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Posts Tagged ‘instructional

Disclaimer: My reflection below is not authoritative information about the new health protocols for Singapore’s COVID-19 strategies. The authoritative source is MOH (see points 21 and 22) and the reporting article is from CNA. My focus is the design of a job aid.

Maybe it is the educator who provides feedback or the instructional designer in me, but I look for clarity in any work. So I thought that the protocols presented by CNA could have been better.

I watched the video briefing, read the article, and studied the protocol summaries. The original protocol by CNA was:

The improvements (in blue) might include:

  • For clarity, the numbers refer to protocols, not steps to follow. Each should be labelled “Protocol #”. This sends a message: Do one of the following depending on which category you fall into.
  • I swapped the positions of protocols 1 and 2 because the majority of people (almost 99% according to point 5 of the MOH source) do not have mild or no symptoms. So the first protocol should address the majority.
  • Protocol 2 (formerly the first protocol) lacked the instruction to see a doctor. The CNA article stated that you are “encouraged” to do this; the MOH source has stronger wording (“should see a doctor, point 21). In the video briefing, the doctor’s diagnosis seemed to be a given. This instruction is not clear in the summary. This is remedied with the phrase “After you see a doctor”.
  • Protocol 3 should provide information (or a link) to where ART results should be uploaded. If an ART result is positive, the instruction should be to follow protocol 1 or 2 depending on the person’s health.

In the presence of a lot of information, people tend to refer to summaries, lists, job aids, etc. These are succinct versions of the long form instructions. Short forms tend to lose information and context, but they do not have to lose quality or clarity if we take care to design them carefully for communication or education.

I do not claim to have a perfect job aid. My background of instructional design simply gives me a critical eye for usability and clarity. It is a skill that transfers from the design of materials for teaching and learning to communication to the general public. I leave this critique here should I need it later as a reference for instructional/consultation material.

I have been thinking about how instructional (and now learning) design (ID) has been led by models like ADDIE and others.

The problem with ADDIE is that it is not properly taught, understood, and implemented. For example, one quick-and-dirty method is to use it linearly. That is not how ID is supposed to work.

Another problem I have with such ID is how formulaic it can sometimes be. Yes, ID can go through these critical processes and phases,  but that does not mean that the method you use is adequate.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

So I have been wondering if there could be ID that is led by questions — ID by Q. Questions like Is-it, Why, Who, What-How-Where-When, What-if, How-much, How-well, and So-what.

Those thoughts have been rattling in my head and they become loud in quiet moments. They are like the growing number of loose change in my pants pocket. Perhaps the best thing to do is to take them out, count them, and see what they are worth. Hmm?

Added after this reflection went online: Perhaps I will share these thoughts once a week, on Mondays, so that I have a series to ruminate on.

I am going to unload on an example of poor instructional design.

One of the first things I learnt while getting qualifications on instructional design was information design. In the design of job aids, for example, the sequence of instructions was critical in getting people to perform tasks correctly and optimally.

Consider this job aid that is emerging in HDB void decks all over the island. It is for the new dual bike rack system. The job aid has a section, Loading Your Bicycle.

Poorly designed job aid on the loading of a bike on the new racks at HDB void decks.

If you compare the images and the instructions under each image, you might notice that they are not congruent. The text tells you how to load a bike. The images show you how to unload one.

I might sound like I am splitting hairs because the sequence of unloading and unloading are essentially the same. However, in the former the bike is already in the upper rack, while in the latter it is not. The illustrations do not make sense and the job aid would have failed at face value.

There are other aspects of the job aid that one could critique, e.g., the poor positioning and inconsistent use of the arrows. For me, this is a clear indication that agencies need properly credentialed and rigorously prepared instructional designers. It does not just matter that something as simple as a job aid looks good. It has to make sense, too.

I thought I might have hit something new, but I learnt that there is no original idea. My search for “incubate” on my favourite image search and embed tool, ImageCodr, revealed this business card.

What I wanted to share was how I incorporate one or more periods of incubation into my course designs. So I settled on this image to represent this phase of instructional design (ID).

The initial phase of ID is like birds making and laying eggs. These are the initial ideas that materialise as usable prototypes that, in the case of my course design, are web-based resources.

Incubation is a crucial next step. Take my most recent development of course modules, for example. The course starts in October, but I was done with the making and laying by the end of August. I am incubating this month.

Incubation probably looks like doing nothing to an outsider, just like a mother or father bird looks like it is just sitting around.

No, the parent birds are providing warmth, regulating the temperature by moving eggs about, protecting the eggs from predators, etc. Likewise, my ID incubation is an active process in that I am still reading, watching, and listening to relevant resources. I am still reflecting on my designs.

Unlike a bird, I leave the nest. I do not obsess over the prototype “eggs”. I walk away from what I have prepared and let my subconscious take over. This is like sleeping after studying in order to let the brain create new neural connections and pathways.

The incubation process helps me troubleshoot and get new perspectives. How so? Consider what happens in academia: One sure way to find errors in your paper is to hit the submit button. I relax when I have reached an objective, and as I do, I widen my gaze instead of being so narrowly focused.

This wider gaze also contributes to a fresh perspective. Given enough time, I forget what I did (the design task) and why I did it that way (the design rationale). When I revisit my work, I become my own worst critic.

I think that many ignore incubation in ID because they do not plan a long enough runway. They might have multiple projects and tight deadlines. They might not have been taught about ID incubation or how to incubate.

It has been 20 years since I was first introduced to instructional design principles and I do not recall being taught to incubate. I learnt to do this anyway and it is one of the most important processes I have developed. It might look like idling or procrastination to an outsider, but it is a disciplined and effortful process to me.

Postscript: I wrote the above before I saw the tweet below.

With enough time and eyes on the “final” design, someone should have noticed that the intended “Anak Malaysia” looks more like “Anal Malaysia” thanks to the stylised K. Some incubation practiced by at least one anal-retentive designer could have prevented this accident.

When I offered to redevelop two ICT-related modules for online facilitation and learning, I knew I had to boil the effort down to numbers. That is, how long would that take and how much would this cost.

I knew I had a few months to do this, so the runway was not the issue. The time it would take to revise and redesign the modules was. I also knew that administrators would not react positively to an accurate cost in terms of time, effort, and money, so I provided a low estimate.

How low? Forty development hours. This is equivalent to about 10 half-days of work if you imagine someone working in an office. Why is this low? I only considered the “visible” work, hence my reference to office work.

What does visible work look like? Imagine getting your home renovated. If you have a limited imagination, you only see what is obvious, e.g., people hacking walls or installing fixtures. The equivalent for online modules is the construction of resources.

I prepare primary, secondary, and tertiary resources.

My primary resource is a website that I create. It is typically a Google Site that houses all the rooms (pages), and furniture and fixings (the secondary and tertiary resources).

The secondary resources are items like videos, documents, PDFs, slides, spreadsheets, forms, and shared spaces for brainstorming, reflection, and other cooperative activities. I create these too.

Tertiary resources are items that others have created that I curate. These could be images, videos, slides, posters, or PDFs that I attribute and integrate with the primary resource.

I have already exceeded the 40 hours of creating these resources. I still have a few more to create and add, and I will need to revise them based on feedback and relevance over time.

What my estimate ignores is what administrators have trouble seeing and justifying as costs. This invisible workload includes, but is not limited to:

  • Researching: Reading, watching, and listening to current resources on the topic. These might include research articles, professional blogs, YouTube videos, and podcasts.
  • Writing: As I consume, I reflect on the relevance of these resources and I write down ideas for their use. I add to my Notes app the URLs, selections or screenshots from the resources, and possible activities they might enable.
  • Organising: All the ideas are a jumble that might not link or flow. They need to be coordinated for learning and instruction. They need to be corralled into reasonable chunks of time. They need to be aligned to outcomes, activities, and assessment.
  • Evaluating: Some resources are more useful or relevant than others. Some that are not useful now might be powerful later. As a result, their inclusion into modules needs to be prioritised based on a combination of professional judgement and deep reflection.
  • Iterating and revising: Everything I described above might be considered part of planning. Any plan is only as good as its implementation. As I only have one chance to implement each new module, I have to trial them by running them through in my head and with empathy for my learners. As I discover weakness or obstacles, I redesign and reconstruct. This is the iterative process.

If a course happens just once a year (and many do in higher education), I might discover a wonderful resource a day after my course ends. I consume it, take note of it, write down ideas for it, and revisit it weeks or months before the course resumes. This is what any educator or facilitator who is passionate about teaching does. But this, too, is workload that is not visible to an administrator.

If I was a full-time salaried employee, I would not have to deconstruct the work as all the tasks would be givens. But part-timers or adjuncts bring skills and practices that organisations lack. We need to show our value or else be taken for granted.

I share this not to shame administrators. I do so to provide insights they might not have. There is only shame if they choose to minimise or ignore such work.

Something I heard on a podcast reminded me of a design principle I am using for online learning.

In the podcast, one person told a story of how her mother found a tool to create word searche puzzles for that person’s grandmother. This was an attempt to stem the mental deterioration of the grandmother.

To make activity more meaningful, the mother used the names of relatives so that the grandmother would not forget them. The grandmother appreciated the effort, but she also remarked, “Who the hell are all these people?”

I laughed. I also reflexively thought about how this was similar to pedagogical design — there is a gap between the intent and the outcome.

How so? The design of online resources is often about the content, activities, and time spent on both. They are about the what, how, and when of learning. Some learners will just do what they are told. Others will not.

My learners are teachers and educators. Sometimes these are the toughest learners because they are comparing their own teaching and learning experiences with an online one I design for them. I have decided to include short design rationales with each activity. I am telling them why I have designed something that way and why they need to perform that task.

I hope that making design rationales clear helps my learners connect better with the processes and products of learning. I am revealing my state of mind so that they are less likely to ask, “Why the heck am I doing this?”

This is a reflection on instructional design and teaching.

I have been working on a project for the last week or so in which I critique lesson packages. One of my comments was about not blindly following the textbook model.

I noticed that several learning packages had their content and experiences sequenced like textbooks. They were providing answers before asking questions.

Why do textbooks do this?

They are written from an expert’s point of view and try to present information efficiently. This approach seems legitimate because readers do not necessarily want to know what mistakes or life experiences that expert had. The readers demand is: Tell me what you know. Hence the providing of answers even if there are no questions.

This results in a textbook being as concise as it can be. It is also non-interactive — turning pages and wiping drool from boredom-induced sleep do not count. However, the design of textbooks should not be the model to follow when teaching.

The logical-social model of teaching is to put questions before answers. Answers devoid of questions make no sense and serve no purpose. The questions might serve as a hook for learning, activate prior knowledge, identify gaps in knowledge, or otherwise drive learning.

This is my way of saying that every lesson needs to be led by pedagogical design, not textbook design. If a lesson simply lifts from a textbook, the students might as well just read a textbook without the teacher.

On Saturday my class and I conducted a dry run of using Zoom for synchronous video conferencing. The experiment went well and I got answers to some of my questions.

We used the Zoom client instead of a web interface, so I found out that all our video cameras projected our faces despite the administrative lock. Another feature that worked was gestures (e.g., thumbs up) despite the missing setting on my dashboard.

However, I am still sore about the fact that only two online calendars are enabled administratively — Outlook and Yahoo. Who really uses the latter anymore? Why is GCal not enabled even though this is a setting?

No Google Calendar in Zoom?

I am taking a calculated risk. My contingency should Zoom not work is to fall back on Google Hangouts. We did not practice this because I think that Hangouts is a much simpler tool to use. I have my participants’ Gmail addresses, so I create an invite quickly should I need to.

In the meantime, I am sticking to my plan of dividing our four-hour session into two. The first half is asynchronous via a Google Site, and the second is synchronous via Zoom.

I am still redesigning some of the content and experiences to make them suitable for asynchronous learning. But my overall strategy remains the same — simplify and do not blindly replicate what might be done face-to-face.

I experienced something recently that reminded me how fallible basic instructional design (ID) is.

There is an agency that requires its potential hires to take one module and quiz as part of its selection process. Some organisations opt to do this and this might be helpful if they are selecting for quiz-smart hires.

But the issue is not about the predictive reliability of this move. I discovered that one page out of the reading material was missing, and as a result, two out of the ten quiz questions were unanswerable without some Googling.

Perhaps the test was about dealing with the unexpected. But that should not be an excuse for poor instructional design, specifically, constructive alignment. One basic element of ID is this: You cannot test what you do not teach.

What ID — and much of conventional teaching — struggles to handle is how we cannot deliver all the information a learner needs nor can we test every eventuality.

We cannot even guarantee something adequate because the standards shift and the goalposts move constantly and often unpredictably.

So we have to teach learners how to think. I do not know of anyone in ID who can claim that the classical approach (of testing only what you teach) can adequately do this.

I was a graduate student when I first found out about the disproportionate amount of time it took to prepare e-learning resources.

The ratio of development time (input) to learning time (output) varies. A fairly recent and oft quoted study by Chapman cited 127 developmental hours for every hour of e-learning (127:1). This ratio was for Level 2 e-learning developed relatively quickly from templates.

According to Chapman, the research data originated from 3,947 instructional designers (or people with similar roles) representing 249 companies.

The ratio might sound impressive because the numbers are a result of the efforts of corporate teams responsible for organisational e-learning. Such ratios are also rules-of-thumb sought by freelancers to provide estimates for potential clients.

I do not recall the number being so high when I was graduate student. However, back then the technologies did not include the more social, augmented, and virtual ones we have now.

That said, I do not know of any responsive learning organisation that can afford to invest 127 preparatory hours for an hour of standards-based training or e-learning. A freelance instructional designer (ID) would have to work thinner, lighter, and faster to compete for and retain clients.

ID work is a small part of my consulting work as I have to factor in many other considerations, e.g., institutional policies, social contexts, group dynamics.

I have kept track of my preparatory time in my latest consulting effort. Without revealing details covered by a non-disclosure agreement, I can say that the effort focuses on a small group of educators who need guidance in a form of communication.

The situation is dynamic as I have to respond to volatile schedules. I often have little time for preparatory work. For example, I gave myself a week to prepare a just-in-time segment for participants. I took 30 hours over six days to prepare for a 3-hour blended session. This is a 10:1 ratio.

So is my effort (10:1) less than worthy of a corporate one (127:1)? Based only on numbers, it is. Based on quality — my knowledge of context; the blending of content, pedagogy, and media; the attention to detail — I would argue not.

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