Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The future of instructional models

Here is November’s Big Question from Learning Circuits: Are our models (ISD, ADDIE, HPT, etc.) relevant in the future? The question does not stop there. The LC blog follows it up with “Are ISD/ADDIE/HPT relevant in a world of rapid elearning, faster time-to-performance, and informal learning?” Although Learning Circuits must have seen both these question together as defining one problem statement, I see two distinct questions here.

Let me respond to the “first question” first. The relevance of a model depends on how you use it rather than when you use it (past, present, and future). In this case, the question seems to imply that the models in question are traditional (ISD, ADDIE, HPT, etc.). However, the use of brackets, the addition of “etc.” and the absence of the word “traditional” or “conventional” makes the question open to interpretation—which is not a bad thing.

“Our models” are somewhat like this question. A model by its very definition is generic; it acquires specificity only in local contexts. So, if one is to assume that ADDIE is top-down, behavioristic, and ID driven, then it will appear to be so. On the other hand, if a few learners decide to use the process elements of ADDIE to design learning for their own use in a Second Life kind of platform, the application of this model takes on a completely different perspective.

Therefore, the problem lies not with the models, but in how we approach them and what we take out of them. We should be able to appropriate models, not just apply them literally or reject them outright. By appropriating a model, we make it relevant to us and to our times.

The second question, on the other hand, assumes that the future of learning lies in rapid e-learning and informal learning. And this “future” seems to be arguing for a shift in the ownership of content creation.

Who is the best person to generate content? Is it the learner (Learning 2.0), the instructional designer (Learning 1.0), or the SME (LCMS)? Should content generation be top-down, self-directed, or collaborative? Such questions most often lead us toward tautologies and not toward answers. Moreover, no content is born out of nowhere; most types of content are extensions of or responses to already existing content.

If we need answers, we might have to ask the following questions:
• What kind of learning experiences will help me sharpen my perspectives, take the right decisions, and do the right things?
• Where and how can I find, create, and participate in these experiences?
• How should I organize these experiences so that I’m able to make meaningful associations?

I’m not arguing that these questions are unambiguous—“right decisions,” “right things,” and “meaningful associations” are all ambiguous words in the absence of a defined criteria. The point I’m trying to make is this: Learning is linked to memory, retention, application, critical thinking, and creativity. And if adapting certain processes or ways of organizing content can lead to a learning experience that aids long-term retention or provides deeper insights, then there is nothing wrong in using a model that suits the purpose.

Give me the discursive content of a Google search and the conversations of a blog, but don’t deny me the effectiveness of a well-designed learning program. And models like ISD, if used creatively, can help produce highly effective learning programs. Let the future of learning be not defined by platforms (Web 2.0 or otherwise) but by the rigor of thought and the boldness of assumptions—supported by research, empirical evidence, and lived experiences.

Crossposted at http://blog.tatainteractive.com/2006/11/the_future_of_i.html

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