A Pragmatic Instructional Design Model for Distance Learning

Article excerpt

Though distance education can be (and typically is) a different educational experience from more traditional classroom instruction, it is, nonetheless, founded in instructional systems design (ISD). As such, the creation of effective distance courses should be based on a theoretical model that takes into account considerations specific to distributed learning environments. The following model addresses such issues, as supported by the distance education literature. Unlike other ID models, however, this model is founded on the notion of pragmatism, due to the intensive nature of the logistical and technological systems that must be in place for distance education to function. This is not to say that pedagogical concerns are secondary, but those designing and implementing distributed learning experiences must realize the driving force that pragmatic issues will be upon their programming. The proposed model is represented graphically in Figure 1.


As in most instructional design (ID) models, this model begins with a determination of existing gaps in performance, as well as the need to ascertain if those gaps can be addressed through instruction as a solution (Dick & Carey, 1996). However, specific to the conduct of distance education, the designer must determine if the instructional need can be resolved through a DE approach. Will the delivery system support the types of learning experiences and activities required by the necessary outcomes? The answer to this question lies in the next phase that focuses on assessment of technological infrastructure, the learners and their ability to engage in DE, and the type of content and its feasibility in being distance-delivered.


Several categories of assessment must occur to determine if a distance-delivered solution is appropriate for the delineated needs. It is during this phase that the influence of pragmatic issues on the design process for DE becomes apparent. Assessment of context will help determine the resources and constraints of the environment in which the learning will occur. Different types of contexts are inherent in learning experiences, but for DE purposes it is important to investigate the technological context of the targeted programming. The type and extent of technological infrastructure available to the host institution, and more importantly, to the learner will be the primary determinant in the feasibility of offering distance courses or programs. Web-based instruction cannot be the solution if the students do not have Internet connectivity, much less if the host institution does not have the capacity to support such programming. Therefore, it is first and foremost necessary for the designer to identify the existing communications systems available to the learner and to the host institution.

One primary difference in this ID model compared to others is the assumption that the instructional delivery system will be chosen at this point, based on the assessment of the technological context. In most ID models, the instructional media are chosen later in the process, after the objectives are determined and teaching strategies selected. Realistically, the instructional delivery systems for distance education must be determined early in the process, as the logistics of the rest of the process will revolve around that decision.

In standard ID models, assessment of the learner typically focuses on their existing knowledge and experiences related to the performance gap, in order to gauge where the instructional intervention should begin. In addition to prior knowledge, however, designers must assess distance students' ability to succeed in a distributed learning environment. This assessment component is two-fold. First, it is necessary to know the technology skills required by the instructional delivery system. If there is a need for introduction to basic information (how a computer is used, how to send email, how to participate in threaded discussions), by assessing the learners, the designer will be able to create a positive learning experience for these students before they become frustrated by having assignments which are beyond their knowledge base. …