Systems approach of designing instruction

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in instructional design, work | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

I’ve posted before about the Dick & Carey method of instructional design – while I was taking a class based on the Dick & Carey method. This method of instructional design is very popular because it represents a systems method of designing instruction. Click on the image below to see a diagram of how this method works:

Dick and Carey Instructional Model

But what does a systems method of designing instruction actually mean?

The definition of system is:

A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.


What are these “interacting, interdependent elements” that may affect the development of instruction? Here’s a list from The Systematic Design of Instruction (Dick, Carey & Carey) along with my comments based on my experience in the world of designing technical instruction:

Individual Components of the System

  • The instructor: What sort of training do they have? How much experience do they have with the product? How about the protocols, or the environment in which the product will be used?
  • The learners: What sort of training do they have? What sort of information do they need about the product – will they be selling it? Will they be installing and configuring it? Will they be answering support calls from customers about it? Are they the customer? Or will the learners be a combination of all of these groups? Are they being forced to come to training, even if they think they don’t need it? Will they still have to answer customer calls and emails even if they are slated for training?
  • Materials: What materials will be created for instruction? I develop training for software products that have some sort of revision every three months. Do we update our materials for each update of each product? What if a critical update is sent out for a product two weeks after we finish the materials?
  • Instructional Activities: What instructional activities are needed? With software training, most of these activities are hands-on practice in labs built with the product being taught. But what should the activities be? How detailed should the lab instructions be?
  • Delivery System: How should the instruction be delivered? Instructor led? Asynchronous eLearning? Synchronous eLearning? M-Learning?
  • Learning Environment: In what kind of environment will the students be consuming the training?
  • Performance Environment: In what kind of environment will the students be performing the activities that are taught during the training event?
  • What have I forgotten?

Changing one component will impact the whole system

Each of these individual components work together with the other components. This means that if you change one thing midstream (lets say you make the decision to move from Instructor-led to eLearning, changing the delivery system), this will mostly impact other components of the overall system (the instructors, the learning environment, the materials, the learners all will most likely be impacted by the move from an Instructor-led to an eLearning delivery system).

And what happens if there is a component of the system that you haven’t even identified?

The systems way of thinking and performance

The systems way of thinking about instruction has been attributed to Larry Israelite (see Elliot Masie‘s Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections 2004, review here). This way of designing instruction helps find performance problems so that the appropriate instruction can be designed. It provides a framework for systematically looking at a performance problem, and designing instruction so that the performance gap can be closed.

One reason it is important to apply a systems approach to instructional design is that one of the goals of instructional design is to  close human performance gaps. According to another one of my books, Mastering the Instructional Design Process (Rothwell & Kazanas) some of the things to consider when trying to lose those gaps are:

  • Individual Performance: Does an individual worker have the right skills? Do they want to perform well? Do they have the tools to perform well? Do they have the ability to perform well?
  • Work Group Performance: Can people work as a group? Is there a clear leader (that people are willing to follow?) Do individuals understand their roles? How do group members feel about the methods prescribed by the leaders to achieve group goals?
  • Organizational Performance: Does the organization anticipate change? Does the org react well to change? Is there a culture of sharing in the organization? Is work being done in the most up-to-date fashion for the organization’s field?

If the real goal of “training” is to close performance gaps and enable a state of readiness in an organization, then it becomes pretty clear you have to think about a little bit more than creating power points, designing a lab, scheduling a classroom and sending invitations to students. A systems approach of designing instruction must be applied so that the effect on each individual component as well as factors affecting human performance are considered.

3 Responses to Systems approach of designing instruction

  1. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Systematically Removing Creativity

  2. Pingback: Ready, Set, Go V-Max! | Adventures in Corporate Education

  3. i need more explanation on synchronous and Asynchronous learning thank you.

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