Sunday, November 4, 2007

So, Until My Grad Classes Are Finished . . .

. . . this blog may be filled with writing that will make you all insane. Ha! If you decide to give this one a go, wondering if you can figure it out, then I'll give you a hint: ISD stands for Instructional Design System which is the theory about how teaching is supposed to be developed. Let me tell you though, any teacher who spent as many hours doing the ISD preparation for a single hour of classroom instruction like each of us in this class has been required to do would never in a lifetime have lesson plans to take them through one school year.

Rebuttal to Gordon & Zemke

The critics of ISD outline four charges: “ISD is too slow and clumsy to meet today’s training challenges; there’s no “there” there; used as directed, it produces bad solutions; and it clings to the wrong world view.” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 44) Although there are benefits with ISD, the key to success is when the design process has been cost effective, is completed in an appropriate time frame, and produces hard evidence of successful learning. (Subramony, 2007) In an effort to defend or modify ISD against these charges, several solutions have been offered.

Although the six-step ISD process seems straightforward, some companies and educational institutions become so bogged down that the need for design passes before the solution to performance gaps is discovered: “The slow and clumsy argument doesn’t really indict ISD as a learning system but rather as an administrative system.” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 47) Therefore, the ISD system itself is not broken; it just needs to be speeded up to become more effective. Robert O. Brinkerhoff and Anne M. Apking describe “an altered design paradigm,” which “mirrors the key elements of the more traditional ISD methods that have stood the test of time,” embedding ISD “into the conceptual framework of the HIL (High Impact Learning) approach, building on what we know about sound instructional design, adding new ideas and methods, and revising others to achieve HIL results.” (Brinkerhoff & Apking, 2001, p.140) Describing this new system, “It is a process that uses rapid prototyping to get an approximation of a solution quickly, then deploys it to its customers to both meet needs and to test it, revamp it, and deploy and test it again, repeatedly.” (Brinkerhoff & Apking, 2001, p. 143) In addition, “Tom Peters, in his . . . handbook The Project 50 (1999), stresses the importance of quick prototyping to the success of any project, noting that it is possible to build and test some piece of any project within a few hours to two or three days. (Brinerhoff & Apking, 2001, p. 143) Christopher Westrup adds “Many see that the interaction of designers and users is a key consideration for the successful development of IS, . . .some of these ideals have been translated into widely used techniques such as prototyping . . .” (Westrup, 1993, p. 8) Using these faster methods will solve the first charge made against the ISD system.

Geary Rummler describes a more effective approach to ISD is “to put together a SWAT team of experienced designers who are quick to see the real problem, who have a repertoire of imaginative solutions, and who can come up with a basic design in three days, not three months.” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 48) The problem that keeps ISD developers from addressing the substance of the instruction seems to be that too much time is spent on the analysis, but Arias and Clark call for “the front-end analysis phase of the design process to go beyond the traditional instructional needs assessment approach.” (Arias & Clark, 2004, p. 52) Time and money spent in the analysis phase can prevent unnecessary steps or development of unnecessary training. Knowing more about the problem early might solve the suggested problem with substance.

Sivasailam Thiagarajan argues, “The process tends to create boring, cookie-cutter programs geared to the slowest and most ignorant learners in the audience.” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 51) Westrup counters: “An early criticism of much of ISD theory was that it was based on poor research designs which prevented useful, i.e. replicable results . . . Iven and Olsen (1984, p. 601) reviewed the literature and concluded as follows: ‘The practitioner may have found this discussion disheartening. Not only has empirical research been unable to foresee when and what types of user involvement are appropriate, it has not convincingly demonstrated user involvement contributes to systems success.’” (Westrup, 1993, p. 267) Perhaps the problem lies not in the process, but with the designer for a specific ISD solution. The better one becomes at developing design, the more effective is the product produced.

The final charge states: “The ISD model assumes that a job is a known quantity. It assumes the presence of a master performer who knows how to do the job in the best possible way. It assumes we can derive a set of best-practice procedures from that master performer and then teach them to everybody else.” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 52) The argument continues, “The core skill becomes problem-solving.” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 53) In the educational realm, the most significant difficulties with effective ISD could be the unwieldy amount of needed course design and the lack of a team as educators often work in isolation. Cost may also prohibit the effective development and implementation of ISD. Additionally, there is an assumption that the designer is a subject matter expert. Although this may be the case with the classroom teacher, it is often not true in the development of policy, procedures, and training for both education and business settings. As described in an abstract for Said Another Way Subject Matter Experts: Facts or Fiction?: “Subject matter experts (SMEs) can be valuable resources, but there are no standards or criteria for their selection. The temptation to assert one's self as an SME in the absence of actual expertise is great. As a consumer, where does one turn, how does one know who to believe, and where does one place trust? . . . The question, “Is your subject matter expert really an expert? (Lavin, Dreyfus, Slepski & Kasper, 2007, Abstract)

Westrup offers: “To summarize, existing studies of ISD tend to concentrate either on improving techniques or methodologies based on fairly abstract criteria or, when they do represent the practices of ISD, restrict themselves to inadequate techniques such as questionnaires (Cicourel, 1964) or retrospective accounts of ISD processes through periodic interview. Instead, it is suggested that to establish understanding of the use of methodologies and the role of users in this process requires an ethnographic and longitudinal study into the processes of ISD.” (Westrup, 1993, p. 268) Like the ISD process itself, these studies may prove to be too time-consuming, requiring considerable access, and be representative of only one site. Like the critics cited in the Gordon and Zemke article, some experts felt there were an “unwieldy amount of rules and regulations over the proper way to carry out each step of the model,” (Gordon & Zemke, 2000, p. 43), but the suggestions given in this rebuttal might reduce the impact of the complaints to the point where ISD remains a valid and useful tool in instructional design.


Arias, Sonia & Clark, Kevin. (2004). Instructional technologies in developing countries: a contextual analysis approach. TechTrends, 52-55, 70.

Brinkerhoff, Robert O. & Apking, Anne M. (2001). High Impact Learning: Strategies for Leveraging Business Results from Training. New York: Basic Books.

Gordon, J., & Zemke, R. (2000, April). The attack on ISD. Training, 37, 43-53.

Lavin, Roberta P., Dreyfus, Michael, Slepski, Lynn, & Kasper, Christine E. (2007, October) Said Another Way Subject Matter Experts: Facts or Fiction? Nursing Forum, Vol. 42 Issue 4, p189-195, 7p.

Subramony, Dr. Deepak. (2007, September 26). Instructional Systems Design. Lecture Powerpoint, Slide 16.

Westrup, Christopher. (1993). Information systems methodologies in use. Journal of Information Technology. 8, 267-275.