Instructional systems development has been in existence for a long time. Even though ISD is now recognized and implemented worldwide, there are many facets of the ISD process that are misunderstood or underappreciated. ISD in its purist form is simply a system for the design, implementation, and evaluation of instruction.
ISD is timeless
One of the most valuable assets of ISD is that the process of instructional design doesn't change based on decisions made on any individual design issue. Whether a designer chooses online, in class, asynchronous, or distributed implementation methodology doesn't in any way impact ISD as a process. These decisions are based on a number of design elements that are explored in the analysis phase of the ISD process.
The timelessness of ISD means several important things to a designer and to organizations. First, no matter when a designer learns and practices the ISD process, the process doesn't change. It also means that whatever new technologies make their way into the instructional landscape, they can be easily incorporated into an instructional program. The term keeping current as used in ISD simply means keeping up with the trends in various aspects of analysis, development, implementation, and evaluation - not the ISD process used to make these necessary design decisions.
ISD has no opinions
The neutrality of the ISD process is vital to its effectiveness as a system. It doesn't contain any inherent bias or preconceived notions about any aspect of a particular design process.
With ISD there is no preordained way to solve a specific design issue. Every decision evolves from gathering data and making the best choices available. The system guides the process and the variables inform decisions.
ISD doesn't have a bias toward a specific delivery system
It seems that every new technology or learning model spawns a new approach to implementing instruction, and these are almost always systemically no different than the last big thing in education and training. Multimedia, distance learning, social networking, and tablet computing all have a place in effective instructional programs; however, the process of designing curriculum is not influenced by any of these technologies. ISD guides a design decision; it never makes one, although the choices are usually pretty obvious after analysis is completed.
ISD identifies design problems
One very basic axiom of the ISD process is, "If you are having a problem with a specific ISD design task, it is probably because there is something wrong with the design." More simply put, design problems are usually at fault when the design process stalls. Suppose a designer is struggling with writing a lesson plan and making the content work with the population. The problem is not usually the designer's lack of skill. More often, it is that the population is probably not well defined or is too diverse for the design approach.
For example, including five-year-olds in the same class as adults in content areas such as art or music appreciation is almost impossible due to the obvious differences in learning styles, attention spans, and motivation. If the objectives are not related to building a bond between the populations, then separate them into two courses and design for each population separately.
Another example is when a designer can't write behavioral objectives for a very simple content area. Closer examination reveals that the course is actually a conference seminar where participants simply attend and do not in any practical way participate. A designer can never write behavioral objectives for this type of event because there is seldom real learning taking place, and students can't be evaluated. The choice then becomes either to admit that this session is not training and forgo designing a course around it or to upgrade the course to something real that offers lasting instructional value.
The practice of ISD is built upon several very simple, yet fundamental truths. It has no point of view or bias toward any specific design solutions. It is simply a system that provides a reasoned and tested approach to developing training and education solutions regardless of the individual variables within a specific design scenario.
Note: This article is excerpted from ISD From the Ground Up, 3rd edition by Chuck Hodell
Chuck Hodell is associate director of the graduate program in instructional systems development at the University of Maryland (Baltimore Campus), as well as academic advisor at the International Masonry Institute. He holds a PhD in language, literacy, and culture, and a master's degree in instructional design from the University of Maryland.
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