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Making learning sticky: Instructional Design

Making learning sticky: Instructional Design

If you have ever taken an eLearning course, do you remember the essentials of it now? Did it get the knowledge into your head in an engaging way that helped you to retain it? If the answer is yes, you were lucky enough to have taken a course created by a good instructional designer. Instructional Design is the practice of creating learning experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge efficient, effective and appealing.

Instructional Design has its origins in World War II when training materials were developed for the military which drew on cognitive and behavioural psychology. Its success led psychologists and educators to view training as a system, and start to produce models and theories of how best to organise and deliver information so as to maximise its appeal and retention. In the 1990s these models benefited from a healthy dose of constructivism, which promoted real-world learning environments that accentuate social interaction and allow the learner to create their own knowledge.

Nowadays Instructional Design is being rigorously applied to eLearning, and with the steady growth of eLearning there is a rising demand for qualified Instructional Designers. In order to succeed in the modern eLearning industry, they need to absorb the body of theory built up over the past 70 years as well as get skilled in current authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline.

Two key objectives in Instructional Design courses are to use the unique capabilities of instructional technology to make each learning experience meaningful, memorable and motivational, and to create learning experiences that change behaviour well beyond a post-test. This ethos must permeate any good Instructional Design training course since the end product should always be learners who can now do things they couldn’t do before, and who don’t forget them.

The forgetting curve is a well-known model of knowledge retention. It shows how quickly retention sags over time, and how it tails off to an overall retention of about 20% of what was learned initially. Instructional design aims to offset the forgetting curve by making learning ‘sticky’, and to ensure that what is retained long-term is the important stuff that actually changes behaviour and leads to positive outcomes.

For those entering the field afresh, a good place to start would be an introductory course such as ATD’s eLearning Instructional Design Certificate. Online-only courses are available, but this one mixes it up with 2 days face to face plus 4 online sessions totalling 12 hours (Instructional Designers would call that mix ‘Blended Learning’).

Course Facilitator Ethan Edwards says, ‘Often the participants who take the workshop say, rather gratifyingly, that it has completely transformed the way they look at eLearning. They feel empowered, they feel like they have a way of doing something useful as opposed to repeatedly doing tired learning programs. For singletons or people working in small teams, it’s very hard in that environment to try to introduce something new. It’s critical to get to hear new ideas, and the value of learning from your peers … they want to build on that relationship outside the classroom.’

Further reading: How to choose the right online Instructional Design Program