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Intelligent Design....of Learning


Sat Oct 08 2005


Learning 2.0 || Web 2.0

Maybe this is a thought crime, but the meme that's propagating in my head this morning is that instructional design will once again mimic software design. (Where do you think those human performance flowcharts came from anyway?) Read this article about lightweight software development and the surge toward Web 2.0.


Now, let me indulge in some cut-and-paste thinking. Modify the article by substituting instructional or instruction for software, and Cross for Fried. Here's what you get.

Traditional instructional development is expensive, resource-intensive, and born of a Cold War mentality, Cross said. His advice is to "think about one-downing, instead of one-upping, and underdoing-competitors" - beating them with less. According to Cross, in the era of lightweight apps and simple products you need less money, people, time, abstractions and instruction.

Cross believes that money mostly buys salaries and you only need three people - a designer, programmer and utility player, which he calls a "sweeper." The feature set should be scaled for the headcount. Having less time is also an advantage. "You spend time in unproductive meetings and overanalyzing the product. Less time forces you to spend less time on better things," Cross said.

He suggested 30 hours per week per person, which "forces you into building better products and being creative with your time." And, if you have less time, you have less time to think about abstractions, such as functional specification documents, which Cross characterized as a waste of time. "Instead, build the product and start from the user interface customer experience first; then wrap with the technology," Cross said. "The interface screens are the functional specification."

Finally, building less instruction means fewer features, less documentation, minimal support and less confusion in selling the product. "Less instruction is key to building very specific tools. There are a million simple problems to solve with less. Competitors solving complicated ones are most likely to fail," Cross said. "For Web-based instruction there are plenty of simple problems to pick from and you can nail." The more I dig into how people learn, the more convinced I become that we've been trying to do things the hard way. We used to think our job was designing instructional systems. I'm beginning to think we're nurturing the evolution of learning experiences.


Instructional design tries to fix things that are broken. It begins with assessing what's wrong, "gaps," and leads to developing grandiose, cure-all solutions. Learning evolution begins with what you've got and nurtures incremental improvement.

We see the same sort of issue on the front page of our newspapers. One the one hand, some people believe a master designer released Earth 1.0 about six thousand years ago. Others folks believe Earth beta has been evolving for billions of years; it's a web without a weaver.

Do you believe in the intelligent design of instruction or the evolution of species of learning?

Next up: Instead of "the network is the computer," think "the network is the brain."

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