The quality of an instructional design is often gauged on three things: effectiveness, efficiency, and cost.
Effectiveness has to do with how well the instruction enables learners to achieve stated goals or expected outcomes. Efficiency deals with the energy and time invested to complete the instruction, while cost covers all expense incurred for its design and delivery.
These are good points to begin with. It's equally important, however, to zero in on the details involving the design and development of quality instruction. As with any other good design principles, there are human characteristics deeply involved here.
Richard Buchanan, a professor of Design, Management and Information Systems, said it best: “a good design can be defined not only to be creative, stylish with extraordinary visual look, but it must consider human engagement in its activities.”
Below are 5 golden rules to help you achieve a high-quality instructional design:
1. It must begin with an end in mind.
This is a phrase popularized by Stephen Covey, as you may have noticed. We borrowed it since it tells us something simple yet powerful. Applied in our domain, the phrase suggests that your design has to achieve something specific—a defined goal.
It often starts with a question: what do I intend to achieve? Or questions that derive from such question. What student learning outcomes will the material serve? What should learners know, understand and apply in real-life settings? What will inspire students to learn and strive for excellence?
Beginning with an end in mind allows you to design an instructional material efficiently—without waste of time and energy. You no longer need to jump from area to another only to find some pieces missing.
2. It must be student-centered.
A student-centered instruction is one where learners do more exploring and instructors do less telling. Such an approach makes a lot of sense since the aim, after all, is to turn students into active participants. Instructors or trainers are not out of the picture. They are, however, tasked to assume the role of a facilitator or someone to guide students in acquiring knowledge and applying newly acquired skills.
Consider the instructional material you're working on and ask yourself the following questions:
- How will the students learn?
- What will they learn?
- How can we effectively determine whether students are learning and applying their lessons?
- Under what conditions are students learning? (i.e. are they doing the course as part of their assigned roles at work?)
By asking these questions, you are deliberately designing instructional materials that focus on learners. Every aspect of the design and development stages are geared towards their specific needs.
3. It is refined through continuous assessment and improvement.
You have to take note that instructional design is, and will always remain, a process—not an end result. And it's a never-ending process. Once a design is approved, an assessment to improve upon it follows.
Think of it as a piece of software. You and your team start out with a set of features. Eventually you'll find bugs or some flaws and fix them.
Guess what, your software and, by extension, your instructional material, may reach the state of near-perfection. But it's never going to be perfect so the design process will never be finished. It's alright. Do your best to look for areas for improvement and improve them. Repeat.
4. It follows a well-defined system.
Just because the process never stops doesn't mean it's unsystematic. High quality instructional design doesn't happen by chance. You can't produce it on a whim.
Professionals in the eLearning industry follow different models, some more systematic than others and some open-ended. Many of them may be grounded on certain principles and theories.
Regardless of their differences, they all follow a robust methodology. Make sure to have a robust system in place, one that covers the following the logical sequence of analysis, design, development, application or implementation, and assessment.
5. It considers the big picture.
A well-crafted instructional design is holistic. It carefully considers the smallest aspect of instructional without compromising the whole.
This holistic approach to design considers the whole as something more important than the sum of its parts. And it makes sense because all those parts, though seemingly separate, are closely interrelated. A good instructional designer sees the interconnections between them. Doing so solves the problem of compartmentalization, fragmentation and the transfer paradox—all of which are commonly found in education.