Guidelines for Effective Instructional Design

Professional literature abounds in the area of knowledge about how we learn and learn to learn, yet no single theory explains the entire range of human learning. This document is an attempt to distill some useful guidelines for developing online resources without getting overly technical in the process.Much of what follows would attain in any learning environment, but one of the advantages of the web is is ability to facilitate so much of what we understand to be pedagogically sound instructional methodologies. This vital relationship, and not the technology in and of itself, forms the basis for determining best practices.

This list is based on such an attempt at guidelines produced by M. and K.L. Kumar in Educational Technology, May-June 1995 issue.

1. Declare clear objectives.

Overtly communicating the objectives for the implementation of the learning resoure is paramount. Keep these objectives in focus every step of the way from planning to implementation to evaluation. Employ mastery learning techniques. Prescribing the content and objectives in advancefacilitates mastery of subject matter.

BACK

2. Establish a learner profile.

Get to know your students- their abilities, expectations and needs. Prior knowledge of the learners' level of mental processing provides a foundation for building up of higher level cognitive activities.

BACK

3. Organize the subject matter.

This organization is in terms of concepts and principles and serves to enable the instructor to match the level of instruction to the leearner's level of reception.

BACK

4. Communicate the rationale.

Learners find motivation in knowing just WHY it is important that they learn the subject matter. Their immediuate felt needs may tell thenm that they HAVE no need. It is therefore important to apprise them of the reasons the material is relevant to them, their professional growth, or learning objectives. This personalizes the learning and gives it context. Consideration for this issue can aid in making the instruction motivating, challenging and interesting.

BACK

5. Provide context.

Providing "advance organizers" serves to explain, integrate, and interrelate the material being learned with previously learned material. This aids in giving the hook they need to hang new learning on (a schema is provided which in turn provides structure). This is also known as "ideational scaffolding" in which support and prompts are provided and gradually taken away as students integrate the material. Here is another link on this idea.

BACK

6. Chunk information.

Divide a complex task into smaller, achievable learning units and subunits in terms of a hierarchy of events. While this enables learner satisfaction, it does not lower the bar to allow the learner to determine the content.

BACK

7. Organize your content into a meaningful whole

Cue words, mnemonics devices, relational metaphors, graphics and schematics can help organize complex information into easy to remember structures while consistency in their use provides a means of perceptual organization to the learner.

BACK

8. Use positive reinforcement.

Associating positive and pleasant events with learning tasks facilitates learning. Associating a new stimulus with a natural response facilitates FASTER learning.By providing reinforcement in a variable ratio schedule, the learner's interest is sustained.the provision of immediate feedback to learner responses allows the learner to know the difference in correctness and error and contributes to motivation for learning. Tasks such as online projects and student publication or work, practical tutorial exercises with appropriate feedback, group discussion and online quizzes are readily facilitated by Blackboard.

BACK

9. Provide variety.

Varying your activities during teaching sustains the learner's attention. Variations in teaching methods, audiovisuals, styles of work, levels of interaction, use of humor, and interactive assignments promote instruction. Presenting information in multiple ways also has been seen to address different learning styles. Practice provided through different senses and through a variety of meaningful activities.

BACK

10. Dynamically assess learner comprehension.

This can be accomplished through simple question and answers, as well as online quizzes andsurveys with approriate feedback. Tracking student usage of resources is now possible as well. This can help diagnose holes in the learners' knowledge.

BACK

11. Allow time for cognitive priocessing.

One advantage of presenting resources online is that they may be accessed in a self paced manner. This allows time for insights to occur. It may be necessary to withhold access to subsequent levels of instruction until mastery of prerequisite skill sets is accomplished and measured. Blackboard allows this to be done with quizzes and access tooggles.

BACK

12. Create a learning environment.

Providing an environment that is conducive to learning is important. External stimulation controls the arousal level. The learning environment should reduce the time and effort required to complete the same task one would complete in the real world. Use concrete metaphors and make them plain so the users have a set of expectations to apply. Whenever appropriate, use audio or visual effects that support the metaphor. Visually confusing or unattractive screens detract from the effectiveness of the site. The appearance of objects on the screen must communicate their function. This goes beyond "prettiness". The web is now a visual communications medium. As you design your site, it is important to ensure that the user can transfer knowledge between sections of the site. The basic idea is to make the user comfortable- do not change the look and feel of the site from one part to another. For instance, keep the menu bar in a consistent location. Providing familiar landmarks provides a feeling of stability!

BACK

13.Require the learner to respond.

Activity oriented formats require the learner to respond, organize, hypothesize, abstract and process information. Thw web is a great tool to facilitate this. Used in tandem with group collaborative assignments and discussion board interactions, one may engage the learner in a way that goes beyond surface interactions.

BACK

14. Model your own thought processes.

A teacher may demonstrate their own way of thinking about the subject matter by thinking aloud in descriptive terms about the processes by which conclusions are arrived at. These processes can be mimiced in the web format, giving prompt questions and providing resources to explore.

BACK

15. Prepare appropriate tasks.

Self learning exercises and assignements, online research, and information harvesting allows students to make new co0nnections in a non linear fashion. Based on your content, this may be very appropriate. Online resources also accommodate learning in a self paced fashion.

BACK

16. Summarize and recapitulate.

These methods are effective tools if they are complete enough to serve as repetition and reiteration of salient points. Preparedness for future learning is assured by laying the groundwork in this fashion. Expectations are created, and this may be facilitated both by summarrization of threaded discussions, Critique of online projects with ties back to primary content, or requiring student summariesto be posted online.

BACK

Blackboard allows for the creation of any number of levels of resources that are presented online. These can range from a simple clearinghouse for course information to a virtual learning environment. Feel free to wade in shallow wates until you get your bearing. As time passes, we will see more and more innovative uses for the Blackboard environment.Some basic but key questions to inform how you use it follows.

A. Does the site focus on content?

Blackboard facilitates this by making the technological environment as transparent as possible.This goes beyond how the course looks- it is more about accessibility and ease of use. Blackboard utilizes cross platform tools and accommodates lower end computers (contingent on how far you go with multimedia). Student orientation to the tools is easier than it ever was in any other online environment, but the some kind of orientation is required. Student tools includes resources and a manual for students. the comfort level of the instructor is facilitated by the ease of use of the tools along with appropriate training experiences.

BACK

 

B. Does the site teach to objectives?

Ask yourself: What value is added by online delivery of resources? Blackboard facilitates the access to online materials that are avaialble from anywhere a student has an internet connection and the time to use it. As the instructore, you must determine if the online content has goals, objectives and competencies that are in keeping with traditional offerings of your course. Blackboard makes the incorporsation of interactivity and hyperlinks relatively painless, though creating a site can be tedious and time consuming on your first foray into the possibilities. A great pluis is the ability to provide just in time information and the ability to update information with the click of a submit button. This could actually be done "on the fly" in the classroom itself, if it were reasonable or expedient to do so.

BACK

 

C. Does the site create a community?

This may vary based on your implementation of Blackboard. Virtual chat is a feature of Blackboard as well as email and threaded discussion and group capabilities. When used as an added feature to a traditional offering, student group submissions are facilitated as well as tracking of submissions to discussions. Sine the students can see each others submissions in this area, it can also serve as a motivating factor! Since students can have a webpage and place to publish information inside the site, they can readily share information. The instructor retains autonomy over all areas of the site and can extend control as far as is needful. Feedback should be particular and fast. Active and cooperative learning is facilitated in the environment. the instructor can encourage students to take responsibility for their learning as well by contributing to group activities and discussions, or by pooling their individual and group resources and finding additional resources to enhance class learning.

BACK

 

D. Does the site measure success?

Evaluation is facilitated boith in the capability to track student access, participation and portfolio submission as well and the online quiz and survey capabilities built into Blackboard. User assessmants can be conducted by survey as well as student evaluation of the course and instructor. Qiizzes are self grading with the exception of essay style questions. Evaluation levels to consider: Student reaction and responses, achievement of objectives, improved learning. Activities can be geared to several different learning architectures:

  1. Receptive, where information is received by the student through the web,
  2. Directive, where instructions and guidance is offered by means assignments
  3. Guided Discover, where guidance is offered by means of prompt and open ended questions to lead to a prescribed goal
  4. Exploratory, where students are free to venture out on their own to explore web resources the instructor may not have seen.

BACK