The Redesign of Instructional Design or “Knowing Something Doesn’t Necessarily Mean That You’ve Learned It”


Fossil fish bridges the evolutionary gap between animals of land and sea. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


I’m glad that someone has gathered the courage to say this out loud: Instructional design in the 21st Century is not about events, it’s about experiences. No doubt from the looks of things, instructional design (ID) is in the natural throes of shaking off the learning events metaphor imposed on it by the educational psychologists of the Industrial Revolution, but learning and development thinkers like Charles Jennings hope that we can hasten it along for the sakes of our students and ourselves. For Jennings the shift from working with the hands to working with the head is a key indicator that promotes the need to move from events toward processes:

“Undoubtedly instructional design is crucial if the mindset is learning events – modules, courses, programmes and curricula. However, if the mindset has stretched beyond event-based learning to where most learning occurs for workers, which is in the workplace at the point-of-need, where process-based learning serves best – and where learning through doing and learning as part of the work process happens, then ID takes on a whole new dimension.”

Jennings posits the notion of “learning” held by inhabitants of the 21st Century as moving from a habitat of “knowledge” to a new one of “behavior.” The medium is the message. It’s not about content anymore.

“For years we’ve been led to believe that ‘learning’ meant acquiring knowledge. If knowledge acquisition is the end-game, then the logical conclusion was to provide information that could be turned, whatever the magic employed, into knowledge in the recipient’s head. Believe me, the old idea that data becomes information which in turn becomes knowledge and finally transmogrifies into wisdom has been debunked years ago. We use our knowledge and experience to interpret data and information. Wisdom comes to a few only after years of experience.”

Jennings reminds us that Ebbinghaus and the Forgetting Curve aside, we need to observe learning in action to make intelligent assessments about its effectiveness. Experience and practice are the keys and, as such, instructional designers need to become interactivity designers.

“Good ID will result in the design of experiences that can build capability and learning far more quickly and effectively than by filling heads with information and ‘knowledge’ and then hoping that will lead to behavioural change.

We need designers who understand that learning comes from experience, practice, conversations and reflection, and are prepared to move away from massaging content into what they see as good instructional design. Designers need to get off the content bus and start thinking about, using, designing and exploiting learning environments full of experiences and interactivity.”

Further information about Charles Jennings and his work can be found here.

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