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December 15, 2006



I came across a quote from Paul Woolmington, CEO of The Media Kitchen. A marketing and advertising firm. The advertising industry is facing a similiar problem to ours. Technology is rapidly changing the playing field and no one, not the MBAs or the marketing professors or the marketers in the field know what to do in terms of how to best market and advertise.

Woolmington says, "Advertisers are frightened, I think. They're sort of deer in the headlights – 'What do we do?' And within, you know, a matter of five years, we will have a huge percentage of the country will be – you know, will have this technology. Five years, you know, isn't a lot of time in terms of creating new models."

Replace advertisers with instructional designers or work place learning professionals or trainers or whatever and we have the same problem.

It doesn't solve anything to know they have the same problem but, I think, it is nice to know we are not alone.

I think we all feel we should have "ready made models" for this technology and we don't the ID models are over 40 years old, we've had time with them, we've had time to test, research and experiment.

With this new technology neither researchers or the people in the field have had much time to work with the technologies let alone reflect.

In terms of what do we teach, problem-solving, information design, the concepts rather than tools like storyboarding...but at this point, the research is too young and the transition is too fast.

Hey, a great research project would be to map the latest meme...a spagetti diagram or some other illustration would be great.



In this discussion I like "strategies" so much more than "models." Strategies feels better, less like a 'production' model. There is still systematic thought given to a strategy but it also recognizes and somewhat anticipates the presence of ambiguity and change. A model feels like much more of a set piece - good perhaps, worthwhile but less open to change.

I also like your idea of thinking about what exactly do learning professionals add to the process. You say 'efficiency' but I can't help but think about 'efficiency experts' - maybe you'd agree to 'focus' and 'direction'...how about 'alignment with organizational goals'? Do those kind of areas though suggest something different about how we educate our next generation of professionals? Do they need to know less about storyboarding and more about how to quickly assess a situation and be able reach into a mental toolkit and understand the true context of an issue and be able to design a solution that may look more like something coming from a Web designer than an ISDesigner? Just thinking out loud here - wondering what you might think as a professor - would be be useful expansions to current curriculums....


Ok, so accusing you of "blaming" academic wasn't exactly the right word to use. (you know how thin skinned academics can be). However, I think we basically agree that in order to truly have a change in the field, we need to involve both the practitioner and the academics. It is a symbiotic relationship. The practitioners need good models and designs to follow and the academics need to track forward thinking people and companies to research innovations happening in the field.

What I "violently" agree with is the fact that ADDIE has become a production model devoid of meaning and meat. Stripped to the bone by demand for better, faster, cheaper. Far too many times the valuable aspect, the “instructional strategies” as we call them in academia tend to get ignored.

This is wrong. The single most important element in all the ISD models are instructional design strategies. The DESIGN PART of ADDIE (yes, I was screaming). Instructional strategies are effective techniques for taking raw information and making it into instruction. In fact, the application of strategies is one of the few areas of the ADDIE model that have been empirically validated in many cases.

They make a difference. Things like Mnemonics for teaching facts. Conveying new concepts with examples and non-examples, teaching procedures through decomposition and re-composition…those strategies work and are empirically validated and are what is taught or should be taught to those wishing to enter the field in a good academic program. The instructional strategies are not only important for formal learning but for all of our “informal” learning as well.

Again, I agree, we need to get away from the production focus on learning and get to the strategy focus or design focus. A learning focus, can’t we design for learning. (Yes, I know we can’t “learn” anyone but if we can’t design instruction to facilitate or expedite learning…then we truly don’t have a profession.)

We need to study and learn how to design content so learning occurs or design platforms, environments, or exchanges so that learning occurs. Our job as a designer is to add an element of efficiency to the learning process…because lots of people can learn lots of stuff over time but in a corporate or academic environment, time is limited so the value designers add is to design instruction for learning to occur, not to follow a model blindly.

(PS. This discussion has really gotten me to think about the field and consider many of its foundations which I haven't for years, a great deal of personal constructivism occuring...another plus for blogs.)


My apologies if my posting can across as blame - that was certainly not my intention. Also, when you make the point about people being able to enter the field with little or no preparation, I feel that pain as well - it seems every single pundit who can grab a slice of the Sunday morning news shows, instantly considers themselves to be a historian and able to divine the motives at the very heart of the Founders of the U.S. (I also should disclose that I have come darn close to finishing an advanced degree in ISD but chose not to finish honestly because I could not stomach the distance learning environment we were using - Lotus Notes - every time I logged in, it felt like I was listening to some kind of mental white noise - but your point is well taken).

I was actually hoping to get the point across that any lasting and meaningful change in our field MUST include the academic branch since that is the intellectual incubator for the future generations of practitioners.

As far as what academics could/should be studying (and I agree with you that it should not be PPT w/ audio) - I violently agree with you that the field is where good research comes from. I would add (only half-jokingly) that in the case of field study, there mught be some small bit of expertise that anthropologists/ethnographers could offer our brothers and sisters from the Education department :-). On the topic of subjects for study though, I do remember being at one conference and I was coming out of a session on human cognition and I had been to another that day on UI design and was headed to one on maintaining user motivation and this was a game conference. I think that there is wide potential for study but that it must be interdisciplinary.

I think you are dead on that change (not blame) must also come from the practitioners. In a very real sense, that is the hard edge of this discussion. I do think that part of the problem is that some many practitioners have staked their professional lives to particular models that it would almost be tantamount to tearing up their own business and starting over to begin to disagree with these models now. I think a lot of the inertia that we are seeing now comes from this linking of product to theory.

That I guess is my last point. I realize that these models are emblematic of a body of thought and theory but what I have seen is that these models get stripped of that context and merely become rote production models. I am not genetically opposed to models but I think that a greater appreciation of the theory behind them would be of great service as would the notion that while ISD is decades old, we clearly do not know everything there is to know about learning. History as a discipline has been around for thousands of years and we are still figuring it out - we even have a whole branch of inquiry, historiography - which does nothing but inspect, investigate and study the way in which history has been written. Whether through my own ignorance or through lack of exposure, I am unclear as to whether a similar branch exists within ISD.

I hope that this isn't about blame in the final analysis but rather is about how the field can grow, become stronger and serve its constituencies better.


Not sure I agree with your placing the blame for the lack of new models squarely on the academics and the teachings at colleges. When looking at the Post on the Learning Circuits blog that asked the question "Are our models (ISD, ADDIE, HPT, etc.) relevant in the future?"

One of the things that struck me was that the very first comment, the very first comment asked for a definition of the terms. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. In fact, the request or need for clarification was echoed in a number of comments to the post.

How many practicing lawyers would ask for the definition of the term "Brief", how many practicing doctors would ask for the definition of EKG or STAT, how many architects would have trouble reading a blue print, heck, how many plumbers would not know what a sink trap was? All basic foundational pieces for their respective fields. Yet, one can enter our field (what ever it is) with no training, no experience and no knowledge (I have seen it dozens of times, the pharma industry comes to mind as does banking, manufacturing, retail, and any other industry segment you can imagine.)

So how can we blame the lack of models or innovation on the academics when a large portion of the field doesn’t even know the basics?

One problem with this field is that we don’t have a certifying body so that anyone who wants to develop learning or is forced to develop learning or is given a rapid e-learning tool by his or her boss is able to practice the art. No need for schooling, instruction or certification. Just sit down and create some instruction and in little time Volia training is created (It’s not good or effective but, hey, it’s done.)

A person’s background can be in sales, manufacturing, math, science, elementary education or even…even anthropology :), yet, one is still able, encouraged and even asked to create instruction. No formal academic training needed, no background in ADDIE, adult learning theories or interpretation of educational research.

We can’t move forward without a solid foundation, yet many who practice the “learning profession” don’t have a solid foundation of even our most basic principles. Or the acronyms represented by those principles

Furthermore, theories, models and methodologies taught in academic institutions typically come about through the process of observing practices in the field and then drawing conclusions from those practices. Academics should not sit in an ivory tower and create models or theories and then pass them down to the masses, they should observe the field, research what is happening and then create models...informed research.

Unfortunately, the field doesn’t seem to be putting forth many alternatives to HPT, ADDIE or ISD at this time, although some are and you can see a list on my blog. But for the most part what are the academics supposed to study?...PowerPoint with audio?

Even with the creation of new models, the practioners don't always know about them. (academics write for academic journals and people in the field don't read those journals. Although, doctors read medical journals while practicing.)

We also have to remember that the Instructional Design process is decades old (ADDIE has been written about and studied for years we know that if applied correctly...it does WORK)while these new tools (blogs, wikis)and the explosion of the Internet are only a few years old we don't have research to say what works and what doesn't so we can't yet create models, so for now we are in a state of flux and few know what really works.

Having said all that, I do agree that more could be done in academia (more basic research0 and that we should be looking to find new models and do more research, however, I don't think academia should get all the blame. Practitioners need to share in some of the blame as well.


Thanks for the mention of the book. Readers may be interested in a whitepaper based on the book titled "Games, Gadgets and Gizmos: Tools for Bridging the Boomer/Gamer Knowledge Gap" available at

I think David Williamson's new book is a great start in the right direction. I really think we could begin some great conversations around the Epistemic Frames, Games, and SKIVEs.
Great post!

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Quoth she/he...

  • "The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolutionaries cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the society they live in. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are transmogrified, replaced, or simply destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the music and newspaper businesses, but their suffering isn’t unique, it’s prophetic." --Clay Shirky

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