Inspiration for Students of Instructional Design and Technology

Archive for the ‘Instructional Design Theories’ Category

Course Reflection

Author's reflectionAs our course in Learning Theories and Instruction comes to a close, we have been asked to reflect on what we have learned and how our new knowledge will advance our career goals.

What surprised me?

Each week’s discussion brought new information and surprises. For example, I was surprised to discover that, although learning styles are popular and marketable, they are not especially effective ingredients for sound instruction (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008). Instead, instructional designers should focus on presenting a topic in the most effective manner rather than catering to individual preferences. I was also surprised to learn about the tenuous link between short-term and long-term memory. Fenwick and Tennant (2004) contend that “learning happens only when there is reflective thought and internal ‘processing’ by the learner in a way that actively makes sense of an experience and links it to previous learning” (p. 60). I had assumed that remembering something is simply a matter of self-discipline; however, this course has taught me that instructional design techniques like elaboration, comprehension monitoring, and mnemonics can aid retention (Ormrod, n.d.).

What did I learn about my personal learning process?

This course constantly challenged us to evaluate each new learning theory in terms of our own learning experiences. The three types of learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008), and I definitely favor the visual style. Gardner (2004) explains that, while a learning style is an individual’s preferred method of learning, our focus should be on stimulating our learner’s eight multiple intelligences. As a technical writer, I typically work with the Linguistic intelligence, but I have found that learning through my other, weaker intelligences can be just as rewarding. MI theory states that everyone can develop a reasonable level of proficiency in each intelligence “if given the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction” (Armstrong, 2009).

Learning theories, learning styles, educational technology, and motivation–how do they all fit together?

As instructional designers, we must consider how best to develop courses that integrate learning theories, learning styles, technology, and motivational factors. It is quite a smorgasbord to choose from, and selecting the best approach may not be a “no brainer.”

Ertmer and Newby (1993) assert that “as people acquire more experience with a given content, they progress along a low-to-high knowledge continuum” (p. 67). The behaviorist approach is often used for introductory knowledge, with the learner performing a repetitive, observable action. Cognitive theory explains how learners receive and process information, much like a computer, and is appropriate for more advanced learning (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009). Constructivism asserts that knowledge is “subjective and personal” (Ormrod et al., 2009, p. 184) and “that persons, behaviors, and environments interact in a reciprocal fashion” (p. 185). Social constructivism takes the idea a step farther and contends that “meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities” (Kim, 2001, p. 3). Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age, whereby learners are linked to a variety of real-time knowledge sources, both human and technological (Siemens, 2004). Adult learning theory addresses the importance of intrinsic motivation and relevancy while acknowledging the special challenges faced by learners with adult responsibilities (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2003). These theories all have their proponents, but as instructional designers we are not obligated to jump on one “bandwagon” and pledge our loyalty. Instead, I believe we should follow Karl Kapp’s (2007) advice to “take the best from each philosophy and use it wisely to create solid educational experiences for our learners” (para. 4).

As previously stated, learning styles should probably not be an instructional designer’s primary focus. However, by presenting information in multiple ways, the designer can appeal to various “styles” and “intelligences” so that learners have a better chance of understanding and retaining knowledge.

Keeping pace with technology should be a priority for any aspiring instructional designer. Today’s learners have many resources for acquiring knowledge, particularly through the Web and social learning. Siemens (2004) explains that “the amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months” (para. 3). For this reason, as the theory of connectivism explains, building learning networks is essential because one person cannot possess all the knowledge that is needed to accomplish a variety of tasks (Siemens, 2004).

Once the instructional designer has identified the appropriate learning theory, addressed learning styles, and selected the best technology for a new course, there is still one more important factor to consider. A superior design may still be ineffective if the learner lacks motivation. Keller (2008) explains that higher achievement occurs when instruction addresses learner attention, relevancy, confidence, satisfaction, and volition.

How will this course further my career?

This course has broadened my understanding of how people learn and suggested strategies for addressing various cognitive hurdles. I have come to understand that there is no one clear-cut method, but rather a toolbox of theories and strategies that can be employed as appropriate for each situation. Although this course has encouraged a great deal of self-reflection about my personal learning style, as an instructional designer, I must develop courses for learners who possess a variety of strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and experiences. The knowledge and insight that I have gained from this course has been beneficial to me in my current role as a technical writer and will undoubtedly provide a foundation for branching into instructional design projects.


Armstrong, T. (2008). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–71.

Gardner, H. (2004). Frequently asked questions—Multiple intelligences and related educational topics. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about: Discussion on educational schools of thought. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Keller, J. M. (2008). First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning. Distance Education, 29(2), 175-185.

Ormrod, J. (n.d.). Learning styles and strategies [Video podcast]. Los Angeles: Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9 (3).

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from


Fitting the Pieces Together

–what I’ve learned about how I learn

puzzle brainAs I reviewed my Week 1 Discussion post, I realized that I have found the missing pieces of the learning puzzle since our class began. In Week 1, we learned about behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism and described how we personally learn in relation to those theories. At that time, I identified myself as primarily a cognitive learner. I also discussed Ertmer and Newby’s (1993) idea of a learning continuum in which learners gain introductory knowledge through the behaviorist theory, enhance their skills using cognitive theory, and ultimately become constructivist learners by adapting their knowledge and experience to real-world situations. As an example, I cited my sailing experience. Since that time, our class has delved into the theories of social learning, connectivism, and adult learning. With those missing pieces, the puzzle is complete. Returning to my original example of sailing, I now see how I have used all of these theories at some point.


Behaviorist theory states that learning is prompted by a stimulus in the environment (Standridge, 2001) and results in an observable behavior (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Learning is accomplished through repetition and reinforced by positive or negative feedback (Standridge, 2001). Going back to the sailing example, the behaviorist theory explains how I acquired the fundamental skills. I learned by taking a class and repeatedly performing basic skills: raising and lowering sails, tacking and jibing, and docking the boat. The instructor offered feedback (sometimes loudly—tack NOW!), and the boom (heavy metal pole that swings across the cockpit) provided negative reinforcment by thunking me on the head if I accidentally jibed the boat. Ouch! However, I remembered those lessons.


Cognitive theory explains how the human brain processes information using the computer as a metaphor (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009). We receive information into our short term memory, where the knowledge resides briefly before either being cataloged into our long-term memory or lost. When the information is meaningful or useful to us, we are more likely to retain it. The cognitive theory explains activities that advanced my knowledge of sailing: reading about weather, examining nautical charts, and consulting tide tables.


Constructivist theory asserts that learning is internal and subjective, and that each of us creates a unique reality based on our experiences (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). When learners adapt and apply knowledge to real-life situations, they have advanced along the continuum to constructivism. As my husband and I sailed through the Caribbean islands, we synthesized all of our prior learning to navigate through reefs, respond to changing weather conditions, and set the proper anchor for the current location.

Social LearningSocial Learning

Social learning theory states that we acquire knowledge through collaborating with others (Ormrod et al., 2009) and modeling observed behavior (Social learning theory, n.d.). The sailing community provides a very social learning environment, from yacht club events, to seminars, to casual get-togethers. So the next time I’m enjoying a “sundowner” on a friend’s boat and discussing the merits of this anchor or that teak treatment, I will be happy to know that I am engaging in social learning, not merely having a cocktail.


Connectivism is a theory for learning in the digital age whereby we develop information networks built on a diverse set of human and non-human resources (Siemens, 2004). Connectivism recognizes that one person cannot retain all the knowledge that might be required, so knowing where to find current information is the key. The Internet and social media are key drivers for this theory. Returning to my example, the sailing community is well connected with discussion forums, product Web sites, personal blogs, and weather forecasting services.

Adult LearningAdult Learning

Adult learning theory explains the self-directed nature of adult learning, which builds on prior experiences and focuses on solving real-life problems (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2003). Key factors are the adult’s motivation, self-esteem, and culture. The physical and cognitive decline that comes with aging is another factor influencing adult learning—ah, if only it were not so! Learning for the owner of a sailboat is typically focused on solving a problem, such as how to arrive at an upwind destination or how to fix an engine.

As I was contemplating how these various learning theories had advanced my knowledge of sailing, I couldn’t resist throwing together a mind map. Here it is:

Learning theories mind map

Now that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, has my view of my own learning changed? Yes, it has. I realize that the social learning and connectivist theories have emerged as my predominant methods of acquiring new knowledge. Spurred by our class assignments (like keeping this blog), I have added new nodes to my learning network (connectivism). Likewise, our weekly class discussions have been enlightening, exposing me to other perspectives and the knowledge gained from my classmates’ research (social learning).

Connectivism and social learning are both supported by technology, which as we all know is constantly advancing. I realize that I cannot afford to become stagnant, to define my learning style as something fixed and unalterable. When technology becomes the focal point for acquiring knowledge, we can be assured that the manner in which we learn will always be changing.Puzzle


Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., and Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–71.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

“Social learning theory-Bandura” (n.d.). Retrieved from

Standridge, M. (2001). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Connectivism: A Reflection

My world has changed drastically in the past few weeks. Before enrolling in Walden’s Learning Theories and Instruction course, I had been standing on the sidelines contemplating whether I really wanted to jump into the fray of social media. Our course assignments forced me to take the plunge. Just a few weeks ago, my mind map (see previous post) would have been pretty sparse. Even now, I am just a beginner discovering how to use the wealth of knowledge available from these resources. Already, I have reaped the rewards of being connected. Siemens (2004) explains that “know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where” (introduction). As he explains it, connectivism acknowledges that an individual cannot know everything needed to function in our rapidly changing world. Instead, we must connect to information sources, which may be human or non-human.
In this blog, I’d like to describe a few of my learning connections and how they have helped me in my Walden studies.


I recently joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) as a student member, an affordable alternative to a full membership. I was immediately allowed to download a number of free publications, many of which address the same topics we have been discussing in our class. Earlier this week, I participated in a free Webinar presented by Nancy Duarte, Training Online: Creating Visual Stories That Resonate. She explained how to use stories to engage the audience and inspire a desired transformation. The “story” includes a “likeable hero” (the audience) who faces roadblocks but, through the guidance of a mentor (you), emerges transformed. Her presentation gave me some ideas that I have tucked away in long-term memory for future reference.

ASTD also provides on-site and online workshops and certificate programs on topics of interest to instructional designers. For example, the Essentials of Adult Learning workshop covers the ideas we’ve discussed this week and explains how to put those principles into practice.


Although I have not devoted much time yet to LinkedIn, I can foresee great potential for future job hunting. I have joined several special interest groups, including Instructional Design Central (IDC). Several of the IDC posts have led to resources related to my schoolwork.


Once again, I am just getting started with this social networking resource. However, I have found several technical writers and instructional designers to follow. I am also following several product managers from Adobe. As a result, I learned that a new release was just announced for the eLearning suite I purchased a few weeks ago. This prompted me to call Adobe customer support, and now a free upgrade is on its way.

You Tube

The YouTube video sharing site has been a valuable informal learning resource for my Walden coursework. In my first course, I found a video that I wanted to include in my Powerpoint presentation. When I couldn’t figure out how to embed the video, I found a tutorial that explained the procedure. Just this week, I searched YouTube again for instructions on creating a mind map in FreeMind.


On several occasions I’ve found resources for our weekly discussions by consulting the delicious social bookmarking site. Now I need to be more conscientious about sharing my own bookmarks so that others can benefit from my research.

androidAndroid Smart Phone

I’ve only had my smart phone for a few weeks, and it continues to amaze me. My fingers are still stumbling around on the tiny touchscreen keyboard, but I’m slowly becoming more proficient. Besides email and Web surfing, I have downloaded apps that allow me to easily connect to LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. Plus, I can access the Walden portal and view discussion board posts and open links for course resources. In fact, mobile learning is one of the hottest topics being discussed right now on the instructional design blogs.

As part of my personal learning network, these resources demonstrate the central tenets of connectivism. By connecting to social networks of experts and to Web-based knowledge repositories, I can stay abreast of the latest information that I need for personal and professional development. I know I have only begun to scratch the surface of my learning network, and, as I view my classmates’ mind maps, I realize that some additional sources are worth investigating. And isn’t that what connectivism is all about? The challenge will be avoiding information overload and finding just what I need when I need it.


Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

Connectivism: Mind Map

Mindmap of my learning connections

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.

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