The world of instructional design is overrun with endless rules. Many rules are steeped in years of research and driven by appropriate learning theory. However, we think there are some rules that are OK to be bent, twisted, or broken to fit specific needs. There’s an old saying that in order to break the rules, you need to know them. In this series, we are going to take some long-lived rules of Instructional Design and discuss the when and how to break them. Agree or disagree? Let us know!
Rule #1: “Avoid Direct Instruction”
Direct Instruction (DI), is the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material, rather than exploratory models such as inquiry-based learning (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Direct_instruction&oldid=526504905). Think of the last “training class” you sat thru while a droning facilitator dumped data from a seemingly endless PowerPoint deck. Many Instructional Designers try to avoid DI at all costs because it’s seen as old-fashioned, ineffective and didactic. Exploratory learning came along in reaction to the DI “sage on the stage” model, and has been overused to such an extent that many see it as the only way to design effective instruction. However, by rejecting DI because of assuming its leading to a poor design, we lose out on its distinct advantages.
Research tells us that learners must construct their own understanding in order to truly learn. In the real world, learners working through exploratory models often go down rabbit holes, learning valuable information and skills, but ones that may not be relevant to the task at hand. Exploratory learning is critically important when you want learners to be invested in the topic and when skills are more important than fact. But for learning data and facts, DI cannot be beat.
DI can save time and effectively transmit data, facts and procedures. We’re not arguing that DI should be used exclusively. Many learning organizations use DI exclusively (and, in our opinion, ineffectively) in the form of PowerPoint-style data dumps with little interactivity. A better model is to create an exercise that encourages the learner to explore a relevant case study, view targeted direct instruction related to the case, conduct problem-solving and reflective group work, and then finally prepare a presentation or teach-back to their peers. Don’t think you have to avoid DI at all costs, just be sure to integrate it effectively with interactive activities and exercises.
This series is co-written with Total Learner. Check back for the next rule to break: Get Buy-in From All Your Stakeholders.