There are some key features to instructional design that are not in, say, documentation or support, and that’s what makes it interesting. I’m not a full-time instructional designer, but I have this idea that there is something fundamental that separates instructional design from other interfaces with the customer. A crucial aspect of instructional design is the development of interactivity. That is what is missing from traditional documentation or support. Training material must allow an instructor and student working together during a process. It is easy to see this with in-person training; often we take for granted these interactions. But with online instruction, the interactivity between student and teacher, between student and material, and between students, is no less important. With any instruction, whether in person or online, there is always a need for engagement of the student and feedback from the student (as in Formative Feedback). The interaction helps inform the instructor that the student is learning or at least using the material or product or service. Just as the student must be given opportunities to interact with the instructor, the interaction with other students and with the material can be just as important.
This adds a level of complexity to online instruction because that interaction must be designed in. Designers must provide a way to measure that interaction, too. Instructional design must include feedback and instructor-student interaction; it must facilitate this interactivity and make it seem effortless and natural. It requires seeing instruction more as a process than as a product. This interaction (or feedback) must happen in multiple directions:
- Between student and material
- Between student and instructor
- Between instructor and student
- Between students (where possible)
I’m not alone. Others think we should structure the learning activities to foster student-instructor, student-student, and student-content interactions.
In a way it is almost as if you are documenting a process (of learning how to use something or how to achieve results using the product or service being trained on) as opposed to documenting a static product (like a piece of hardware). Whether you provide that interaction at the end of a module or during it will depend on your situation and what model of learning you espouse. But promoting that interaction and providing ways to measure its effectiveness is the ultimate goal. The actual content of the material may only be one third of the job. The interaction, in all these dimensions, is the key.
The following article has two Best Practices that touch on interactivity but don’t focus on it. This the ‘Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online (Quick Guide for New Online Faculty)’ by Dr. Judith V. Boettcher. This list has these two:
- Best Practice 6: Early in the term…, ask for informal feedback on “How is the course going?” and “Do you have any suggestions?”
- Best Practice 7: Prepare Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, Reflections and Responses
And the ‘Best Practices in Designing Online Courses from Las Positas College’ has one about interaction. See number 6 in their list for ‘interactivity’. Finally, the ‘Online Course Design Guidelines from the University of Vermont’ has number 4, which calls it Social Presence and Interaction. This is just a smattering of what’s out there. I’m sure you can find more – feel free to leave a comment with more links.
Instructional design is certainly a dynamic profession – as technology changes, as corporations expand and contract, as more content and learning is outsourced and socialized, this interface with the customer is going through some drastic changes. But there is one key element that does not change – the interactivity that must be part of instruction. This element of interactivity is always essential, despite the changes, despite the numerous models and theories, and despite the extreme need to train professionals more quickly and more cheaply. Professionals doing instructional design can share what is successful, what works in the trenches, not just what looks like a coherent model or theoretical construct. I hope my ranting about the importance of interactivity has touched a nerve. Be aware of interactivity while designing instructional material and online courses; it is the key element that makes instructional design unique and valuable.