How to Select an Instructional Strategy

As an Instructional Designer what do you think drives the selection of the instructional strategy for any project? In a previous post, Scoping a Learning Solution – Art or Science? Part 2 – Instructional Strategy, we introduced the four dimensions of Instructional Strategy Framework (ISF):

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Based on the four dimensions, FKA has identified six main Instructional Strategies:

  • Leader-Led
  • On-the-Job Training
  • E-Learning (both Self-Directed and Facilitated)
  • Self-Directed Learning (paper-based)
  • Self Instruction
  • (Stand-alone) Job Aids

For definitions of these six strategies go to FKA’s online glossary

In the previous post I focused on the project planning steps with the goal of developing a budget and workplan for a learning program. In this post I want to explore five factors that influence the instructional strategy decision: (1) the learning environment, (2) the preferred instructional methods, (3) the content to be learned, (4) how the learning needs to be packaged, and (5) the desired level of access for the learners.

1. Learning Environment

This is a simple consideration. Will there, or should there be, a learning environment separate from the work environment? A learning environment could be a classroom, a lab or room with equipment, or an individual study area. If classrooms exist, then strategies that target groups of learners are a potential. On the other hand, if classrooms or study areas do not exist you can consider strategies that can be delivered in the workplace. Note that group virtual classroom training can happen in the workplace if learners have the right equipment and a location free from interruptions.

2. Instructional Methods

The strategy choices must respect the optimum instructional methods for ensuring learning. These instructional methods are selected for the three components of the Systematic Learning Process (Presentation, Application and Feedback).

Presentation

To support Presentation there are some basic instructional methods:

  • Lecture – tell the learners the information
  • Demonstration – show the learners how to apply the information
  • Materials – learners, working on their own, get the information by reading, watching a video or completing an inventory
  • Observation – learners watch someone else applying the information on the job
  • Peers – learners work together to generate the information they need

In terms of the ISF both Lecture and Demonstration require someone to facilitate the presentation of the content. Observation requires access to the workplace and Peers suggest a group of learners. The use of Materials to present the content is targeted to individual and asynchronous learning.

Application

To support Application there are some basic instructional methods:

  • Practical Exercise
  • Case Study
  • Game
  • Role Play
  • Quiz

If Application requires ‘hands-on’ practice then the preferred method is some form of practical exercise. To support that, either you bring the equipment to the learning environment (classroom or lab) or you deliver the learning at the worksite. If the Application is ‘Brains-on’ then there are a variety of application methods that include practical exercises, case studies, games, role plays or quizzes and these methods can be deployed in either the learning environment or the work environment.

Feedback

Feedback probably should have the biggest impact on the instructional design choice. The first question to ask is how can feedback be provided? Does it require a person to observe the learner, judge the performance and provide the constructive support? If a person is required to provide the feedback then the strategy needs to include a facilitator, coach or learner’s peers.

3. Content

To be able to answer the question about how to provide feedback you need to consider the nature of the content to be learned. If the learning relates to interpersonal behaviour it will probably require a person to observe and provide feedback. If the content has health or safety risks the instructional strategy should include an experienced facilitator.

4. Packaging

This consideration involves finding the most effective package for the content. One extreme example of packaging that we have seen was a 22-week new-hire onboarding program. We no longer make learners sit through weeks of classroom instruction because we know the learning results are generally poor. It is best to break long curriculums into smaller chunks separated by work experience where the new skills and knowledge can be applied. Then rather than looking for the best instructional strategy for the whole curriculum you can look at the best instructional strategy for each of the smaller chunks and end up with a more blended solution.

5. Access

This final consideration relates to the ideal of just-in-time learning. There are many blogs, posts and papers about the value of delivering the new content in the learner’s work environment at the time of need. Looking back at the ISF this means the Delivery Timing should be Asynchronous. Asynchronous implies individuals can access the learning program when they feel they need it. Just-in-time is a desirable goal but it should be put into the context of all the other considerations; most significantly, does the learning require a facilitator to deliver the content or provide the feedback.

Summary

There is a lot to consider when making instructional strategy decisions. We cannot prescribe specific processes or solutions. The best we can do is offer a structured way of considering all the factors that could influence the selection of the best instructional strategy(ies) for your programs.
In another post I want to introduce a structured approach to prioritizing all the influencing factors and deciding which instructional strategies will be used.



Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development


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