CCK08: User/Learner Centered Instructional Design

I have been designing training and educational materials now for 20 years through my time with the army in pre-internet days, designed and developed a number of soft skills e-Learning courses in the 2000-3 time frame, writing telecommunications technical publications, to offering history and political science course online and in class, to now being an information architect with a practice of user centered design.

What I have come to realize is that up to 2 years ago, I often relied on others description of who the learner/user was. I never got to meet the learners; instead I relied on a subject matter expert who told me who the target audience was and provided the details and I applied objectives, wrote content and provided testing. Often the subject matter expert was several years removed from interacting with the end-users.

At no time until become an information architect was I ever allowed to question the medium/mechanism or design of what I was doing. My practice as an information architect has led me to start the process of training design by actually asking the question of “do we even need training?” Is it possible there are other forms of information that is more useful to the target audience?

To discover this, you actually need to talk to the users. You may discover that the users don’t need to be tested, they only what just in time information of how to do a task (insert a hyperlink) that an html help file can provide. So part of the problem is instantly saying we need to do training, when we actually need better information design. Better information design comes from talking to the users of the information to see how they consume it, how they need to use it, and the environment they need to operate in. Only them can you start to say we have x or y types of users and this is what each x or y user need to do. This process then allows you to come up with a list of requirements or recommendations, but these recommendations are not for all users, but the significant majority of users, or the users with the “most” pressing problems.

The recommendations may be on product help, topic based web help files, a Wiki publishing and user corrected feedback system, a better intranet/website, structured authoring, or single source publishing. So the technology choice comes last and not first. Perhaps the current technology is good enough, it just needs better implementation. Knowing what the general capabilities of technology are useful so potential avenues of exploration are possible, but what if there is no current technology? Then the requirements start a new development process for that technology to aid in the information creation and dissemination and re-synthesizing (if needed).

So, I see instructional design as being a sub-set of information design, and perhaps one of the last options to consider for the deployment of training since training can be so expensive and of limited durability in the product-driven world.

Perhaps the best thing that could happen is an easily findable website that is user constructed with links to reputable or useful information for the problems I need resolve for the information I need education in. Even my New Brunswick lumberjack with a web-enable cell phone in an area with service could trouble-shoot why his Husquvarna chain saw is acting up. He doesn’t need a fancy piece of e-Learning in an LMS or to take an operators course (unless the law says so).

This difficulty, of course, is trying to provide the information for what the software industry calls the “corner cases” or users that operating under what may be rare circumstances. In the Connectivist world, this means users that find themselves unable to connect to the internet due to lack of a computer or networking infrastructure. This may be coming rare in the “westernized” world, but a significant population may face challenge. The situation or user environment will help decide the educational/training mechanisms that are most appropriate. So a study of infromation architecture is extremely relevant to instructional design.



4 Responses to “CCK08: User/Learner Centered Instructional Design”

  1. Adrian Hill Says:

    What a great nuts and bolts post Bradley! Your pragmatic approach to training makes a lot of sense; you are all the wiser for all those years of experience!

  2. mystictim Says:

    Hi Bradley,

    Thought provoking stuff. Person centred instructional design as a subset of information design which in turn is a subset of technological design. I would think that as a technology becomes more ubiquitous then our need to understand it will becomes less. if it doesn’t just works we wont use it unless there is no other option. Then if it stops working we can replace it or if that is to costly have a quick rummage through the networked support.
    Still there is enough poorly designed technology to keep most of the instructional designers going for many years to come.

  3. bradleyshoebottom Says:


    I think you misunderstood me. Information desing is at the top which then dictates technology and if there is any need ofr instructional design. Granted, there may be current technology in place even if it is paper-based. Where I am coming from is analyzing the often poorly designed IT techology spaces, very hard to navigate , or poor integration of technology. Information Technology may be absent, so this is the poorest situation but often the most fun to work with becasue there is no preconceptions of how technology should work in the space. Then, coming up with a more comprehnsive model of how people access information and need to use it. Then you can design tehcnology and if needed, instrucitonal design. Tehcnology can be hardware, software (authoring or display or feedbakc mechanisms), and then the structure of the content itself.

    The unofficial motto of information architects is “Findability and usability”. I worked for a client record management group and they had a great departmental motto “The value of information is directy related to is accessibiility”. I would add, when you find it, it has to be organized in a way that is useful for the user of the infromation. In task based environments, this often means a Title, Prerequisites, The Procedure, Explanatary tables if needed, An Example, related resoruces/job aids, related subjects.

    JoAnn Hackos has written some great stuff on infroamtion desing for the technical writing field that applies to instructional design.


  4. CCK08: Coming to Know « Clyde Street Says:

    […] in the course will be of great interest to course participants. (I noted Bradleyshoebottom’s post shortly after posting Coming to Know.) I am conscious that I must now deal with the gaps in my […]

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