In a conference I attended recently, one of the presenters’ remarks made me wonder about what exactly I’m doing as an instructional designer. The presenter highlighted that in the past twenty years, eLearning has evolved a lot in terms of technology tools, but the focus of designers has shifted more to these tools rather than students’ learning. This struck me and since then I’ve been reflecting on my own design process and my team discussions; and sadly realized that it is true. We are constantly talking about what technology tool can help speed up the development of our projects, or what interactive elements can be added to engage learners. While we know that these interactive elements have to be added to enhance students’ learning, all we think about is adding them to make our courses more attractive, so that students get more engaged. I started asking myself these questions, “does clicking here and there really make students more engaged in their learning? Do these elements really enhance learning? Do we ever ask students if they really apply what they learn?”
I recall when I was teaching, I studied different teaching methods and approaches, and then I closely observed if students were learning well. I’m referring to their gradual progress in the course based on the application-based assignments. I’ve been in touch with most of my students and was eager to find out how they were doing after graduation. I tried to make them more interested in observing their progress rather than focusing on passing the exam. I recall I always asked them to write me a reflection letter listing what they’d learned and what they hadn’t. After a few years teaching, I had a career shift to instructional design, mainly because in any college or school that I taught, we were bound to follow specific syllabus, which at times I didn’t find suitable for different learners. I noticed learners had different interests or needs, and I preferred to give assignments based on their needs to get them more motivated. I always wanted my students to come to class or do assignments because they wanted to not because they were forced to. I did not have the liberty of changing the syllabus, which we had to follow religiously, and that made me think about Instructional Design. I thought I’d be able to choose how to design courses that can make learners more motivated and engaged in their learning, thus, they can achieve what they were intended to.
But now when I reflect on my own design projects, I see I’m following what the management demands me to design not the learners. The analysis that is done to learn more about learners and their needs is usually neglected mainly because in most organizations, quantity matters more.
Now given the issue, which I think most of us are dealing with, we can still try approaches that can meet the management’s objectives, as well as help students learn more effectively and authentically. I got this valuable advice from Rob Phillips, who emphasizes on authentic learning and helping learners apply their knowledge in industry rather than just pass the exams. Focusing on learning objectives even the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy is not addressing their need in industry. A design should be planned from the ground up by knowing specifically what is expected of learners in industry not only the assessment. Now when I meet my SMEs and heads of faculties, I ask them this question: “What knowledge/skills would the students be expected to have when they are employed?”
Perhaps this approach can help us fine tune our course designs in a more holistic manner. A course design should include the content design, assignments, additional resources/readings, interview with industries, and online collaboration. An instructional designer should be involved in all these components to make a course successful rather than focusing on one component of it.
I would be happy to hear about your experience and approaches you apply to design effective courses.