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Is instructional design dead?

October 24th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Martin Lindner raises some important issues in a recent blog post.

“Even “e-Learning 2.0″ still seems to be discussed primarily from the perspective of institutions or organisations. But the Web 2.0 obviously is “user-centered”. Every This was the starting point for discussing “PLEs” (Personal Learning Environments) as opposed to LMSs (Learning Management Systems) and VLEs (VirtualLearinng Environments) that has been led by Scott Wilson, Leigh Blackall, Stephen Downes and many others in 2005.

The main point has been nailed by Leigh in his notorious “Die LMS Die! You too PLE!” blog post:
‘So while I whole heartedly agree with the PLE and Scott’s reasoning for rejecting the LMS/VLE, I can’t say I’m with them on their alternative. In my view, the VLE, LMS and PLE are the same. A suggestion that the Internet, and informal networked learning are not enough. That people still need to come to school to learn. That people need to distinguish learning from life, that people need to download and install an application that will solve their learning needs.’

The ultimate learning environment is “the Web” itself. But the Web conssits of a applications which trigger designed user experiences. That is the question: Is there room left for instructional design of any kind in a Web environment? And how can we help mainstream users with low “Web literacy” to exploit the new possibilities for their personal empowerment?”

I have to say I worry when I hear people talking about PLE applications. But Martin makes the point himself in asking how we can help users to exploit the new possibilities – although in my view it is not just users with ‘low web literacy’ but all users. For this we need tools though I have long asked whether they should be regarded as social tools rather than learning tools. And learners need support in developing their own Personal Learning Environment to make the computer do what they want it to do for learning. Also we need to open out learning resources to ensure that they can be utlised within a PLE.

Is instructional design dead? It depends I suppose on just what you mean by instructional design. Yes in the narrow meaning of the learning objects debates and in the heavily sequenced teacher controlled applications. But no if we are talking about designing materials to help people learn. Its just that more and more people are involved daily in instructional design and most of them without training themselves. Just witness the flourishing of videos on You Tube designed to show us how to do something!

One final comment. Martin says “The ultimate learning environment is “the Web” itself.” No Martin, the ultimate learning environment is the world around us – which of course includes the web. But it also includes people, books and our (physical) working environment. One big challenge for the future is how to ensure such an environment is rich with learning possibilities.

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4 Responses to “Is instructional design dead?”

  1. :There’s a lot of food for thought there.
    Can I provide my insights too… well I am gonna anyway, because you can’t stop me, although you can delete me! 🙂 (and that would probably be personal(ized), user-“centric” censorship!)

    anyway… Language sometimes gets in the way. You see, where I physically come from (Portugal) people don’t refer to blackboard or any other of these course management systems as learning environments – they called them platforms… for learning (‘you-shall-learn-if you-go-there kind of a thing’). We never consider it as an environment – not in the way it’s been designated, maybe because a tool per se cannot grant the environment. It’s the interactions amongst people that enhance a given space and give it an atmosphere that will set the right mood (environment) for them (be it online or f2f)

    Curiously enough …today I was looking at a picture I took to a classroom blackboard (yes, they still exist!!) and how it resembles the blackboard we have online…
    In my school years the Blackboard belonged to the teacher. It was where he/she wrote things for us to copy down, and which we were demanded to stare at (they called it: to pay attention to). Sometimes we had the “privilege” to use it, but only when the teacher said so. These Contrived Management Systems (CMS 🙂 ) are quite similar, n’est pas? Just one more replication of school days reality.

    Now, I have never really considered these CMS as VLEs. They are now called this because someone has realized everyone is trying to have a social-constructivist approach and they thought that by giving it a posh name it would make the trick. Well, they guessed it wrongly. Nothing changed …really – you still get a blackboard, with a lot teacher structure. Sometimes one more generous soul remembers to activate the discussion board so students can have a saying, but they are secure because they know they can control that too. {i find it so funny when people say it’s a secure/safe environment ….but that’s another story)

    So the way I see it – a (V)LE is a space where people come together with the purpose of congregating, communicating, sharing, collaborating…. and where learning happens as one of the results of that inter-exchange. While they do so, they set the scene, develop the atmosphere which will transform the space into an environment where they feel compelled to learn, and most frequently come back to not because they have to but because they want to. The V just means it’s online. It’s not that a big deal anymore…or at least it shouldn’t.
    The PLE is directly related with the individual. It’s a bit more ego-centric if you like. It combines the environments where we learn with others with the space where we reflect and create artifacts that represent our learning enterprise. It doesn’t have to be necessarily or exclusively online.

    As for personal empowerment, I do think the web has been making a huge difference…for those who have embraced it. For all the others, it’s a world apart. What we need is more real plug and play tools – they still offer a lot of glitches – and more collaboration between the end users and the techies (those who actually listen to).
    I could go on and on, but my comment is already longer than your post… :-S

  2. José Mota says:

    Around 13 typos (if my count is accurate) in a blog posts is a huge problem when you are considering using it to support your research (as I am). I’m not picky about this, honestly. I highly value your ideas on education (I recently drove from Lisbon to Braga to listen to you and George Siemens – great presentation, BTW, and very amusing, too), but my question is this: how does this kind of formal element discredit (if it does) the value of the ideas people are putting forward on the web through the various publishing tools they have available? We already face a very tough resistance from traditional academics and other groups regarding the use of technologies in education. Does very relaxed writing give us more power to fight that resistance? Should we accept this and dismiss blog posts as valid academic bibliography, something you can use in a dissertation? What kind of things could I get to hear from someone arguing my dissertation if my sources have this kind of formal problems?

    I hope you don’t take this as a criticism, because it sure isn’t. I can understand the kind of circumstances that can lead to these typos, but won’t it increase resistance to already hard to accept concepts and perspectives in many contexts?

    Well, I’ll use it anyway, because it has some very insightful ideas and I’ve never been a fan of too much instructional design :-).

  3. Graham Attwell says:

    Thanks Jose. This one crept through unproofread! And my typing is so bad I need to proofread articles. Hope I have corrected them all now. Think there were a few more than 13!

  4. Martin Owen says:

    Having played with learning through networked tech for longer than most people (The BOAC – remember that airline- Boadecia system in May 1974 if we are to be accurate) my mature reflection is that I have never liked anything that has been designed to “teach” in a abstracted, generalised way. As soon as we try to systemize we seem to miss a lot of the point of being human learners – there is no single system we can describe that does the job – and therefore designing a tool that does it systematically feels inherently wrong.

    This is not to say technology can not be used to teach. I am very wedded to my own interest in Racing Academy ( which does offer teaching in physics in that it does offer guidance, progression in a way determined by a teacher. However I would not begin to assume that the model we developed in RA can be transposed to the study of literary criticism ( I am quite keen on building Joyce’s Ulysses mlearning game in Dublin).

    Also, this is not to say that we can not be scientific in what we do. Over the years I have run courses on using technology in learning, Jim Hartley’s Designing Instructional Text has been my consistent recommended read. A clear account of how to be mindful when writing and laying out words for learners based on empirical findings. If we must have learning design than this is the kind of guidance we need. In the past week I have received a series of power point slides from people who are pronouncing upon efficacy in learning technology who do not understand the first thing about legibility, readability and conveying meaning to others. It matters little that you do this embedded in some system that counts the number of times I open the file etc and makes sure that that info is transposed to my personal and assessment portfolios. Learning design first and foremost should be about communication and not systemization.

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