Inspiration for Students of Instructional Design and Technology

Archive for May, 2011

The Brain and Learning

Two Web Sites That Apply Cognitive Information Processing Theories to Instructional Design

My brain has been overloaded this week thinking about itself: neurons sparking across synapses, working versus long-term memory, schematas and retrieval strategies, and so on. With all this self-reflection, my brain has been feeling rather superior in design and function to other members of the anatomical community.

“Yes, but how does all of this knowledge about you help me become a good instructional designer?” I asked. My brain only took a split-second to say, “Google!” And sure enough, per our assignment this week, I found two Web sites that relate brain theory to the practice of instructional design. Here they are:

The eLearning Coach

I was thrilled to find The eLearning Coach, a Web site that explains cognition theories as they apply to instructional design. Connie Malamed is the author of both this site and a book titled Visual Language for Designers. The main menu bar has a link for Cognition, under which you will find numerous articles that explain many of the theories we learned about this week. Here are a few that I found interesting:

20 Facts You Must Know About Working Memory

This article provides an excellent review of the principles of working memory (WM) described in our course text, plus it explains how cognitive load and individual differences are important considerations for the instructional designer.

What Is Cognitive Load?

Malamud compares our WM to a computer’s online storage (RAM) and long-term memory (LTM) to a computer’s disk storage. She explains the differences between the three types of cognitive load—germane, intrinsic, and extraneous—and how an instructional designer can help learners construct and automate schemas to prevent overload.

The Novice Brain

When developing instructions for novices, developers must realize that beginners have not yet developed effective schemas and mental models for applying their knowledge to real-world requirements. Furthermore, because their knowledge is not well-organized, retrieval cues often fail to locate that knowledge in LTM. In her follow-up article, How to Design for Novices, Malamud recommends focusing on essential skills so as not to overwhelm novices, motivating them by explaining how the training will benefit them, and relating the content to things they already know.

The Expert’s Brain?

Using the metaphor of a hard-boiled egg, Malamud describes how experts possess solidified knowledge built on complex networks of information and experiences. She compares the difference between the memories of a novice and an expert to the difference between having file folders randomly strewn around a room or having them neatly organized in a filing cabinet. Obviously, it is easier to retrieve information from the filing cabinet than from beneath yesterday’s half-eaten donut. In a follow-up article, Designing for Experts, Malamud provides tips for creating learning experiences that respect the prior knowledge and higher comprehension of experts. For example, she says most experts do not like cute, simplistic interactive games.

Value: Although many of the Web sites about brain theory target professionals in the psychology field, The eLearning Coach applies those theories to the field of instructional design. Furthermore, aside from the Cognition topic, there are other categories that will be of interest as our class progresses. For this reason, I believe The eLearning Coach is a useful resource for our class and earns a bookmark in my browser.

Learning Solutions Magazine

Once again, my Internet browser and Google led me down the path to enlightenment. Learning Solutions Magazine is a publication of the eLearning Guild, which supports professionals and encourages best practices in the eLearning industry. Their Web site included an article related to this week’s study of learning and the brain. Following is my review.

Nuts and Bolts: Brain Bandwidth – Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design

by Jane Bozarth

I loved the article’s tagline:

“Memory is a crazy old woman who hoards colored rags and throws away food.” – Austin O’Malley, American writer

Memory, as Bozarth contends, is a “funny, seemingly capricious thing,” which explains why we might remember a dress worn by our first-grade teacher and not remember what we ate for lunch just a few days ago. The article reiterates what we learned this week about the limited and fleeting nature of working memory (WM) and how knowledge is transferred to the more durable long-term memory (LTM). The challenge for instructional designers is how to facilitate that process and avoid cognitive overload, which occurs when students are given more information than they can process at one time. The author makes the following suggestions:

  • Chunk the content.
    Break the content into small, meaningful units that will help students build schemas and  improve retention.
  • Use modules.
    For eLearning, modules are short sessions that are less taxing for the student.
  • Consider novice and expert.
    Novices and experts have different needs, but often only one course is provided for economic reasons. The designer can overcome this limitation by including branching modules that lead experts to more complex material.
  • Remove extraneous material.
    Bozarth recommends “losing the template.” If they don’t contribute to understanding the subject being taught, all the fancy graphics, fly-outs, and audio tracks will compete for space in WM.

In conclusion, Bozarth offers this sage advice: The question shouldn’t be, “How can I teach this?” but “How can they learn it?”

Value: This particular article was useful because it related our current discussion of the brain to effective instructional design. However, the Web site offers numerous other articles and resources related to our ongoing studies. I would recommend that my classmates bookmark and revisit this site often.


Welcome Walden Classmates!

Does anyone else feel like they’re drinking out of a fire hose this week?

As a student in Walden University’s Learning Theories and Instruction class, this week’s assignment left me feeling overwhelmed…and inspired! I guess it is only natural that instructional designers would be eager to share their knowledge using the most innovative technology available. I was amazed at the number and quality of resources available on the Internet. Following are a few of the blogs and Web sites that I visited, plus my analysis of the resource’s usefulness to us as students and future professionals in the field of instructional system design (ISD).

Making Change

Rating 5 stars
Type Blog
Content Practical ideas for creating lively, powerful eLearning for adults in the business world
Owner Cathy Moore


With 25 years of experience developing instructional materials for Fortune 500 companies, Cathy Moore shares her ideas for creating more effective eLearning. Her stated mission is “to save the world from boring elearning.” For anyone planning to develop eLearning in the business world, Cathy offers excellent insight for the practical application of instructional design theory.

The blog itself is an example of theory in action. Cathy thoughtfully includes a “Recommended Posts” page to help new visitors get started. On this page, the recommended links are organized under the following guidelines for eLearning development:

  • Design for action, not information.
  • Question common assumptions.
  • Give learners control.
  • Make learners think.
  • Engage and motivate learners.

I think she just taught us something in the process of providing a list of links! This is a smart lady. If you use Twitter, you can subscribe to her daily instructional design idea. I will definitely be visiting the Making Change site often, especially later in the Walden program when we start applying the principles that we learn in our current course.

Upside Learning

Rating 5 stars
Type Blog
Content Shared knowledge and discussions on trends and innovation in the eLearning domain
Owner Upside Learning


Upside Learning is an instructional design company that focuses on delivering “learning solutions that impact business performance,” with a strong emphasis on innovation and technology. Their Web site includes an excellent blog with information relevant to instructional designers at all levels. The Weekly Digest provides a summary of top learning, technology, and media links. For example, have you wondered how mobile devices fit into the future of instructional design? Check out the weekly digest for May 3, 2011. What about the future of learning? Join the discussion on the weekly digest for April 12, 2011.

The amount and depth of the material could be a bit intimidating for the newbie, but the Upside Learning blog has plenty to offer the student of instructional design, for example:

I believe this blog will be an excellent resource now as a student and later as an inspiration when I start putting their excellent ideas into practice.

Cammy Bean’s Learning Visions

Rating 4 stars
Type Blog
Content Musings on eLearning, instructional design, and other training stuff
Owner Cammy Bean


Cammy Bean has been developing corporate training and eLearning for 15 years and is currently a VP at Kineo USA. She is a member of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and recently presented a slideshow about social media at one of their conferences. You can view the presentation on her blog. Her site offers value to those of us who are new to the field as well as experienced professionals. Under the “Best of…” category, Cammy provides links for essential reading and getting started in instructional design. The blog posts cover a range of topics of interest to designers at all stages of their careers, such as mobile learning, salary surveys, using scenarios in eLearning, and book reviews. I believe the range of content on this site will make it a valuable resource to me now as a Walden student and later as I pursue a career in ISD.

The Learning Circuits Blog

Rating 3 stars
Type Blog
Content Features a Question of the Month, which focuses on a priority topic facing learning professionals
Owner ASTD


The Learning Circuits Blog is hosted by the ASTD, the world’s largest professional association for workplace learning and performance improvement. This blog features a monthly question that relates to challenges faced by instructional design professionals. For example, April’s question is: “How do you address the ‘I want it now’ demand from stakeholders?” Most of the responses are from ASTD members who have answered the question on their own blog sites, so clicking the link for a response leads to yet another blog about instructional design. Furthermore, the Blog Roll includes links to a number of sites also focused on corporate eLearning.

I believe this blog will be more useful to me in the future after I have a better understanding of ISD theories and development methodologies. The main appeal of this site is that it addresses real-world challenges and solicits responses from experienced and knowledgeable professionals.

Instructional Design Central

Rating 3 stars
Type Web site
Content Instructional design resources and community collaboration
Owner Instructional Design Central


Instructional Design Central (IDC) is good introductory Web site for becoming familiar with ISD concepts and locating additional resources. The site includes the following sections:

  • Jobs
  • Degrees
  • Conferences
  • Sites
  • Definitions
  • History
  • Models
  • Forums

IDC does not provide as much depth as some other sites; however, it is a little less intimidating for someone new to the field. The Jobs page could certainly be helpful in the future. The primary value I gained from visiting this site was discovering the IDC LinkedIn forum. You can click a button on the home page and join the forum. I’m looking forward to exploring this additional avenue for social learning.

Instructional Design Models

Rating 4 stars
Type Web site
Content List of links to Internet resources on various ISD topics
Owner Martin Ryder,   University of Colorado at Denver


This site isn’t pretty, but it’s a treasure trove of links to every imaginable instructional design topic. Do you want to know more about Skinner, Bandura, or Gagne? What is the difference between Discovery Learning and Generative Learning? You won’t find the answers on this site, but you will find a list of links to many other resources that should get you started in the right direction. I will be revisiting this site as I complete the Learning Theory Matrix assignment for our class.

Simply Psychology

Rating 3 stars
Type Web site
Content Overviews of learning theorists and cognitive psychology
Owner S. A. McLeod


This site provides concise explanations of many topics that we’re discussing in our Learning Theories and Instruction class. Of interest to the aspiring instructional designer are the links found under “Historical Figures in Psychology” and “Cognitive Psychology.” Here you can read about the learning theories proposed by Bruner, Skinner, Vygotsky, and others, or you can research cognitive factors, such as long- and short-term memory. Many of the articles include videos, PowerPoint presentations, supplemental PDF documents, and reader comments. I believe this site will be useful in our current class for gaining a basic knowledge of important concepts before delving into the finer aspects of learning theory.

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