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Instructional Design Task Analysis 1


Instructional Design Task Analysis

Jennifer Maddrell

Old Dominion University

IDT 810 Trends and Issues in Contemporary Instructional Design

Dr. Gary Morrison

February 18, 2009

Instructional Design Task Analysis 2

Instructional Design Task Analysis

This paper offers a comparison of various conceptions of the instructional design task
since Davies (1978) described the three prevalent educational technology archetypes, including
(a) audio-visual, (b) engineering, and (c) problem-solving. While steering clear of an analysis of
the paradigm wars (Merrill, Drake, Lacy, & Pratt, 1996;Willis, 1998) that festered in the 1990s,
it is suggested that differences in how the instructional job task is analyzed and conceived impact
how instructional designers should be trained.
As highlighted below, early theorists in our field describe the instructional design task as
would result following a procedural job analysis. The focus of such a job analysis is on the
observable behaviors and procedures required to complete the given job (Jonassen, Tessmer, &
Hannum, 1999). As such, early conceptions of the instructional design task focus on the
prescriptive rules and procedural steps required to complete the designer's task.
In contrast, more recent conceptions are similar to what would results following a
cognitive task analysis. Such an analysis tends to focus on the less obvious mental skills required
for task proficiency (Militello & Hutton 1998). As such, more recent conceptions of the
instructional designer's job focus on the impact of situational factors, including where the task is
performed, identification of central decision making cues, and assessments of critical mental
demands. These later descriptions of the instructional design task tend to place far greater
importance on the cognitive processes an expert designer completes, such as those used in
advanced problem solving and decision making.
By considering the various conceptions of the instructional design task by those within
the field, it is possible to assess the implications for instructional design training. Based on the
task conceptions described below, should instruction design programs focus on teaching media
design and development? Empirically-based instructional design models? Practice-based
heuristics? Problem solving and decision making skills? Project management? All of the above?
Given the various conceptions of the instructional designer's task, what should be our focus as
we train new designer's on the tasks which are most relevant to the instructional design job?
Conceptions of the Instructional Design Task
Instructional Design as Instructional Media Development
The Audio-Visual Archetype predates any of the conceptions of the instructional design
task that follow below and has its roots in instructional media hardware design and development
(Davies, 1978). While the design of instructional media may be one of the earliest conceptions of
the instructional design task, a media-centric view is alive and well today with the advent and
accessibility of computer-based and web-based training (Gibbons, 2003).
Instructional Design as the Application of Expert Systems and Rule-based Models
The instructional design task is frequently analyzed based on the observable and
replicable steps in the instructional design and development process. This conception is
described as an Engineering Archetype influenced by Skinner's application of a behavioristic
step-by-step approach to the design and development of programmed instruction (Davies, 1978).
Heinich (1973) describes instructional product design as “the development of reliable, replicable
Instructional Design Task Analysis 3

instruments of instruction based on learner analysis, task analysis, and environment design and
Some who hold this conception have argued that instruction is a scientific discipline and
instructional design is a technology which incorporates known and verified instructional
strategies (Merrill et al., 1996). Others forward a conditions-goals-methods instructional design
framework which suggests designers follow functional prescriptions toward attainment of the
instructional goal (Reigeluth, 1983). Inherent in this framework is the assumption of a
prescriptive knowledge base that can be “codified, owned, controlled, and communicated
unambiguously to others” (Wilson, 1997, p. 301).
Instructional Design as a Problem Solving Process and Decision Making Activity
Instructional design conceived of as a Problem-Solving Archetype began in the early
1970s and is characterized by both the cognitive activity required of the designer and the
application of the designer's acquired skills and experience (Davies, 1978). Unlike a process of
rule using and procedure following as described above, instructional design as a decision making
activity is conceived of as cognitive problem solving process (Jonassen, 2008). In contrast to a
conception of instructional design as the application of unambiguous and objectivist
prescriptions, instructional design as a decision making process focuses on the identification and
accommodation of given constraints; instructional design practice heuristics offer guidance, but
not prescriptions for decision making (Silber, 2007; Zemke & Rosset, 2002).
Some who share this viewpoint see instructional design as a process of collective decision
making involving a community of interested participants which include not only the designer, but
also experts in other areas and the stakeholders who work together to on the instructions design
(Willis, 1998). While some outright condemn this collective negotiation of the instructional
design process (Merril et. al., 1996), others suggest the change in conception as an evolution in
the application of traditional instructional design models which places additional and expanded
emphasis on the analysis of the instructional context and on iterative design decision making
(Dick, 1996).
Instructional Design as a Project Development Process
The instructional design task is sometimes generically described in terms of phases in the
instructional project development process, including analysis, design, development,
implementation, and evaluation, often referred to under the acronym ADDIE (Molenda, n.d).
Such a focus on the major phases in the instructional project development process has prompted
some to suggest that the instructional designer's task is as much about project planning and
management as it is a process to build instruction (Zemke & Rossett, 2002). This view is
partially supported by findings which suggest instructional project success is linked to a range of
factors related to the project's planning and management, including access and management of
tangible resources (funding, development tools, and delivery equipment) and implementation
support (trainer support and examination procedures) (Klimcak and Wedman, 1997).
Hybrid Viewpoint.
Still others take a hybrid viewpoint and suggest that the instructional design task should
Instructional Design Task Analysis 4

be viewed as both a time tested tradition and a knowledge base, with a designer's toolkit
including all of the previously mentioned facts, concepts, skills, and strategies (Rowland, 2004).
Within this hybrid viewpoint, the designer relies on a blend of specialized design skills, design
heuristics, models, and practical considerations when facing multi-layered design decisions, each
with its unique sets of goals, principles, tools, and processes (Gibbons, 2003).
Implications for Teaching Instructional Design
The range of conceptions of the instructional designer's task suggest a lack of clarity with
regard to how the instructional design task should be taught. If there is a lack of agreement on
what the tasks are, how can there be agreement with regarding to instructional designer training?
As should be considered following any task analysis, the field must come to terms with which
tasks are most relevant. What should be the training priority? Based on the noted task
conceptions, should instruction design programs focus on the application of rule-based
instructional design models? Media design and development? Time tested best practices?
Problem solving and decision making skills? Project development and management skills? All of
the above?
One way to answer these questions is to evaluate how effectively existing instructional
design and technology programs are preparing their graduates to handle the tasks they are
required to perform on the job. Such an evaluation was the focus of a recent survey of the
Instructional Design and Development, Training and Performance, and Distance Learning
division members of the Association for Educational Communication and Technology (Larson,
2005). The good news is all respondents felt either “somewhat” to “fully prepared” by their
instructional design and technology programs for general instructional design practice. However,
the eight issues the respondents felt unprepared to handle included a range of topics which are
most likely not a significant part of most instructional design and technology programs,
including (a) freedom to challenge decisions of supervisors, (b) the nature of internal politics, (c)
the availability of project resources for work assignments, (d) directive versus participative
management styles, (e) workload, (f) trade-offs between quality, timeliness, and cost in work
assignments, and (g) the amount of freedom given to make decisions.
These findings from a small sample of instructional designers may offer support to those
who suggest too great a focus on learning rule-based steps in the instructional design process at
the expense of learning how to tackle constraint filled and complex instructional design problems
(Silber, 2007). The findings also beg an important follow up question. If an instructional designer
fails at implementation of an instructional design task, is it an inherent fault within the learned
instructional design model and strategies or is it a deficiency in the designer's ability to
implement? Some suggest that unsuccessful instructional design projects are less an inherent
fault of instructional design models and strategies than a lack of implementation expertise
(McCombs, 1986). If this is true, then the case could be made that a designer's training must
include skill development in the application of the models and heuristics, including the
development of higher-order analysis and problem-solving skills associated with instructional
design plan implementation (McCombs).
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In addition, if the survey results are representative of the larger instructional design
community, then a gap is suggested between what is learned in the classroom and what is
required in on the job. This supports those who argue that there is a required level of
instructional design expertise that rule-based systems are incapable of fully capturing (Wilson,
1997). Such a position suggests a closer focus on novice to expert development which extends
beyond a solid understanding of instructional models, heuristics, and strategies to the
development of additional skills and knowledge which allow the designer to recognize pitfalls
and take corrective action when faced with unanticipated obstacles and constraints (Shambaugh
& Magliaro, 2001). Sharing this viewpoint, Rowland (2004) suggests a broad set of designerly
core competencies, including skills such as judgment to solve ill-defined problems, creativity in
using formal techniques, composition of novel rather than general prescriptions, and mindful
reflection in action rather than a mechanical execution of tasks.
Similarly, others argue that if instructional designers are skillful, they are able to balance
many knowledge and information sources, including the needs and characteristics of clients
(Schifffman, 1995). Underlying this argument is the assumption that the number of instructional
design solutions is inexhaustible and the instructional designer cannot rely on knowledge of
optimal procedures, but rather on his or her problem solving skills to satisfy the given
instructional situation as dictated by the inherent constraints and opportunities of the
instructional project (Silber, 2007; Jonassen, 2008). As such, the designer must learn the skill of
satisficing (doing the best job possible given the constraints of the situation) versus relying on
the application of optimal rule-based solutions (Jonassen).
The field has forwarded multiple conceptions of the instructional designer's task which
impact not only how the field is defined, but more importantly how designers are trained to
execute their jobs. While training based on observable behaviors and optimal procedures will
provide a framework for the task to be accomplished, more recent conceptions of the job suggest
additional skills and competencies are required to effectively perform the instructional designer's
tasks and to implement instructional projects. Preliminary surveys of the field appear to support
Instructional Design Task Analysis 6


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