An outline of ISD for Distance Learning content development

Posted on Feb 4, 2010

This is an initial framework for describing the boundaries of the System I am proposing as my ISD model, and a rationale for its use.

An Assessment Model for Content Development in Distance Learning Environments for Higher Education


The intervention of the Internet and network systems into the learning environment has been embraced as an irresistible resource for achieving learning goals because of its power, efficiency, growth, continued development, and pervasive presence. Generally, there has been a twofold rationale for this phenomenon:

Administrative benefits:

  1. Efficient storage and movement of content
  2. Marketing advantages
  3. Cost-benefit for extending personnel to larger student audiences

Student benefits:

  1. Access to learning systems independent of physical geography
  2. Alignment with student connectivity behavior
  3. Alignment with anticipated skills needed in labor environments


The challenge for Instructional Designers has been for them to assimilate the features and strengths apparent in the network environment so that learning material can be evaluated as equally effective in the Distance Learning (DL) environment in comparison to measured success in traditional learning environments. However, a problem emerges when imposing traditional Instructional Design methods into a new, transcendent communication paradigm such the Internet. The audience (the wider social environment) cannot operate effectively within the new network environment using a communication system that is semantically inconsistent with the unique character of the new system. It is unfamiliar and must be learned – either incidentally or formally – much in the same way that ancient Greeks were compelled to adapt from operating as a purely oral culture to one of an alphabetic/phonetic culture, or a Medieval culture adapting to the effect of the Gutenberg world of repeatable, mass production and distribution print volume paradigm.

The typical human response to entering a new communication paradigm is to fill the new paradigm with the content of the old one, until the language of the new paradigm (and the commensurate audience literacy of it) emerges, evolves, permeates, and becomes identifiable as a medium unto its own, distinct from that which preceded it. Instructional Designers are burdened with the task of being aware of the emergence of this new language, and be sensitive to the ways in which we are using old methods appropriate only for the old paradigm. Instead, we must evaluate how content may be developed and used in the new paradigm. The channels of communication in Distance Learning are unique, much in the same way that staged Vaudeville live entertainment is as unique in its meta-philosophy (relationship of setting, narrative, audience, time, literacy, memory, aesthetic distance and performance space towards the development of content) as the film medium is unto its own.

(We may note that early filmmakers saw staged performances as the obvious first choice for content in the new film medium. The aesthetics of early films were a reflection of the absence of a developed aesthetic language and audience sophistication. We know now, however, that there is a discernible difference between seeing a staged version and a film version of the same story. The content is the essentially the same, though the experience is different, and we often react in comparison to how one medium “fails” compared to the other.)

Further, we must devise an assessment tool to reveal these differences with an understanding that the new paradigm rejects the old, in totality, and that we must examine the “background semantic effect” of using the new paradigm, independent of content. The result will be that we may assess learning content development and implementation strategies as a system that is an extension of the communication system upon which it will be transferred, and that we may see that the Internet is no more of an extension of the classroom as much as the motorcar is an extension of the horse. The new system is preemptive, and Instructional Design methods must account for it.

We define the following system:

Suprasystem: The Instructional Design methodology, such as ADDIE, but more specifically a structure designed for education, such as the Gerlach & Ely model.

System: The domain within the Suprasystem identified as Production (development), Implementation, and Student audience.

Subsystems: The subsystems include Production (responding to assessment, objectives, learning types, learning strategies), and Implementation (responding to delivery systems, usage, management). These two subsystems interact, resulting in a combination of content that is delivered to the student via DL channels. We may consider the student variables as a subsystem.

Information Channels: The subsystems may interact with each other through typical communication channels such as verbal, written, recorded methods through synchronous and asynchronous means. However, the directional flow of information must be revolving to facilitate revisions of content or delivery methods based on assessment of message resolution (as indicated by the model).

Subsytem Interface:

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