Instructional design is an important tool in any system of education. It enables all the stakeholders of the educational sector to achieve their objectives. This paper critically analyzes the various approaches to institutional design, their benefits and weaknesses, and further examines the principles relevant to instructional designs. Introduction There has been a massive increase in institutions that offer e-learning and this can be attributed to the changes from the traditional methods of teaching, to the future trends in the same.
E-learning enables learners to get access to various curricular from the comfort of their computers. It also enables students to earn degrees from prestigious universities, without being physically present there. However, the success of e-learning can be largely attributed to instructional design programmes that guide teaching methods, and ensure that all stakeholders in the education industry achieve their objectives. Instructional design involves transforming the learning principles into learning activities.
It goes further and develops, utilizes, manages and evaluates resources and processes for learning. Instructional design also involves creating the right environment, that will transform learners from states of inability to accomplish tasks, to states of the ability to accomplish tasks. There are three main approaches that are used in achieving these objectives. The first approach is the behavioral approach, the second is the cognitivism approach, while the third is the constructivism approach. These approaches have benefits and limitations, and are discussed below.
Behaviorism approach. The founder of this approach to instructional design, is John Watson. He wrote a paper in 1913, in which he argued that when studying social science, we should study and record overt behavior only. This is the behavior that can be observed and measured, and he further added that we should ignore inner states such as mental states or motives. The reason for ignoring the inner state, according to him, was that it cannot be objectively measured. This implies that the inner state cannot be simultaneously observed by many observers.
Watson called the inner processes, the ‘black box’, and his view was that they were not accessible, scientifically. In behaviorism, our focus is overt behavior and its stimuli, thereby making it the stimulus-response-psychology. Watson further says that all behavior can be attributed to external stimuli, which is observable. How the stimuli is processed inside the body is regarded as irrelevant, since it cannot be objectively measured. Since the behaviorists view behavior as a response to environmental stimulus, change of behavior can be realized by creating the favorable environment.
Watson’s approach to behaviorism was influenced by Ivan Pavlov’s earlier perspectives on operant conditioning and classical conditioning. Pavlov, had discovered that responses of salivation, brought about by seeing food, could also be generated by stimuli present during the presence of food. He observed this by doing an experiment with his dog; the fact that a bell was rang, just before the dog ate food, made it salivate every time it heard the bell, even though food was not present. This is what Pavlov referred to as classical conditioning. Skinner, on the other hand, came up with the operant conditioning perspective.
His view was that behavior is only likely to be repeated, after getting a certain reward and that the repetition is dictated by the consequence of the same behavior. Edward Thorndike is another social scientist who supported the behaviorism approach. He stated that if there is a response to a situation, and it leads to a consequence that is satisfying, it is very likely that the response will be repeated, if the situation happens in future. He conducted an experiment using cats in puzzle boxes and realized that the time they took to escape from the box gradually reduced.
He further attempted to see if the cats were using insight or whether they were gradually learning. His findings were that they were gradually learning, since the reduction in time used did not change abruptly, but instead changed gradually. The philosophy behind behaviorism is that a person can derive meaning, in the environment, without using personal experience (Ainslie, 2001). The instructional goals are framed in observable and specific behavioral terms. This approach looks at the immediate change in behavior, that can be recognized.
In a learning environment, the instructor presents well structured materials to the student, and assesses his or her complete understanding of the same. The instructor focuses on interaction and presentation, offering individual students tutorial relationship. The students read provided materials and the assesses their mastery of the same, through individual tests and assignments. Since the general agreement is that stimuli leads to a specific response, most of this type of research is carried out with animals, in laboratories.
It makes no difference in whether the response is observed using an experiment, as opposed to real life situations, if stimuli generates certain responses. The approach has been very useful in introducing humane education environments, since it was realized that rewards encouraging desirable behavior achieved better results, than punishments for undesirable behavior. Types There are basically three types of behaviorism; the first type is the methodological behaviorism. In this case, behaviorism is seen to ignore the mental state and other internal processes that affect behavior of an organism.
This type of behaviorism sees no additional benefits that can be derived from consideration of an entity’s desires or beliefs, in understanding patterns of behavior and therefore ignores them. This type of behaviorism views the mental state as a poor object of empirically studying the behavior of an entity. The second type of behaviorism is the psychological behaviorism and it tries to explain animal and human behavior as influenced by external stimulus. This is explained by Watson’s experiment on the dog and bell, which is explained above.
The dog’s characteristic of salivating every time it hears the bell can be explained by this type of behaviorism. The third type of behaviorism is the analytical behaviorism, which is also called the logical behaviorism. This is a philosophical theory that explain the meanings of mental concepts and terms. It further goes on to explain that the idea of a mental condition or state is a behavioral disposition idea. Strengths According to Graham (2004), one of the strengths attributed to this approach is that it avoids regressive explanation of behaviors.
This is through avoidance of explaining a form of behavior, using another form of behavior, that is, explaining overt behavior using covert behavior. This is achieved through ignoring mental activities, which are forms of behavior and using other forms non behavior, such as environmental stimulus, to explain behavior. Another strength that behaviorism possesses is that it is anti-nativist. Nativists believe that the mind at birth, has rules of processing that are used when learning. Behaviorism is supported by theorists since they believe that the mind learns through exposure to a stimulus and not through implicit procedures.
Weaknesses. One weakness of behaviorism is the inadequate understanding of the effect of reinforcements on behaviors. The reinforcement should always increase frequency of responses, but this relies on the ability of the organism to recall the circumstances under which the stimuli was presented. This means that in the event that the organism forgets those circumstances, there will be no response to the stimuli. The second weakness is that this approach ignores the mental state and the inner motivation. This is commonly referred to as the ‘black box’ and is usually ignored by behaviorism.
The disadvantage of this ignorance is that both the mental state, and motivation play a part in determining the behavior of an individual. The third weakness is that for the organism to react to the stimuli, the reinforcement has to be consistent, otherwise the organism will not notice it. Some theorists regard intrinsic human conditions as limitation to this approach. These include loss of memory, presence of pain, paralysis of the body and the language barrier. All these can make the organism or human fail to respond to the reinforcement, either because they do not sense it, or they sense it but are unable to respond.
Cognitivism Cognitivism is an approach that tries to study the inner processes that are ignored by behaviorism. Cognitivism attempts to open the ‘black box’ that is closed by behaviorism. According to cognitivism, human minds process information, which makes it important to understand the processes, which include problem solving, remembering, attending and knowing work. Cognitivists relate to the computer language of input of information, and processing of the same, leading to output of information. Cognitivism started in the 1960s, when there were limited perspectives on approaches to behaviourism.
Some of the theorists that were associated with cognitivism include; Robert Gagne, Jerome Bruner and Ausubel David. Ausubel stressed importance of content meaning, which could be associated with the pre-existing information. Bruner, on the other hand stressed the importance of motivation in the learning process, while Gagne defined the conditions of learning, which include intellectual skills, verbal information and cognitive processes. Questions were asked about the ‘black box’ and someone had to open it. The basic view in this approach, is that the response to a situation by human beings is dictated by processing of information.
Cognitive theorists view much of learning as taking place through repetition and contiguity. They view the role of reinforcement as more of provision of feedback on accuracy of a response, rather than motivation. It is easier to remember information with the following qualities; The first is meaningful effects, which means that meaningless information is difficult to remember and vice verse. Practice effects means that information that is rehearsed is easily remembered, especially if done with distributed practice (Place, 2000).
Schema effects imply that it is difficult to remember information that cannot fit a person’s schema. Mnemonic effects are used to transform meaningless words and expressions into meaningful semantics. State dependent effect means that it is easier to remember something, under the context it was taught in, than on a different context. Weaknesses The weakness with this approach is that the learner may not learn the best way of accomplishing a task, using this approach, since it might change in different situations. This means that the knowledge learned may not be applicable in solving new problems.
For instance, the correct way to log into a computer may vary with the model and software being used. The other weakness, according to Kearsley (2007), is that this approach does not always work, this may be due to a combination of several factors. The brain cannot be taken to work exactly like a computer, since a computer is a machine. There are human factors that might hinder a person from effectively remembering what is learned, but the same cannot be said of a computer. The person might have stress or be exhausted and this affects the working of the processes. Constructivism
This approach views learning as a process that is constructive and active. Learning is seen to occur when children construct representations of the information that they have acquired and processed. This requires the link between pre-existing knowledge and new information. This link is subjective and varies from one person to another, since everyone possesses different knowledge, brought about by undergoing different experiences. However, it is important that the pre-existing knowledge is stimulated in order for the person to remember it, and subsequently link it to the new information.
Jonassen’s model Jonassen is a University of Missouri don and an expert in implementing innovative theories of learning. He designed a learning framework for curriculum development and the following are the elements; the first element is the plan for establishing and developing the instruction program. The second element is the methods for advancing existing programs, while the third is strategies for sustaining partnerships. The fourth is assessment of the instruction impacts and evaluation of the learners’ understanding.
These guidelines help in transformation of students’ gestalt from the stage where they are confused to the stage where there is familiarity. Gestalt psychology This is a theory of the brain and mind that explains that the whole of the brain is not equal to the sum of the parts. It is used to explain how human senses work, especially in recognizing whole forms and figures. There are four properties in this approach and the first is emergence. Here, the vision is not properly visible. The second property is reification and here, the perception of the aspect is generated.
The third stage is multistability and in this case, ambiguous perceptions moves between two possible interpretations. The last property is invariance and this is where geographical objects, simple in nature are recognized, even though they may be rotating or distorted in scale. Techniques The techniques used in constructivism include collaborative learning, where learners who have different backgrounds and skills discuss and do tasks together, such that they come to an agreement on the truth about a certain situation or circumstance.
Another technique involves library research and the learners discover new facts by themselves, without the aid of the instructor. Similarly, field work excursions may also help the learners discover things as they are in real life, through conducting research on the ground. Learners can also learn through teaching, which is different from presentations, since the learners have the freedom to use their own approach to teaching. The strength of this approach is that it is useful for the learner when dealing with real-life situations.
According to Robinson (2003), the basic forms of teaching using this method are coaching, scaffolding and modeling. These methods help the students in acquisition of cognitive skills, through practice and observation. Modeling provides an opportunity for the learner to observe problems and their solutions, in order to enable them to create conceptional models. Scaffolding and coaching provides feedback, hints and sometimes guidelines so that they are able to complete tasks. Examples of such forms of teaching are on-line message boards, workshops, simulations and games.
Criticism While the constructivists state that learning can be enhanced by ‘doing’, critics argue that this is not always the case. They further argue that some novice learners lack ‘schemas’ or the mental capability to learn through doing. Some critics even go further to say that years of research have not proved that the constructivist approach leads to discovery, and in the instances where discovery has occurred, this was as a result of guided discovery, through help by instructors.
Some critics see the constructivism approach as impractical in certain fields since it reveals certain weaknesses, that are attributed to the constructivism approach, which they view as focusing on memorization as opposed to behavior action or change. For example, in a study done on medical students, project based learning revealed weaknesses in the students’ abilities to pass written tests, due to the bias in learning the experimental aspects. Principles of instructional design These are the principles that should be followed when undertaking instructional design, and their purpose is to achieve the objectives of instructional design.
The first principle is the fairness and this implies that all learners should use equal means to achieve the requirements of the course. The instructions should be accessed by equally by all learners. Diversity and the different abilities of the learners should be taken into consideration. An example of such a learning environment is an on-line based course. The second principle that should be applied is the flexibility in participation, use and presentation of learning materials. This means that there should be several ways of accessing the learning materials, interacting with them, and evaluation of use of the materials.
The instructions should be designed to satisfy the wide range of preferences of the learner. Examples of such learning environments are ones with provision of optional assignments, due dates and formats where possible. The third principle, according to Wells (2000), is consistent and straightforward instructions, and this means that the instructions should be clear and free from unnecessary distractions and complexities. This can be done through ensuring that grading, content, learning objectives and assignments are consistent.
The fourth principle is explicitly presenting information, and this is where expectations of the course are clear. It also entails making all communication lines clear and removing any barriers to the same. It also involves presentation of the information in a multiple format. This can be achieved through making explicit expectations on assignments and providing a rubric or grading system. The fifth principle is a supportive environment for learning. This entails proper handling of mistakes made, and viewing them as opportunities for learning.
It also involves minimizing the hazards that have the potential to cause irreversible failures and errors. An example of such a learning environment is one where very large assignments are broken into smaller components so that there are minimal errors by students. Another way to achieve this is to provide questions that are frequently asked during assessments. The other principal is having learning space that can accommodate all students and finally, minimizing unnecessary physical requirements or efforts by the students.
This can be achieved by for instance, allowing the students to use word processors for a submission, and allowing the electronic submission of the assignments. Conclusion There are several approaches that can be used in instructional designs. Each approach has its own pros and cons. It is important to evaluate these before using an instructional design approach. The instructors should understand the learning process, when dealing with students, and the obstacles to learning so that they can avoid them.
It is also clear that there are several principles that should be followed when practicing instructional designs. It is very important to create the right environment for learning, since that is what motivates students to learn. It is also important to take care of the diverse needs of learners since they come from different backgrounds, and most of all, equality should be observed regardless of the background of the learner. References. Ainslie, G. (2001). Breakdown of Will. Washington: AMACOM. Graham, G. (2004). Identifying the Mind: Selected Papers of U. T. Place. Oxford: Oxford