considered. I think if you address those in your instructional design, whether that’s through gamification through social proof, in the sense that if you do this hands on, you’ll get social proof to other people playing the game to know you’re good in this way, that you have this form of intelligence.

You can create a piece of learning where you need these varieties of skills and you work within a team. So different people can play to their own strengths, a team style, or crystal maze style, using their strongest forms of intelligence to help with a process, then this, for me is really good elearning, really good instruction design, because that’s how life works.

Me and you in Blend – you do aspects of the business, I do aspects of the business, because we are playing to each other’s strengths. That’s the point. That’s how the world works. So why should learning be any different?

Brendan Cox  18:37

I think that’s the thing, forcing every peg into a shaped hole doesn’t benefit the peg at all.

Tom Payani  18:47

You would not have a football team, where you had 11 players who were jack of all trades,

Brendan Cox  18:52

I would because I’m terrible at football.

Tom Payani  18:57

You’d be a terrible manager. You’d want your specialist wouldn’t you. And that’s the way the world works. And for me, I don’t really understand why this is not addressed more in learning.

Why are we teaching everybody in the mainstream education system to have the same set of skills when we’re all different? I understand everyone needs to learn to read and write. And of course I’m not dismissing key skills like that. But once you progress in your education, once you start to understand what type of learner you are, what you’re good at, what you’re not so good at. This is where your learning should tie into that.

Brendan Cox  19:32

There was something , what book it is, it might come to me in the end – basically the gist of it is they were saying that it’s much much harder to fill in the void in your skill set than it is to take what you’re already good at. And then push yourself so you master it. That might be it actually, it might be Mastery.

The idea that it’s much much easier to enhance something that’s already there than it is to fill in a hole, to completely build up a skill from scratch. And I think that’s something that’s really important, everyone everywhere, given the right environment, has the skill, and has a natural ability in something.

Tom Payani  20:18

That should be acknowledged, because then you’ve got another set of problems where people feel stupid, or people feel like they have any form of intelligence, because they don’t have the one particular intelligence that is being assessed in  the learning or at school.

And this is also a wider problem. This just leads on to this idea of learning needs to be personalised. At Blend, we try and do it in different ways.  You can personalise in loads of ways, by the name, by the content that’s being provided, by the media that’s being provided, by the learning objectives for each specific user. By branch scenario learning , this Choose Your Own Adventure style learning by even easter eggs, you see easter eggs in video games, so there’s all these ways you can personalise learning.

We know it seems like we talk about this every week, but it’s because these this is the way learning is going. And this is the way learning has to go.

Brendan Cox  21:18

It’s mastery by Robert Greene. That was it. So check that out, we’ll put it in the show notes. 

It’s all going in the direction of elearning. The process and the frameworks will be developed and iterate and they will organically changing. And I think it was almost a eureka moment when both of us came together. And we were like, hang on –  this instructional design and also my production design – there’s a massive overlap.

If you think about in commercials, the goal is to get the audience to buy something. So you analyse them to understand them, you engage them in the best way possible. And you lead them to a point where they want something.

But for a learning goal, you’re getting the audience to be able to do something. So again, you’re still analysing them to understand them, you’re engaging them in the best way possible. And then you lead them through the content, to where they’re able to actually do the thing that you would set out at the beginning.

And when you compare the results against the goal at the end, you still come back and iterate and you you try and improve.

So the overlap is huge. I think that one of the things that commercial and production, the business side of design, the design thinking aspects of things that are used a lot focus on iterating, quickly prototyping and evaluating quickly too in the service of evolving the solution.

In the same way that Elan Musk chuck’s up loads of rockets to work out how to build the best rocket because he does it quicker and faster than NASA who took ages.

I think that because there’s that overlap, there’s lots of opportunities to actually improve the process. And as long as we’re flexible  towards instructional design, there’s lots of elements that can that can be improved and sped up and actually make it more in the service of putting your time into actually making good content, rather than worrying about are we following the structure of it properly.

One good example is actually the, the action mapping. Kathy Moore  developed this. If you ever hear an interview with her, she’s reallyto the point, she  properly cuts the fat off of planning a project.

The idea is you map out the actions you need to do to hit the goal. So don’t go Oh, they need to know all this stuff and make assumptions about what it is and put in all the content in an ideal world. What she does is focus on the goal. What are the actions that you need to do to meet that goal? So what does the learner need to do? Specifically, then you pick the scenarios, so then which  arena best helps practice those actions? And only then do you start talking about what knowledge or information that person needs.

That way, you’re not spending all your time building a tonne of content, you’re putting a bit of time into the beginning, cutting all the fat off, and suddenly you get a really super clean bit of elearning.

I recommend checking that out. She’s written a book called action mapping. It’s really good. It’s a design thinking approach to the instructional process and chopping the fat out, improving the decision making aspects of it, and basically improving the ability to just iterate and prototype along the way. It’s really cool.

Tom Payani  24:58

Nice, cool. Well, Brendan, as always a pleasure to talk to you, and also lots of things to digest there for sure.

Brendan Cox  25:07

Yeah, it’s going to keep changing. People’s definition of instructional design is going to keep evolving. The processes and the tools that they use as part of it is going to keep evolving, a bit like design thinking, it’s just gonna keep iterating and getting smarter, I think.

Tom Payani  25:24

Nice one. Anyway, I will catch up with you soon.

Brendan Cox  25:28

Yeah, chat next week.

Intro/Outro  25:30

Thanks for listening to the blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google and Apple. You can find blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or www.Blend.training. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time. 

Got any questions related to what is instructional design? Or interested in how we can help you with interactive instructional design to make your training more engaging and effective? Check out our services page or contact us here at Blend. 

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