Instructional Design and Delivery

Instructional design and delivery involve the transfer of understanding and skills with a style and in a setting that is effective, easy, and enjoyable. This blog integrates the principles, processes, and practices of the design and delivery of intentional and integral training.

Any intervention of training assumes there is a need. Accordingly, the starting point of instructional design is needs assessment. While this sounds simple, it arguably is the most important and intricate step in the design and delivery process. In assuming there is a need, one should ask in any given circumstance, “What is happening?” This question relates to condition. One must also ask, “What should be happening?” This is criterion. The gap between condition and criterion is the focus of the intervention. Furthermore, what are the causes, symptoms, and solutions to correct the difference between condition and criterion?

If needs assessment is the starting point, then where is the finish line? After the intervention of training, more questions are needed. Donald L. Kirkpatrick (1998), formerly the President of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), provides a template of questions related to the evaluation of training programs. He suggests four simple questions probing at four different levels:

  1. Do they like it? This question relates to the affective domain of learning. The intervention of training must be enjoyable. Success in this question requires an understanding of the characteristics of informal learning.
  2. Do they get it? This question has to do with understanding or the cognitive domain. Is it easy?
  3. Can they do it? This question has to do with skills. Is the training effective?
  4. Does it make a difference? Ultimately, if the intervention of training does not make a difference qualitatively and quantitatively, then the intervention is fundamentally disrespectful of people and corporately unprofitable.

With those introductory comments about the beginning and the end, let us consider the whole of instructional design. Following are lists of the essential steps in the process of instructional design and a description of the underlying premises of each. 

  1. Needs assessment: Based upon performance standards, that are explicitly stated or implicitly assumed, a problem is identified by management, employees, operational indices, or evaluative reports. This generally is the beginning of needs assessment. On some occasions a problem may be identified by an outside consultant. In other words, there is a difference between condition and criterion – what is and what is supposed to be. But simply because a problem has been identified does not automatically mean that an intervention is warranted. The deficiency must be clarified. Precisely, what is the problem? What are the causes? What are the symptoms, severity, and scope? Objectivity and specificity are imperative. Calculate and forecast the costs to repair the deficiency and the ramifications not to repair it. Repairs may relate to training and organizational development. The intervention of training must consider the available resources (people, time, and money), social climate, and physical environment. Needs assessment should make inquiry at three levels: policy, strategy, and tactics (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1992, p. 33).
  2. Goals and objectives: The goals and objectives are the target at which the arrow of intervention is launched. For any intervention of instruction, its goals and objectives must be in alignment with the corporate purpose of the company or organization and performance standards and competency models that have been established. Through a participative approach, the trainer needs to reaffirm the relevance of the performance standards (what and how) and competency models (who). Although this list presents this step separately from needs assessment, in reality, it is inextricably tied to needs assessment and evaluation. The difference between condition and criterion will be the reference for interventions. Not only are the goals and objectives identified, but measurements are established that assess whether a trainee has attained the stated goals and objectives. These standards are described in terms of understanding, values, and skills.
  3. Design: With the goals and objectives clarified, the trainer maps backward by designing learning activities that target the goals and objectives. Knowledge is assumed to be instrumental rather than an end in itself. What are the learning activities that will enable the participants to acquire the understanding and skills needed to move from condition to criterion? Based on the principles of andragogy, participants themselves will be involved in the process of assessing the need, establishing the goals and objectives, planning the processes of learning, and evaluating the outcomes.
  4. Delivery: The delivery of any intervention of training with adults is fundamentally different than what most of us experienced when we were in school. The attainment of understanding and acquisition of skills will take place through the transformation of experience. The process will involve feelings and thinking. Effective training moves from apprehension (the experience) to comprehension (the concepts) rather than the reverse. David Kolb’s (1984) model of experiential learning is a helpful tool for the delivery of training. Kolb sees four components in the learning process: (a) concrete experience, (b) reflective observation, (c) abstract conceptualization, and (d) active experimentation. The learning process must include all four components (McCaffery, 1993, p. 235), but the order of the components depends on learning style (Egan, 1986). On a side note, narrative dialogue, an organic approach that stimulates the imagination, is the key ingredient in reflective observation (Kolb, 1984, p. 2).
  5. Evaluation: Training programs that do evaluation generally assess what happened during the training event. In Kirkpatrick’s scheme this only measures affect and understanding (questions 1 and 2 about evaluation). It does not necessarily measure skills and the difference the intervention of training has made in closing the gap between the condition and criterion (questions 3 and 4). Evaluation must be ongoing. Once the participants have returned to the work environment, can they perform differently? Are they making a difference not previously observed?

The question of competency models is important in any discussion of organizational development. Competency models first and foremost dictate hiring, not training. Threshold competencies must be addressed through hiring. Differentiating competencies are acquired through training. Differentiating competencies are characteristics of superior performers, the top 10% of a company’s workforce.

In summary, needs assessment supplies the bases for determining goals and objectives. The majority of a designer’s time should be devoted to needs assessment. Goals and objectives are the target at which the arrow of design is aimed. The delivery of training is always characterized by a participative process of learning in an environment of respect and safety. Training does not end until evaluation takes place, both in the training setting and afterward in the circumstances where the gap between condition and criterion is being closed.

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