ISD Development – from an FEA perspective

Posted on Feb 9, 2010

My ISD Model, from an FEA Perspective:

Front-End Analysis represents the process of defining a gap between a “present state” and an “ideal state” within a domain of human performance.

In the development of an ISD, as I’ve proposed it, we consider the inevitability of the introduction of The Network into the equation of tying Objectives through Implementation. This means that we must consider that, at some point, a network form of communication will be involved in some way to facilitate the transfer of information towards the instructional goals.

My purpose in focusing on the network implications of information transfer is that we wish to be aware of the possibility that the network may impart an influence on learning material, instructions, or interaction such that the original messaging strategy may be affected in some way, to the detriment of its efficacy. I cite as an example how the conventions of email presuppose the time imperative of a needed response, if the learner is in need of assistance from a person whose role in the learning environment is prescribed through email. While email is an efficient method of information transfer, its conventions preclude the connotation of urgency from the sender’s inferior position. Even the inclusion of an emoticon, or a flag of some sort, is necessarily moot if the receiver is not online.

So, in consideration of my model, I represent the interests of FEA as follows:

1) In ascertaining the character of a system where there are people collected towards a defined interest (business, school, activism), there will likely be a connectivity component to it. We cannot declare, as Instructional Designers, how that connection should be – only that the nature of the collection will bear its own “rational” method of connectivity, based somewhat on what common points of connectivity are apparent, and what level of sophistication or literacy is amenable to the group as a whole. An example of this might be that, of 20 people in a group, all of them have an email address, though not all of them have blogs or feeds that might serve as components of an aggregation system. Thus, the operation of the system “settles”, roughly, to its lowest common denominator, unless urged forward by some greater need or utility.

In light of this, when we discern the cause of performance problems in Romiszowski’s Quadrant method: Used to Perform Well/Never Could Perform Well/Consequences of Performing Well/How is the Job Organized, we may have utility for an ISD model that considers the influence of network communication itself in forming the assessment. This may take the form of a Primary/Secondary relationship, such as, Primarily, the worker never could perform the job (due to) lack of pre-requisite skills. In the analysis of the relationship between “pre-requisite skills” and “method for performing the task”, we may find that the method is to blame, not the performer. My ISD model will attempt to ask the rhetorical questions pointed at the method component, and attempt to determine whether there is a loss of information resolution that is impeding the complete comprehension or utility of the intended message design.

2) In arriving at an “ideal state”, we must take into consideration the needs, mission, and philosophy of the system-holder (if that’s a word). System-holders, as clients, may review the workings of their system in terms of efficiency at the expense of (and perhaps unknowingly) the clarity of information to the receiver. My proposed ISD model will attempt to impart a semantic “speed bump” into the design model that will present the potential effect upon a message if it should “pass through” certain methods of information transfer, such I described in the above example of an urgent email request.

3) In describing a “gap” in human performance, and the task of writing a Needs Assessment statement to define it, a logical next step may include examining and re-engineering the information architecture that underlies the performance environment. Again, we find the necessity to review the influence of the network in message resolution.

A Systems Application:

Romiszowski describes the strength of examining performance problems from a Systems perspective, working from a Micro System environment outward to ever larger Macro systems until the cause of the performance problem is recognized.

The implication of this model, from my ISD proposal’s view, is that there must be alignment between the areas in the system representing Area #3 (Design of Instruction) and Area #4 (Implementation of Instruction), from within the Macro systems model of an organization (Fig. 6.4, p. 100). The alignment I refer to is not just in the development of instructional content in alignment with objectives, but in alignment with the media through which the instruction will be implemented. For example, a “high resolution” learning module (a module of learning that involves subtlety or nuance to distinguish optimal methods of a procedure among numerous other possible methods) might be most efficiently delivered as a video. But a video – as a medium – may not offer the quality of an interactive environment where the instructor can respond to the learner’s learning style, or address the learner’s desire to approach the procedure from a unique perspective. This precludes the learner from offering a “repeat-back” to the instructor that might facilitate a transfer of prior knowledge towards a new schema.

A video, by its inherent one-way character, places the learner in the position of an audience member. Video offers “high resolution” in the areas of perfect, repeatable reproduction of linear information presentation, but it “asks” the viewer to be distant from the topic, to be detached. The effect of this, from the philosophical position of my ISD model, is that if you ask the viewer to assume a certain role in relationship to information, they will also assume that attitude towards the message.

(On a [long] side note, I am perpetually amazed that, as I watch my 5 year old daughter watch DVDs of Dora the Explorer, there has not been one instance where the “call to activity” scripted in the video was ever enacted by her or her brother. For those who aren’t familiar with Dora, the videos will periodically ask the viewers to “jump up and flap your wings” or “walk on tiptoes up the mountain”, to which Gianna’s response is distinctly detached and uninspired. However, put on a record, say, “The Break” by Katmandu, and no prompting is needed for her to go nuts and dance. This “proves” nothing in so much as the act of putting on a record carries with it, in her mind, a relationship to the medium. No doubt, I had an influence in forming that relationship, but it would be rather odd of me (if not cruel) as a parent to deliberately “form a relationship” in Gianna’s mind that when you watch a DVD, it’s time to get up and dance. In this small instance, the conventions (or, literacy if you dare say so) guide the effect of the audience to the medium. Having edited several home video DVD programs for Sesame Workshop in my professional work, I tend to think that the creators of these program tend to be more concerned with the “pedagogical correctness” of their TV products than being concerned that the script has sufficient impact to actually make the viewers “participate” with the onscreen characters. I say this, too, with all the respect in the world for the good work that my colleagues and clients have done in the past and now. It’s curious, too, how Sesame Workshop’s migration away from DVD videos to iTunes Podcasts includes no such “call to activity” in the scripts. It would somehow seem incongruous to “participate” with an online video, I guess, though the pressure to produce “good TV”, not couch potato TV, allows them to bypass that same path of reasoning. Let it be known that I take credit now for coining the term “Laptop Potato”!)

A Context for this Model: Needs Assessment

This model is intended to serve within the development process of Distance Learning in higher education.

Designing a course, whose implementation is specifically intended for operation on a network, will take into consideration a number of factors in its management and implementation. This includes the choice of system to use for publication, the temporal component of lesson sequencing, the means through which members of the group interact, the plasticity of the system to accommodate changes in the course activity, the submission process, and the feedback process.

My proposed ISD model will attempt to cast a “semantic light” upon each of the gateways involved in the implementation of course material to see how the media of information delivery both “cast their shadow” (how does the medium assert its presence, dimensionally, and upon what other objects does this shadow appear?), and how will the “semantic texture” of the medium affect the character of the light that is reflected from it (does the medium conserve light or absorb it?). This is a lot metaphoric mumbo jumbo, pointing to little more than a guy with his pipe, pulling his chin and going, “Hmmmm…” Not until I put some more substantial meat on this thing’s bones will I be able to speak more coherently about what I mean. I will be relying on Anthony Wilden and others to help with that.

So, if we define a Needs Assessment to something such as, “Students with no pre-professional experience seeking employment will need to utilize online job search tools to locate areas where meaningful job opportunities are listed”, we may find a course of instruction that will facilitate a certain objective. If this is a Distance Learning environment, then a student with little experience in the the logistics of using online tools will need a form of instruction to navigate this task that takes into account a certain form of guidance. this may take the form of a text-based job aid, a video, a wiki, or a list of links for other resources. In this context, how certain will the instructor/instructional designer be that the learning material will be sufficient to respond to the relative finite form of text-based information on the logistics of an online job search? Does online text-based instruction carry with it sufficient resolution, i.e. contingency for addressing possible learner needs? In this case, my proposed ISD model would attempt to function independent of content, and inform the ID of the potential risks involved with relying on a certain medium. The effect would be to either compose the content with a style of presentation that accounts for the disorientation of the online environment, suggest an alternative medium, or revise the learning objectives.

The cost to meet or ignore these needs may be measured by learner satisfaction. Would poorly designed Distance Learning affect a student’s willingness to “buy into” continued investment, or further study? Higher education institutions appear to have leveraged their branding quite heavily on the value of Distance Learning, offering it at the same price, for the same amount of credit. We should not assume that the transfer of information is not inherently equal than traditional methods.

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