At a recent online conference, a presenter offered the following session: Truly Reusable Learning Objects. This is a topic that seems to be on the corporate mind, and it’s one that holds a lot of promise for e-learning adopters and creators. The presenter made it clear that her presentation wouldn’t cover technology as much as it would instructional design. This was also of particular interest as there’s a lot of hype around standards and technologies that promise reusability. What seemed missing, however, was a discussion about the options or limitations technology provides to the design process. In addition, the presentation seemed to focus on reusability of electronic objects for electronic delivery. One of the key benefits of reusability is the potential to move across media and delivery platforms.
A major goal of good instructional design is to marry content with presentation—both physically and theoretically. Armed with current technologies, instructional designers have new options for designing and developing content. In this array of possibilities lies a new paradigm: dynamic construction of instructional content based on an independently managed presentation and delivery layer. Without the marriage of content to presentation and delivery, content can be easily reused across different media platforms.
Quick overview of instructional design
Instructional systems design (ISD) is the reference used to describe a systematic approach to the design of instruction. A systematic approach implies a logical application of discovery, testing, and creating solutions. It also refers to the methodical application of a process each and every time the creation of instruction is required.
ISD was made popular by Dick and Carey, who outlined a linear, methodical design and development process. As with any theory, the proposition of the system was based on some key assumptions, perhaps the most critical of which is: “You can’t provide a solution until you know what the problem is.” The system that Dick and Carey proposed was ADDIE. The term ADDIE is an acronym for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. In ADDIE, the completion of one step is logically fed into the one immediately after it.
Although the system has evolved over time, it’s remarkable how much of it has stayed the same. There are those that have rearranged the steps or pointed to the methodology’s shortcomings as a linear approach, yet organizations repeatedly make reference to it and stick to the basic principles of it. No one has ever challenged the philosophy that underpins the methodology or disputed the validity of how the methodology supports that philosophy. Indeed, it’s hard to find fault with a system that begins by aligning itself so tightly with its philosophical assumptions. As a basic principle, if one cannot provide a solution before the problem has been identified, then it’s logical to begin the methodology with an analysis.
Applying the same methodological approach to the overall process for developing training as well as to the independent stages such as analysis is consistent with the scientific approach. This lends credibility to the process—and the results. Asking the same questions about industry-accepted issues relevant to training allows a consultant to categorize responses and provide canned results.
The introduction of computer technology into the design and delivery of training programs has created the need to revise our questions and revise the process for delivering effective training programs. Typically, the cost of designing and developing content—not to mention, modifying content—is much higher in an electronic environment. This has forced companies to look at reusability and rapid development tools, which has altered our view of what makes training effective.
Information mapping and learning objects
One of the more popular design and development processes, which has been popularized by Ruth Clark and CISCO, is the reusable learning object (RLO/RIO) and the information mapping process. Information mapping is the prescribed process to create learning objects.
The process begins with the adoption of a learning paradigm. Information mapping moves information and maps it to the chosen learning paradigm. Once the model is chosen, then the process of information mapping is the categorization of “information” or content into the various components of the selected model or paradigm.
A crucial step of information mapping is the standardization of building instruction around the various components of the selected instructional model. In other words, by postulating a model for knowledge acquisition, it’s assumed that learning happens in different ways based on the different parts of my model.
Learning Type A in a model and Learning Type B in the same model are different; therefore, different tools and approaches may be required for each to create instruction. Information mapping requires that we build standard approaches for instruction based on the different learning types but that all instances of a specific learning type always adhere to the same approach.
The complete information mapping process is the standardization of delivering instruction based on a paradigm of knowledge, then mapping information or content into that paradigm and delivering the content through the standard modes of delivery that have been created. Each unit of standardized instruction is referred to as a learning object.
Reusability: Structured Content Development Model
Where information mapping falls short, the Structured Content
Development Model succeeds. The result of an information mapping process still opens the door for course designers to adlib the design of a learning object based on the elements the designer includes in a piece of instruction. Although seemingly harmless, hard coding an instructional element into a learning object may result in that learning object’s inability to be reused. This may be true because of technology or it may be true because of a mismatch in design with corporate policy or objectives.
The Structured Content Development Model allows content to be created independent of a delivery mode and independent from a presentation style.
However, rather than being completely open-ended vis-a-vis the types of content that need to be created, the process of using the structured content development model dictates the types of content that are permitted based on organizational and educational requirements.