Instructional Systems Roles: Information Architect, Knowledge Designer, and User Advocate

Instructional systems designers are the Grand Architects of Content. They are the blueprint designers, outliners, and sometimes the actual writers of the content. Generally speaking, however, they work in tandem with writers and with content experts (SMEs, or subject matter experts). If a user manual or a VCR guide is unreadable, for example, it probably means that no instructional designer was hired to guide the technical writer and the engineer involved.

Instructional designers generally research, organize, and outline courses within a framework including considerations of:

  • Business objectives (reducing training expenses or enhancing revenue)

  • End user context (real-world business situation)

  • Learning objectives (knowledge, skills, and attitudes)

  • Evaluation (the four levels)

The information for this process is gathered through informal conversations, reviews of existing documentation, and needs assessments. And finally, it is shaped into proper form—the three hallmarks of proper design being:

  • Clearly organized content

    • Chunking: dividing content into its proper constituent parts

    • Sequencing: linking the chunks or components together into an organized whole

  • Clear layout

    • Appropriate subheads, plenty of white space, and easy-on-the-eyes composition of information on the page (see Information Mapping)

  • Clear writing

    • Structured writing in brief, concise paragraphs

To sum up, instructional designers perform a wide variety of functions, including those of information architect, knowledge designer, and user advocate. With the maturation of the Web as a delivery medium, and with the rising need for performance support systems (online help), content is shifting more and more from entire "courses" to small "knowledge chunks" (stand-alone paragraphs), and thus the instructional designer needs to function as a content "assembler" or "compiler" as well as an outliner. Knowledge management systems (databases featuring bite-sized chunks of learning) require instructional designers to work in tandem with database designers. And throughout these processes, the designer must also function as a "user advocate," defending the end user's right to an effective learning experience in a real-world context. Thus the designer must validate, through interim and final product tests, that the course or system will deliver what it promises.

Finally, instructional design is the art of the invisible. Instructional designers, like the best film editors and interface designers, function as "vanishing mediators." For in the final analysis the end-user should perceive only the course content, and not its "design." The hallmark of good design is total transparency.



World War II. The field of instructional design is born, being firmly rooted in the behaviorist psychology of Thorndike, Watson, and Skinner (see Behaviorism).


Robert M. Gagne (1916–2002) coauthors, with Edward Fleishman, the behaviorist textbook, Psychology and Human Performance.


Robert Gagne edits the anthology Psychological Principles in System Development, which includes a chapter by Meredith Crawford on systems thinking in instructional design, with a prototype for the ADDIE model developed in the 1950s by the U.S. army.


Robert Gagne: The Conditions of Learning. A classic in the history of instructional design, the term "conditions" in the title referring indirectly to its roots in the theory of behaviorist conditioning. Gagne takes up Bloom's classic triad of knowledge, skills, and attitudes from 1956 and divides the "knowledge" domain further—into intellectual, verbal, and cognitive. Although Merrienboer's 1997 book (see below) is perhaps the more useful text today, Gagne, a psychology Ph.D. from Brown University whose skills were honed in military training during World War II, was a pioneer in the field, one of the prime movers behind early instructional design.


Robert Gagne and Leslie Briggs of Florida State University publish The Principles of Instructional Design, a systematic look at instructional design that still remains a mainstay text today.


The official birth of instructional systems development (ISD), with its five steps of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation (ADDIE). Actually, the model had been in development and use since the 1950s in both military and civilian training. ISD fast becomes the standard model for instructional design.


Walter Dick and Lou Carey: The Systematic Design of Instruction. One of the founding texts for a systems view of instructional design. Latest edition still useful.


Charles Reigeluth (ed.): Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview. First volume in a series of anthologies useful for professionals.


Jerrold Kemp: The Instructional Design Process. Classic text on instructional design. Latest edition still useful.


Charles Reigeluth (ed.): Instructional Theories in Action. Second volume in a series of anthologies useful for professionals.


Ruth Clark: Developing Technical Training: A Structured Approach. Good summary of how to design and develop computer-based training (CBT), including structured writing and clear information design.


William Rothwell and H. Kazanas: Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach. Excellent summary of instructional design theories and processes. One of the best textbooks available.


Cynthia Leshin (ed.): Instructional Design: Strategies and Tactics.


Patricia Smith and T. Ragan: Instructional Design.


M. David Merrill: Instructional Design Theory. Merrill is a leader in the field of instructional design. His book contains, among other insights, a useful taxonomy of content (facts vs. concepts vs. processes) as well as a differentiation of performance outcomes (cognitive recall vs. on-the-job behavior).


John Noonan: Elevators: How to Move Training Up from the Basement. Despite the clunky title, a well-written introduction to instructional design for beginners, including needs assessments, analysis and planning, design and development, and with a creative suggestion for extrapolating Level 4 ROI from Level 1 interview data. This often overlooked title is recommended as an introduction.


Tom Boyle: Design for Multimedia Learning.


Angus Reynolds and Thomas Iwinski: Multimedia Training: Developing Technology-Based Systems.


Vincent Miller: "The History of Training," The ASTD Training and Development Handbook.


Jeroen J. G. van Merrienboer: Training Complex Cognitive Skills. A text-book for advanced professionals, extremely clear on the "decomposition" of cognitive skills into steps.


Michael Milano: Designing Powerful Training.


Charles Reigeluth (ed.): Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory. Third volume in a series of anthologies useful for professionals.


George Piskurich: Rapid Instructional Design. Stands out among a multitude of systems-oriented textbooks.

See also Behaviorism Cognitivism

The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning and Performance. A Trainer's Guide to Theory, Terminology, and Practice
The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning and Performance: A Trainers Guide to Theory, Terminology, and Practice
ISBN: 0814471781
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 110
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