Instructional Design: Is it Worth It?

So far I am frustrated about instructional design. I went to school to study English Literature. I continued my education in Composition and Rhetoric. Somewhere along the way, I alternatively certified to be a teacher. Not once in my formal education or professional development have I ever been formally taught to design in this way.  What is frustrating is that I’ve never met a teacher who goes into such details for their lessons. It’s taken me years to figure out how to design a practice that’s based on theory and data. Yet, I am still struggling to know how effective I am as an instructor. So, I am frustrated with instructional design because I think this kind of thinking is only reserved for our curriculum specialists in the district. While I know these analysis skills are critical for those designing for the entire district, every teacher still needs to know, at minimum, how to do a gap analysis for their classroom. So many teachers often shrug their shoulders when faced with the same challenges and failures over and over again. I know what it is like to feel like you’re running into the same wall over and over. Then a technology specialist shows up with web tools that convince you will solve all the problems.

But, they don’t work.

It doesn’t work because the problems are not actually clear. Teachers are stuck at complaining because maybe they don’t have tools to truly pinpoint breakdowns in the learning environment. Maybe if they had better tools to analyze their environment, they would stop complaining and start solving problems.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my technology specialists! They help me to evolve what we do in class into something we do in class differently and share into the world. But, what if technology specialists were able to bring in these analysis tools into their collaboration time with teachers or into summer training? What if the web tool was presented as a tool to support the gap in learning instead of just a cool thing or an easier way to collaborate? What if we tweeted out transformation in the classroom instead of just whatever hip cool thing is going on? What if we were able to identify the problem, solve it, change the data, and really have proof of effective instruction?


So, I am frustrated with instructional design because we need more of it.


Oy! Analysis!


Oh man. There is so much to do with Analysis for the ADDIE model for instructional design. It is almost TOO much to do. I was so overwhelmed by the possible things to analyze last week that I almost forgot that I do this all the time when I reflect on how a lesson went and then make adjustments accordingly as a teacher. The analysis itself is not what is new for me. It is all the templates, possible questions, and potential things to analyze. It is like a Russian nesting doll, you open the lid and there’s a whole other doll! What I can appreciate is the realization that there is so much to consider when designing quality curriculum or an effective training. I also realized that I need a method that works for me, one that makes sense based on memory. Then when I need something  more detailed, I just need to have the resources to rely on. Otherwise, I can’t think straight. In fact, last week was one on going migraine, literally one of the worst I’ve had. I’m not blaming my homework. There are other triggers. But, I will say that I was so inundated with analysis pathways that I literally couldn’t see straight. So, my take away for this phase of instructional design: have a vision. If we don’t want to get lost in all the Matryoshka of analysis, then we have to be able to have a clear view of what we need to analyze. I think this vision comes from the situation you are designing for. I think the less you know of the content, the more variety of analysis you need. However, the more expertise you have in the content, the easier it is to analyze.


For example, I am an English teacher. I paired up with another English teacher. This helped me to understand the needs of her students and her needs as a teacher. This made not having access to her students for data gathering less important. I’d love to talk to them, but since it’s summer, it is not an option. But, because I am an English teacher too, I can understand her classroom in a way that a non-English teacher may struggle to. My own experience has helped me fill in the gaps in a lot of ways. However, if I had been designing for a company whose job duties were unfamiliar to me, I would need much more research and data to help me understand the TAP of the training needed. I would need more than an interview and handouts to grasp the concepts and needs I would be designing for. This makes me think twice about designing for people who are outside my scope. I think I will need a lot more practice with the ADDIE model, especially the analysis part, to be an effective designer where I am not a SME.


This analysis, especially after multiple conversations with Mrs. Bookmiller, has helped me to narrow in and target a specific skill to design for. Before the analysis, I wouldn’t have imagined actually being able to pinpoint a particular skill to focus on. My mind would have said, the students just need more practice writing or more discussion or more mentor texts to get better as writers. But now, after the analysis, I actually feel like I might be able to make a difference because once I narrowed my focus, the plan of attack just came together. Had I not narrowed my focus, I don’t think this would have happened. Ironically, I teach this in my classroom. When students narrow their topic enough, BAM, their words come rolling out. This was true for me as well in this assignment. However, just like my students need to revise their essays, I too need to come back to the work and look with fresh eyes for things that I could rework. Also, collaborating with Mrs. Bookmiller will make this kind of revision very easy since she truly knows her audience and topic.


Analysis and design are interdependent. Without analysis the design is founded on personal feeling which doesn’t bode well in an academic world nor does it make for a good business model. It’s not that personal feelings are bad. They just don’t provide a strong enough basis for education or training. On the other hand, without design, the efforts in analysis are wasted. What I mean is that if you ignore the results of your analysis and create based on that, there is no real design present. Design implies that you structured or created something with a purpose. The analysis results give us purpose for our design. I think the R/Evolution video brought up something an important concept that we should consider in our future ID. Before the internet, we managed information via categories, but after the internet, it is generally though links and key terms. If I want to know about the cast of Roadhouse starring Patrick Swayze, I don’t have to start with possible categories for finding that information. I just type in the title and different links pop up. I didn’t need to click on a movie category followed by action category followed by 1980s movies followed by etc… Key terms lead to links. Information managed! So where does this lead us for the future of instructional design? When we begin to truly integrate technology and the power of the internet, will our ADDIE model change? Part of the analysis requires that we categorize our skills into topics. We create these trees of knowledge so that our human minds can trace the pathways to concepts. Will computers, will the internet, R/Evolve our instructional design? Will our designs become the Russian Matryoshka doll without designers having to do analysis? In the future, will all of the analysis work we do now be “stored” digitally and be accessible without having to always re-analyze the situation? Could there be an internet based engine that takes all of our TAPs and designs for us according to past analyses?


My mind and vision are swimming again with possibilities. So, I need to stop, refocus, and come back to the vision I had at the beginning of all this: analysis. Oh man! There is so much to do with analysis!

My Personal Learning Theory

The summer between 7th and 8th grade year, I was given a summer reading list for my Honors English class. As I skimmed the list, I noticed several books I had already read just out of curiosity rather than requirement. So, I spent my summer only reading about 2 books and returned the next school year “prepared.” Our first week in class, we were to choose which novels we would take tests over. I picked all the books I had read before instead of those I read over the summer. I felt so strongly that I would be successful since I had read them before. I chose the Anne of Green Gables exam knowing in my heart of hearts that I would ace it. Well, I didn’t. I failed. It sounds crazy, but I had never failed anything up to this point. I was one of those smart kids who learned to be lazy because it took too long for the class work to become challenging. My teacher, Mrs. Lewis, handed it back with the answer key, and I painfully looked over each incorrect answer. With each correction, I felt a stab of failure, over and over, in my gut. It was humiliating, except no one knew but me. I realized I was humiliated in front of… me.


This experience is the beginning of my personal learning theory because it is the moment I understood with my young 14 year old brain that I learned more through failure than I did with success. And, most importantly, I did not know everything.


Now that I am older and have spent years obsessively analyzing that moment so as not to experience it again, I have noticed more in that situation that guides me now in my teaching as well as in my own learning. According to the essay Personal Learning Theory, “Hoy, Davis, and Anderman (2013) believed there are four pillars” to “quality learning.” I can see those pillars in this experience. The first is that “students must first understand and make sense of material.” In my own experience, I failed this pillar. I failed to recognize the different between academic reading and reading for fun. This is a failure because I failed understand the content on a deeper level. I never really “made sense of the material.” The second pillar is that “students must remember what they understood.” I could not be successful at this pillar since I never really understood the real meaning of the material. The result is that I only remembered the parts I liked or identified with. The third pillar is that “students must practice and apply their new skills… in order to become a permanent part of their repertoire.” This pillar was successful because all those corrections were seared into my memory. I will now never forget that Mrs. Blewett (with two Ts) was the one who wanted to take Anne off Marilla’s hands. And finally the fourth pillar is to note that “all of these processes are embedded in social and cultural contexts inside and outside of school.” It is this last pillar that has had the most influence on my own P.L.T. In my moment of failure, I was humiliated. I humiliated myself, in front of, myself. What?


One more time: I was the only one who knew the extent of my knowledge of Anne of Green Gables. I was the only one who set my impossibly high expectations for success (was there a grade other than a 100?). I was the only one who knew exactly how I “prepared” for this test. So when the results came in, I was so ashamed of myself for being so… foolish? Or was there a better word? Arrogant. Yes, arrogant is a better fit. My own pride stopped me from really learning this assignment. So, while I totally agree with Hoy, Davis, and Alderman about their 4 pillars to quality learning, I think there is something more physiological, spiritual even, that is required for learning: humility.


Before any teacher can design a lesson, or any student can jump from pillar to pillar, it is imperative that we have that acknowledgment of our own ignorance, a realization that we do not know something. Without this revelation we come to class, to training, to professional development with a closed mind and closed spirit. We are not open to trying to understand the content, nor are we willing to remember it. There’s nothing to remember since you already know everything, right? Applying the knowledge is just wasting time, and it certainly won’t apply to any aspect of my “social [or] cultural contexts inside [or] outside of school.” Humility is required in order to move towards understanding instead of standing still in our pride.

In summary, my personal learning theory starts with owning the fact that I do not know everything. From there, I can actually move forward to those four pillars, to that “complex process” of struggling and wrestling with concepts in order to grasp them, apply them, and be changed by them. Because, if we are not changed by them, did we really learn?



Hoy, A.W., Davis, H. A., and Anderman, E. M. (2013). “Theories of Learning and      Teaching in TIP.” Theory into Practice52(sup1), 9-21.

Instructional Design in the Real World

I went to the gym today. I’d love to say it was to work out, but really it was to find instructional design in the real world. I tried to do the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone thing and also work out while I was there, but honestly, it was way too cold to swim in the lap pool today. It was cool morning combined with a smoothie for breakfast, so the lap pool “workout” was a failure. However, I did find two different examples of instructional design that I had some thoughts about.


The first was this flyer:

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This flyer is informing patrons of family swim times as well as the one real expectation for supervising your kids: 25:10 rule. It says in the little bubble that if your child cannot swim 25 meters unaided, then they must be within 10 feet of their parent. The goals seem to be to share what the family swim times are but also a reminder about the 25:10 rule. This flyer is somewhat effective for those who regularly attend family swim, and through experience they generally know what this information means. What is unclear for those patrons is whether or not the pool hours are also the family swim hours. At the top of the hours list is says FAMILY HOURS – 25:10 rule enforced, but it doesn’t really differentiate between pool hours and family hours. For first timers, or for those hoping to avoid family hours, this isn’t very helpful. For new members, this doesn’t tell you the whole picture. If your child cannot swim the 25 meters unaided, they also cannot ride the slide. Also, if your child can swim the 25 meters, it doesn’t tell members the expectation for where to be. For example, if they have a 10 year old who can swim the distance, is it ok for the parent to leave the building to run errands? If your child can swim the 25 meters, do the parents need to supervise their children at all? They also don’t tell you what families do after those hours. So, if someone wants pool time with no kids, it is assumed based on this flyer that outside of those hours, the pool will be kid-free. That is not actually true. Outside of the pool hours, families are often still in the pool; there is just no life guard on duty. Also, the 25:10 rule is not enforced. So, someone like me shows up on a Friday night at 9 pm hoping for a quiet swim would actually discover a chaotic mad house at the pool with kids of all ages and swim abilities generally unsupervised. Three things I remember every year for our outdoor pool is that it opens Memorial Day weekend (May 27th), the 25:10 is enforced during outdoor pool hours, and that the hours don’t always mean anything. According to Hoy, Davis, and Anderman (2013) in their article Personal Learning Theory, the first pillar of learning is that “Students must first understand and make sense of material.” If they cannot make sense of the material, it will affect their ability to remember it. As a result of my own uncertainty in this flyer, I can never really remember the outside pool hours. If I should up relatively early or late, I walk in fingers crossed that the pool is open.


Another piece of instructional material was the directions for sharing the lap pool lanes:

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The goal of the plaque is to share the expectations for a busy day in the lap pool to make “lap swimming safer, more pleasant and more efficient for all.” I think the instructions are detailed enough that they seem generally reasonable and uncomplicated. However, there are two things in the information that seem unclear, and 1 issue I have overall that might affect the  overall effectiveness of the plaque. First, under “Passing” it says to “Gently tap the swimmer in front of you on the foot.” This makes sense for two strangers in a lap lane when one is faster than the other. Just reach out and “gently tap the swimmer on the foot,” but then it also says “Pass only when they have stopped at the wall.” Tapping someone on the foot is the equivalent of yelling “LEFT!” when passing someone in your bike lane. You yell it, then go. So, tapping someone then waiting until the wall is confusing. If you don’t tap and pass, then what will happen is that everyone will just stop in confusion. I wouldn’t call this efficient. Also the idea of tapping someone’s foot while they are in full kick is also questionable, but honestly there are not many other options to get another swimmer’s attention without totally freaking them out. Second, at the bottom it offers some extra information: distance. At first, I loved this! I can never remember how many laps make a mile. But, what is actually missing is what kind of lap pool am I in? Is it 25 yards or 25 meters? It doesn’t say. Does it make the expectations less clear? No. But is it a design fail? Yes. If you thought far enough to include it, it is rendered useless if members don’t actually know which one you are swimming in. Why did you include both? You could have just included the distance that actually made sense for this pool. The final issue that may impede effectiveness is the description of this information as only “shared conventions.” Referring to this as only “shared conventions” implies that this information is optional. If I don’t feel like sharing the lane at all, then I don’t have to “share” the “conventions.” From this information I am most likely not to forget that when I share a lane, I might have a foot grab at any moment, share the lane, and swim counter-clockwise (keep right).

Instructional design should be part of every educator’s preparation program. Whether it is the university route or an alternative, instructional design should be the standard for teachers to lesson plan. My first year teaching college English was only a year after I taught high school for the first time. My Dean said, pick your book and look at the course outcomes, then get going! Had I never taught high school where design is expected despite never being taught in my alternative certification program, I would have fallen apart teaching my college classes. I know that whatever my next steps are in my career, instructional design is going to be a central component. Dr. Merrill said in his video that so many sites today are just “information dumps.” So many educators today use the internet and web tools to “teach” for them like some people use the TV to “raise” their children. However, creating an “information dump” site is NOT instructional. Could you imagine what your students would learn in health class if they were just told to Google “sexual health?” We must design how we will use the massive amounts of information available to us now. Google and Siri cannot be the new educators of tomorrow. 



Hoy, A.W., Davis, H. A., and Anderman, E. M. (2013). “Theories of Learning and Teaching in TIP.” Theory into Practice52(sup1), 9-21. 


Merrill, David M., PhD. “Merrill on Instructional Design.” Youtube. Mdavidmerrill, 11 Aug. 2008. Web. 7 June 2017.