Island MultiMedia and its Associates have extensive expertise and experience in the application of Instructional Systems Design procedures and approaches to performance problems. The rigor and productivity of the ISD approach, when correctly and appropriately applied, ensure results, control costs and reduce risk. ISD as a discipline is the central content of many graduate degrees, but some of its roots and essential characteristics are outlined in the following article. Island MultiMedia Associates have been primary contributors to several of the most successful of the major ISD models.

O'Neal, A.F., Fairweather, P.G., and Huh Y.H.
ILO Asian and Pacific Skills Development Program
United Nations, Goa, India, 1988.

Historically, instructional development has tended to be an artistic endeavor, carried out in a cottage industry setting (Molnar, 1971). All aspects of development responsibility including analysis of the training or educational problem, design of the instruction, development of the materials, and in many cases, production of the media, evaluation, and revision were concentrated in the individual instructional developer. The developer's approach to each instructional problem tended to be ad hoc and subjective. The developer himself, more often than not, tended to have expertise in the subject matter being addressed, rather than formal training in instructional design science.

This model of the Renaissance man as instructional artist, solving each training problem as it arose with a combination of experience, intuition, and personal insight, began to become suspect as instructional development activities grew larger and more complex and as the consequences of inadequate training grew more and more expensive. Figure 1 represents three points on a continuum of instructional development methodology. The artistic-intuitive approach, with its dependence on the judgement and multi-disciplinary skills of the individual developer gradually has yielded to more systematic approaches to the design and development of instruction and training systems and materials.

As shown on the figure, the search for better and more systematic ways to handle instructional problems led to the development of some important tools, including task analysis, the use of well defined behavioral objectives, and sophisticated measurement and evaluation methods. To protect against the consequences of poor training, more reliance was placed on empirical methods, which involved repeated tryout and revision of materials (Merrill & Boutwell, 1973). This stage in the evolution of a technology of instructional design is represented by the empirical phase of Figure 1.

Although these methods were expensive and time-consuming, they did at least help pinpoint inadequate instructional segments and make possible the improvement of instructional effectiveness. However, once inadequate segments were identified, the job of revision of the instructional materials was generally still left to the Renaissance man. His activities were still basically artistic in nature, his solutions to instructional problems were still idiosyncratic, and the procedures that he might apply tended to be based on his own experience and were often not generalizable to other developers. Notice from the figure that analyzing the results of the training could lead to changes in the experience and intuition of the developer as well as, hopefully, to the improvement of the instructional product through revision. In this mode, if the project had unlimited time and money, and could afford to iterate enough times, very good training might eventually emerge. Unfortunately, in the real world, there never seems to be enough time or money. There was clearly a need for further evolution of instructional design and development procedures.

In the early 1970's a growing trend began in training circles away from this artistic approach to development, and towards the rigorous application of theory- and research-based models in an instructional engineering approach to development of instructional programs. This class of procedures has been variously called instructional systems design or development (ISD), as a systems approach to training (SAT), or by other such designations. As shown in Figure 1, the approach allows for inputs from experience, intuition, and most importantly, from research.

Notice that an important aspect of the systematic model is the formulation of different levels of definition of practice. First, scientists synthesize principles from learning research and the experience and intuition of expert training practitioners. These principles represent high level abstract generalizations such as "Distributed practice is superior to massed practice in long term skills maintenance", and "Increasing imagery improves retention". They should be observable in training practice and supported by research findings. However, at this level of abstraction they offer little guidance to the instructional designer.

The high level principles must be documented and developed into operational procedures. These procedures are designed to be applied by technicians to generate instructional products. Again results are analyzed and may lead to improvements in the product, changes in the experience and intuition of the practitioners, or they may indicate the need for further research. Most important of all, however, these results may lead to improvements in the procedures, leading to better practice!

Figure 2 shows a simplified view of the ISD process. It starts with the analysis of the problem, the context, and the intended learner population. The analysis products (such as the job/task analysis, the entry population analysis, the needs/goals/constraints analysis, etc) provide inputs to the design phase of the project. Here the learning objectives are refined, the training media specified, the syllabus is generated, and the individual lesson designs are specified. The design documents form the basis for the development phase, and the implementation and evaluation phases are carried out based on the evaluation and implementation plans developed in the analysis and design phases. Notice that evaluation in a systematic model of development has a quality control aspect. Since the process proceeds according to well specified and documented procedures, with well defined products at each stage, it is possible to evaluate the emerging training product at each step, detecting problems as they emerge, instead of discovering them much later, in a training product which doesn't work.

Most large scale approaches will be similar at this general level. Many will recognize that at this level, ISD is nothing more than the application of well proven systems development techniques to the problem of training development. At finer levels of detail, where the individual procedures are defined, strong institutional, and even personal influences, may be clearly evident in different ISD models. Traditions and philosophies of ISD practice may often be clearly traced by such distinctive characteristics (Gibbons 1988). It is, however, at this finer level of detail where the real benefits of ISD begin to emerge.

When closely examined, good ISD is more engineering than art. Its important benefits come from well documented procedures, a differentiated staff team development approach, separation of instructional content and strategy, and the continuing evolution of a prescriptive, analytical, research-based model.

In order for teams of specialists to work efficiently and effectively together, procedures must be well documented at all levels of the ISD process. Documented procedures allow for peer review, process control, and the possibility for improving practice over time. They help to standardize the output of different team members doing the same task and they help alleviate the training burden imposed by new team members arriving during the project. They serve as quality control as well as development tools. While documentation has long been an essential ingredient of systems design in general, it has extreme value in ISD in particular.

An essential ingredient in any large scale instructional development activity is the development of some form of team organization where specialized expertise can be most effectively utilized and where personnel training problems can be minimized through specialization. This tends to result in an industrial revolution, or factory approach to instructional development. Major areas of specialization include (but are not limited to) instructional content (subject matter experts), instructional process (instructional designers), and media technicians.

One of the most important contributions of ISD is the separation of content and strategy. Content is described in terms of well defined and documented, discrete instructional components. Strategies are defined in terms of well specified sequences of these components set in the context of the particular media selected for each instructional module. This approach has particular value in the specification of frame-oriented media and in complex logical environments such as computer based training. Sets of well defined, strategy independent structures also allow the easy and economical construction of learner controlled training environments where desirable.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the ISD process is the evolutionary nature of the prescriptive, research-based model itself. While the practice of ISD still retains the strengths of the empirical evaluation and revision cycles, to the extent research and experience permit, it is prescriptive. That is, rather than depending extensively on the test-revision cycle to generate effective instruction in an iterative manner, every attempt is made to incorporate research findings and past experience into the detailed procedures and supporting ISD documentation to ensure that the instruction developed comes as close to the mark as possible the first time. This improves the validity of the process while also improving reliability. This has proven to be a powerful tool in large scale ISD. In addition, as the process provides more data from the constant evaluation process, the procedures can be continually improved.

At the detailed level the particular procedures developed for each ISD model may differ considerably. Figure 3 shows some important sub procedures or acivities for a typical industrial training ISD model. There are strong dependencies between the activities.

1) Task Analysis is dependent upon a clear identification of the problem as a training problem. If the problem is NOT a training problem, no amount of training or training related activity will solve the problem. Therefore a task analysis should not be undertaken until there is clear identification of the problem as a training problem.

2) Similarly, the Needs, Goals and Constraints Analysis (NG&C) should not be completed until there is clear identification of the problem as a training problem. However, since this may sometimes require some of the activities normally completed during a NG&C in order to fully determine, the dependency is partially mutual.

3) The Entry Population Analysis (EPA) is intended to identify the important characteristics of the intended population(s) for the training. While this may seem on the surface to be straightforward, there are sometimes surprises uncovered during the NG&C in terms of who wants (or doesn't want) the training, and for what. Therefore the EPA is dependent upon the NG&C to at least the degree that it should not be finished until all the information from NG&C is available.

One major purpose of the EPA is to help with the selection of tasks for training (sometimes called out as a separate ISD activity). The premise is that there is no use spending time, money, and effort on developing instruction for skill/tasks uncovered on the task analysis, if the intended population already has these skills etc in their repertoire. Therefore the EPA is dependent on the Task Analysis being completed before the EPA can be completed. On the other hand, it is more economical to compare the entry capabilities of the intended population against the restricted set of things identified in the task analysis than it is to ascertain/describe the entry repertoire in general of the population.

4) Once the EPA is completed and the tasks to be trained have been selected, it is possible to define the Evaluation and Implementation Plans. This plan must accommodate the needs and goals of the various groups identified in the NG&C and must conform to the availability of samples of the population identified in the EPA for formative evaluation. In addition, the implementation planning must accommodate the constraints (personnel, time, resources, budget, and traditions/corporate culture) of the organizations impacted. Failure to plan UP FRONT for both the evaluation and implementation of the training can result in serious problems later in the project.

5) Once the tasks to be trained have been selected as part of the EPA, it is possible to expand the objectives derived from the surviving portions of the task analysis into an Objectives Hierarchy by supplying the supporting and enabling objectives that this student population will require. For example, an experienced, sophisticated population learning a new variant on an already mastered set of skills may not require many intermediate levels of partial training objectives. A naive, unsophisticated population may need lots of levels of successive approximations of the more complex tasks, and they may even need considerable training on how to use the training system and/or on "how to learn" in general, not just on the training content.

6) As the Objectives Hierarchy is completed, it is possible to begin examining the media requirements the objectives imply in terms of stimulus, response, control, record keeping, and other dimensions. This is only one part of the final media decision and at this point should be concerned only with the instructional requirements of the objectives, unfettered by real world considerations of cost, availability, etc.

As basic instructional requirements are established, the media choices for each objective must be qualified by cost, availability, and practical considerations of implementation within the syllabus context. For this reason the final media selection is mutually interdependent with the syllabus development process. Sometimes you may have to make changes in the media selection based on practical considerations from the syllabus, and other times you may choose to make alternative decisions on the syllabus definition based on media considerations. These decisions must NOT violate considerations of minimum instructional requirements for the media for an objective, or prerequisite sequencing in the syllabus, however. That is, the media you finally settle on must be able to do the job called for in the objective, and the syllabus sequence you end up with must never have a student trying to accomplish an objective for which he has not had the prerequisites.

8) As the Objectives Hierarchy is completed, it becomes possible to Classify Objectives in terms of the category of instructional problem they represent.

To a certain extent, this will affect the media selection in that certain instructional strategy dimensions in terms of control, manipulation of stimuli, and numbers of instances may imply certain media requirements. The indirect nature of this interaction is implied through the route from the Objectives Classification to the Media Selection through the Syllabus Development. It may be that a more direct connection on the diagram would better represent the relationship.

Similarly, resource constraints identified in the NG&C may affect the final media selection, by reducing the suite of candidate media realistically to be considered.

9) The mutual interdependence of the Syllabus Development and Media Selection processes has been identified above, as has the requirement that the syllabus derived must not violate prerequisite relationships between objectives identified in the Objectives Hierarchy Development.

10) The syllabus should accomodate the Objective Classification in that an "early hands on" approach should be encouraged as opposed to a "do all low level objectives first before advancing to the next level of the hierarchy" approach. That is, if possible, the syllabus should encourage the learner to advance quickly up a leg of the hierarchy until a significant skill, representing some identifiable subset of the job being trained, can be mastered, before returning to the lower levels of the hierarchy and attempting another leg of the hierarchy. The alternative of doing all low level objectives first and then advancing leads to syllabus definitions which result in days/weeks/months of low level learning objectives such as memorizing terms, locations, and functions, before advancing to simple procedures, and finally, late in the course, actually beginning to master some of the high level objectives which are identifiable as approximations of the job being trained. This latter approach will severely impact motivation.

11) Further, of course, the syllabus must accomodate the real world concerns and constraints identified in the NG&C. Shortages of critical resources such as simulators, instructors, and certain media or facilities may lead to quite a different syllabus design than would otherwise be the case. The syllabus must accomodate these considerations as anticipated in the Evaluation & Implementation Plan.

12) The Author Management System which manages/tracks development of the training materials is dependent on the syllabus in several ways. First, the syllabus may be implemented in part while development of the later materials is still underway. This is often the case where time is a severe constraint. In that case the syllabus will identify the order in which development should proceed as well as the order in which learners will progress. In addition, the syllabus order must always be accomodated in the instruction in the sense that until you know the syllabus order, you cannot assume what the learner will already know at any given part of the course. This confusion often leads inexperienced developers (especially SME's) to essentially try to "teach the entire course" in each instructional segment.

13) The Lesson Specifications are generated according to the instructional strategy most appropriate for the instructional classification of each objective. They constitute the "micro-design" and initial content capture for each lesson.

14) The lesson is then developed in full and the media/materials are produced.

15)-16) The course is then implemented and evaluated according to the Implementation and Evaluation Plan developed in (6) above.

This is only one example of an elaborated ISD model. Each project and institution will develop their own detailed model. The ISD approach, with its potential for self improvement and its engineering discipline has taken instructional development from the productivity of the individual artisan to the productivity and quality control of the factory. It is limited only by the imagination and discipline of the practitioners.

Molnar, A.R. the future of educational technology research and development. Washington, D.C. : National Science Foundation, 1971. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 054 642)

Merrill, M.D., & Boutwell, R.C. Instructional development: Methodology and research. In F.N Kerlinger (Ed) Review of research in Education (Vol 1). Itasca, Ill. F.E. Peacock, Publishers, 1973.

Gibbons, A.S. The influence of instructional systems development (ISD) on simulator design. Wicat Systems, Orem, Utah, 1988.

Copyright © 1996 Island MultiMedia. All rights reserved. Reprint of this article is allowed with copyright acknowledgement.

-Island MultiMedia

Last Updated January 2003
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