Andy Gibbons and P. Clint Rogers
A Structural Approach Relating Instructional Theory and Instructional
Andy Gibbons and P. Clint Rogers, Brigham Young University
Thursday, September 29, 2005, 2:15-3:00 pm
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The topic of this paper is the architecture of instructional theory. Instructional designers have been at a loss to describe in other than monolithic terms how instructional theories influence their designs. This situation can be improved if theorists will provide a more nuanced view of instructional theory and of instructional design theory. We describe an architecture of instructional theory that relates elements of an instructional design in a more detailed way to instructional theories. Rather than tracing the origins of an entire design back to a single, monolithic instructional theory, this architecture also allows multiple elements of a design to be related to multiple local instructional theories.
Our discussion distinguishes between instructional theory and instructional design theory. Instructional theory deals with the theory structure of instructional conversations. Instructional design theory deals with the manner in which those conversational structures are selected and formed into a design. The substance of an instructional theory consists of categories of design building blocks and the rules by which building blocks may be articulated to operate together. The substance of instructional design theory consists of methods for analyzing and decomposing design problems, classes of design structure, and principles for deriving design processes appropriate to different types of design problems. If instructional theory reflects the theorist’s view of effective instructional structures and operations, then instructional design theory reflects the theorist’s view of effective design structures and operations.
This distinction between two major categories of theory for instructional design parallels similar views of theory in design fields in general. In virtually all mature design fields there exist multiple domain theories that describe fundamental building blocks from which designs may becreated and rules for articulating these building blocks together in workable ways. There also exist in those fields theories for accomplishing designs. Both kinds of theory have been critical to advances in design in those fields. An additional level of design theory, which we shall call general design theory, crosses disciplinary boundaries and encompasses design in all fields. Application of this more abstract general design theory has accelerated the development of discipline-specific design theories in many fields, including architecture, engineering, software, and digital design.
In this paper we approach a more detailed description of instructional theory and its architecture through a description of instructional design theory in terms of design layers and design languages. We show how this approach to the description of design theory makes possible more detailed discussion of instructional theories and their comparison against a common background.
Traditionally, instructional design theory has been described in terms of generic design processes, but process is only one of many possible approaches to the decomposition of design problems. We suggest consideration of an alternative decomposition scheme that has been fruitful in many other design fields: decomposition in terms of artifact functionality. This kind of problem decomposition creates separate design layers representing design sub-problems that can be addressed more or less independently. Each layer accounts for a certain number of design decisions regarding specialized functions that are eventually seamlessly integrated to become part of a complete design.
Design languages are used to give specific content to designs within these layers. Design languages consist of collections of primitive building blocks that can be combined into designs and the rules that govern the combination of these building blocks in design expressions. Design languages are supplied by, among other things, the terms used in specific instructional theories. Problems within each layer are solved using the terms of multiple design languages—some from instructional theory and some from colloquial sources—that pertain to the specific layer. Designs are expressed in the terms of these languages.
The specific layers of a design evolve and change based on their utility to the designer, according to a number of factors that include design criteria, resources, tools, new technology, new construction methods, available designer skills, and designer awareness. Each design includes its own unique combination of layers. We suggest a list of high-level layers that is generic to virtually all instructional design projects. Each project, however, breaks these layers into more detailed sub56 layers, according to decisions of the designer, so layers are created or destroyed according to the dynamics of a given project.
Within the context of this view of instructional design theory, we propose that an instructional theory can be described as a set of specialized, mutually-consistent design languages containing defined terms that are distributed across multiple design layers. This insight unifies the concepts of design layers and instructional theory and, more importantly, shows the relationship between instructional design theory and instructional theory. Design theory provides the structural framework within which specific instructional theories can be analyzed and compared. Instructional theories dwell within a framework of layers; however those layers are construed according to the theorist’s way of structuring instructional conversations.
We propose that this architecture of instructional theory gives designers a tool to create quality designs more consistently, can facilitate communications about designs and theories, can allow designers to work efficiently in design teams with a greater degree of mutual understanding, suggests functionalities for more advanced and productive design tools, and allows experienced designers to convey design knowledge and judgment to novices more quickly.