So what is it?
Instruction, the second strategy, is still a teacher/trainer-centred approach, but is much more carefully crafted to ensure that the learning outcomes are actually achieved, regardless of the learner’s ability. In this sense it is process rather than subject-matter driven. This process depends on the explicit and up-front definition of learning objectives and then the careful selection of appropriate activities and resources that will enable those objectives to be achieved.
The process of ‘instructional design’ is teacher/trainer-centred because it focuses on learning objectives rather than learner goals; on the other hand, the fact that instruction is typically an interactive rather than a passive learner experience, means that the process can be adaptive to some degree to the individual differences of particular learners.
How about some examples?
Instruction can be a live experience, whether in the workplace (‘on-job training’) or in a physical or virtual classroom; it can also be self-paced, through interactive materials delivered online or using offline media (workbooks, CDs, etc.).
When should I use it?
Perhaps strangely, one of the key skills for instructional designers is to recognise when instruction is and is not an appropriate strategy. You’re likely to be safe going the instructional route when your target population consists of less confident learners, particularly those who are novices in the field in question, who need or want to be led step-by-step through the learning process, knowing they are capably supported. When these conditions are not met, instruction may still work, but you run the risk of ‘over-teaching’ and even patronising your population. Best to reserve your efforts for those who need them most.
While learning at work occurs in many different ways, it would be fair to say that, for most workplace trainers and e-learning designers, formal instruction is what they do. Hopefully they will be doing it well, and that means the following:
- being clear about outcomes;
- concentrating on meeting a small number of key learning objectives thoroughly, rather than a large number only superficially;
- following an instructional process which is appropriate for the objectives in question;
- engaging the learner;
- helping the learner to make new connections with prior knowledge;
- presenting new material clearly and at an appropriate level, making use of demonstrations, stories, examples, visual aids and other tools to aid comprehension;
- providing activities that allow new knowledge and understanding to be reinforced and consolidated;
- allowing for plentiful opportunities for new skills to be practised, with the aid of timely and constructive feedback;
- being responsive to the needs of individual learners;
- providing support until all objectives are achieved.
Instruction is the most common strategy used for formal courses in the workplace. It provides the most predictable outcome of all four strategies and is particularly suited to beginners and other dependent learners who want all the support available.
Move on to the next strategy: guided discovery
You’ve read them all. So what now?