Growing up in an Italian American family, one of the things that I learned from my forbears was how to prepare a pasta sauce. To cook a good sauce, there are some fundamental ingredients that one must incorporate in order to make it appetizing: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. There is, however, no single right recipe for the preparation of good a sauce. A cook has a myriad of options, not only of how to use the ingredients, but in the selection of the ingredients. For example, should the garlic be minced or whole clove; should the olive oil be pure, virgin, or extra virgin; should Roma tomatoes or grape tomatoes be used; should the basil and oregano be fresh or dried; should vegetables or meat be added to enhance the flavor of the sauce—if yes, which vegetables or which meats; for how long should the sauce simmer. In the end, cooking a good pasta sauce is not an exact science. Compared to say baking a cassata cake, which requires specificity and exactness in the measurement and incorporation of ingredients, there is much more latitude in cooking pasta sauce because it can be done according to taste as opposed to precisely abiding by a recipe.
Good instructional design is analogous to cooking a good pasta sauce. Just as there is no single right recipe for the preparation of a good sauce, there is no single right recipe for designing effective and engaging instruction. As there are fundamental ingredients that one must incorporate in order to make an appetizing sauce, there are fundamental characteristics that all good instructional design has in common. These characteristics include but are not limited to the following:
- A statement of course purpose that does not merely describe the course content, but clearly and precisely states what the learner will know and be able to do as a result of taking the course
- Realistic learning goals which address what the learner will be able to do as a result of taking the course that they did not know how to do prior to taking the course
- Clearly defined learning objectives in the form of observable, measurable behaviors that when mastered will move a learner toward the achievement of a leaning goal
- Mapping and aligning course units with learning objectives, course lessons with units, and prerequisite skills with course lessons
- Course instruction that does not emphasize content and coverage, but that is learner centered and focuses on what the learner actually needs to know and to be able to perform
- Course instructional activities that provide a “real world” context for performance; a “real world’ problem to be solved; allow the learner to practice the work that they will actually be doing on the job
- A comprehensive method of assessing learner progress to determine if learning has taken place
Furthering the analogy, just as a cook has a myriad of options in the use and selection of ingredients for concocting a pasta sauce, the instructional designer—provided that the above mentioned fundamental design characteristics are present—has a number of considerations for determining the details of the course design. For example: How will the teacher participate? How will the learners participate? What will the instructional events be? What is the best way to gain the attention of the learners? How will the learner be informed of the course learning objectives? What prerequisite learning will be required for learners to be successful? Is there a method for how an instructor should guide learners in understanding new concepts? How should learner progress be determined? What type of assessments will be employed to evaluate learner progress?
At its best, effective and engaging instruction is purposeful, student centered, practical, and well organized, and creative. If all the ingredients are present, in the right proportion with the right flavors, the learning event no doubt will be delicious!
Thoughts and comments are welcome.
Allen, Michael. 2012. Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences. East Peoria, IL: Versa Press.
Gagné, Robert M., Leslie J. Briggs, and Walter W. Wager. 1988. Principles of Instructional Design. 3rd ed. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.