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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Instructional System Design ( part 2 of a 5 part Learning Series)

“It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.”— Peter Senge —

“If you don’t know where you’re going,” the Scarecrow said to Dorothy,
“it doesn’t matter which road you take.”— The Wizard of Oz —

In their book The Systematic Design of Instruction, Walter Dick and Lou Carey list three reasons for using a systems approach to design.

  • First, from the very beginning it causes the designer to focus on what the learner should know and be able to do when they have finished instruction.
  • Second, a systems approach also recognizes the connection between each component.
  • Third, a system (should be) an empirical and reliable process. Instruction is designed for multiple uses and with replicable outcomes.


Dick & Carey have written the book on Instructional Systems Design (ISD). As you will see, however, many people have written “the book” as well. ISD in reality is another variation on the steps of the scientific process:

  • Identification of the problem
  • Review of the literature/what is known about the problem
  • Formulating a hypothesis
  • Testing the hypothesis/Collecting data
  • Analyzing the data
  • Interpreting the results
  • Evaluating the results and process

Every profession has some holy grail they point to which reflects their beliefs. Currently in the instructional design world, the paradigm is a systems model (for hints of the shifts taking place, see the link to David Jonassen’s Home Page).

Dick & Carey are absolutely right with their three points. And one of the strengths of using a systems design is that you have a step-by-step process to follow to make sure you cover everything. It keeps you from approaching the design process like the Scarecrow.

But note: you can still produce perfectly dreadful, unimaginative instruction while following every step faithfully. As Senge says above, it is not what the vision is; it’s what the vision does.

So what is that extra needed step which will ensure success? Think about that as you work through this segment of the Learning Series.

Some additional items to think about…

Gottfredson discusses the need for chunking of online course materials when designing learning events.

  • How does this method address the teaching of critical skills?
  • Would this method of design be effective in your discipline? Why, or why not?

In my introduction to this segment, I mention that following a systems approach does not guarantee successful instruction. Respond to this “missing link” in design. What is that missing step that you feel would insure success?

Also, take a trip to The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and visit the tutorial on Instructional Design Methodologies and Techniques. Follow the path that says Go To Models for Instructional Design. This tutorial gives an overview to six instructional design systems and the thinking and learning theory behind them. Examine the components of these theories.

Now think about what you feel is important in designing learning. Sketch out the components of your model. It can be complex or simple. What do you like or dislike.

Please let me know if you found this article to be of assistance or would like to discuss any of your findings.

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This entry was posted on February 25, 2005 by in Distance Education.

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