Category Archives: Instructional Design

This category includes all post related to: personal opinions; current learning theories, strategies, and principles; and technological developments in the field of Instructional Design.

Group Work

This week’s blog is on group work. One of the hardest things to do in either a work or educational environment, is to work collaboratively in a group. It is even more difficult when the group members are in different locations and all collaboration must be done electronically. The same types of problems almost always occur when I have worked in this type of environment. Some of the common ones include:

  1. The Hostile Takeover – A collaborator taking control of the process and forcing their agenda down the teammate’s throat.
  2. The Slacker – A collaborator hiding in the group doing as little as possible.
  3. Unclear on the Concept – A hard worker who goes off on their own, does lots of work, but it does not match the vision of the rest of the group.
  4. The Disagree-er – A collaborator who disagrees with everyone’s ideas but does not come up with any of their own.

I have to admit that I sometimes fall unknowingly into the Hostile Takeover category. It’s not that I intentionally mean to force my ideas on other people it’s just that I often think I know best. However, one piece of advice that one of my college instructors recently gave me was to “check your ego at the door” when doing group work. This advice resonated with me because of the guilt I have felt in the past when I failed to listen to other people’s ideas. We all bring different knowledge, skills, and abilities to the table. We only get the most out of a group when we listen to all voices and build consensus.

Content Curation

This week’s blog is on content curation. I was assigned to teach this topic online for a course I am taking at UMass Boston on the Design and Instruction of Online Courses (INSDSG 684). To be honest, I only had a vague idea of what content curation was before this assignment. I thought it was something librarians do to categorize and store the vast amount of physical information in their collection. After some initial research I found that content curation is a thriving industry for corporate marketing, education, museums/art galleries, and hobbyist. For those of you that are a little unclear on the subject, here is a loose definition.

Content curation is the process of sorting through vast amounts of content and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around specific themes or topics. The work involves sifting, sorting, evaluating, arranging, and sharing/publishing information. The content can either be physical (e.g. books, periodicals, research papers etc.) or digital (e.g. blogs, post, e-journals, etc.).

Now there are some very powerful free/low cost tools for the collaborative creation, storage, and sharing of electronic content (e.g. Google Docs and Dropbox). However, when I tried to identify tools for finding high quality content for education and instructional design I was bewildered by the share number of services available. After searching countless websites and watching several Youtube videos, I discovered that almost all of these services (e.g., Feedly, Swayy ect.) are marketing tools designed to search social media for what’s trending in a particular markets segment. The best site I could identify for educational material was OER Commons ( which is one of the few services to find and share open educational resources (OER) and free instructional material. With a single point of access OER Commons helps educators, students, and life-long learners find high quality open source educational content. If you are aware of other content search and management tools for education please tells us about them in the comments section of this blog (please provide a URL to the site).

Universal Design for Learning

This week’s blog is on Universal Design for Learning or UDL. UDL was created by the Center for Applied Special Technology to provide a framework for creating curriculum that is accessible to everyone and also reduces barriers for learners with disabilities. There are three primary principles that guide UDL:

  1. Provide Multiple Means of Representation:  All learners vary in the way they perceive information. In addition, some learners may have: visual or auditory impairments; learning disabilities; or are English language learners. Thus instructors should present information using multiple modalities (e.g. audio, visual, textual, symbolic or mathematical equations) to make the information accessible to all learners.
  2. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression:  Learners with physical disabilities may have difficulty navigating a learning environment. F2F classrooms have to be designed so that these learners can negotiate the space. Also, these learners may need assistive technology to allow them to fully participate. Online learning provides an excellent platform for learners with physical impairments.  It removes the obstacles of having to navigate a physical classroom environment.  However, we as instructional designers still must consider how the media/tools we use work with enabling devices and assistive technology.
  3. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement:  All learners have different abilities to sustain attention to a topic.  Those with learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD may require shorter units of instruction.  However, breaking information into small pieces, or chunking, has been shown to benefit all learners.

I first learned about UDL about three years ago during a course on creating an inclusive learning environment. The instructor provided us with hypothetical courses that had students with disabilities and/or impairments and we designed curriculum that made learning accessible to these and all other students. At first, I thought using UDL principles when creating curriculum placed an unnecessary additional burden on teachers. It was not until I taught an actual Earth science class when I realized the value of UDL. For example, students were having trouble with an assignment because they didn’t understand the academic vocabulary. If I had created a lesson plan that pre-taught certain science terms (UDL Checkpoint 2.1 Clarify Vocabulary and Symbols) the students would have learned the higher level lesson topics much quicker.


This week work and school collided in a bad way. At work I am creating a series of videos on screencasting. I have broken the screencasting best practices down into four phases:

  1. Plan: Write a script and storyboard your screencast and practice your delivery;
  2. Record: Make sure you have a clean, quiet, and visually appropriate place to do your screencast. Make sure your desktop is free of personal/private information. Use a good quality mike and the appropriate screencasting software.
  3. Edit: Remove major flaws in the audio and video.
  4. Publish: Choose the right format and file size for the server.

The truth is, I only know a little about screencasting. I attended a webinar on the subject and was counting on getting help from the screencast expert at work. Then came this week’s school assignment that required the creation of a screencast of a learning management system (LMS). I chose Moodle as my LMS and decided to record it on Articulate Storyline. I recorded the screencast and then added the audio later. I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to say and it took several takes to sync the audio to the video. Right off the bat I violated my own rules for screencast by not planning (strike one). I then tried to publish the screencast but Articulate Storyline does not allow you to publish as a single .MP4. Instead, if publishes the video of each slide as a separate .MP4 and the audio as separate .MP3’s. Thus I violated number 4 of my best practices by not matching my desired file format to the actual output of the software (strike two). I then decided to use Articulate Replay and completely re-record my screencast. I again recorded the screen shots and added the narration separately. The funny thing about Articulate Replay is that it only has very crude editing tools and it took a lot of effort to sync the audio and video. Thus I violated No. 3 of the best practices (strike three I am out). However, I learned a valuable lesson. Going forward I will do as I say not as I do.

Addie Subjectives

I am taking a course this semester on the Design and Instruction of On-line Courses at UMass Boston (INSGSD 684). As an assignment this week, the instructor asked us to consider what she calls course subjectives. These are the unwritten questions to consider when you are designing e-learning or on-line instruction. They are in contrast to the course objectives which should be well defined statements regarding what you want learners to do or know after they have completed your training course. The instructor asked us to try to reflect on a list of subjectives developed by Autumm Caines (see These include:

  • What does this course mean to you?
  • Will this course feed learners souls?
  • Is there some aspect or assignment in this course (or that you envision for this course) that particularly tugs on your heart?
  • How will you understand your students’ point of view throughout the course?
  • Are you ready to learn from your students?

When I first saw these I have to admit that I rolled my eyes and chuckled a little bit. As a very analytical person, I considered a few of these to be somewhat esoteric (e.g. Will the course feed the learners souls?). I didn’t know how to deal with the exercise and decided to put it away for a while and come back to it. When I did come back to it with a more open mind, I was able to understand the point of the exercise. To me, subjectives are the unwritten aspects that I should consider when designing a course.   I agree with some of the subjectives that Ms. Caines identified and will consider going forward. Others on the list seem less accessible to me and my teaching style and will not be carried forward. The point is that the concept of subjectives is to develop your own that best fit who you are as a person and instructor. Some subjectives that are important to me include:

  • How will I know I am reaching all the students in the course?
  • How can I allow students to pursue their own interests within the confines of the course?
  • How do I create curriculum that is correct for my learners (i.e. not to simple or complex).


This week’s blog is on connectivism which many think of as a learning theory for the digital age. Connectivism is a theory that knowledge travels around networks of connections or nodes. Learning consist of the ability to travel these networks and find the informational node you are looking for. An analogy used in connectivism is that these networks are like conduits or pipelines through which knowledge flows. Some important concepts put forth in connectivism are:

  1. The conduit is more important than the knowledge that flows through it;
  2. It is more important to know where to find information than to actually know it; and
  3. Knowledge is rapidly changing and learners need this connectivity to keep up with it.

We participate in connectivism through social media, blogs; the internet etc. Connectivism also blurs the line between teacher and student. Anyone can contribute to a body of knowledge and in some situations we may act as the instructor and as a learner in another.

To further my knowledge of connectivism, I chose to join a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) run by North Carolina State’s Friday Institute. I am interested in teaching users how to use digital teaching and learning tools thus I enrolled in Coaching Digital Learning ( ). What has struck me thus far is how much or how little you participate is solely up to you. There is no fixed schedule or mandatory participation and what you get from a course like this is determined by what you are willing to put into it.

One criticism of connectivism is that it is more of a pedagogical point of view than a learning theory. It is more concerned with how we locate and contribute information than how we actually learn. On a personal note, I feel that one of the strengths of connectivism is also one of its weaknesses. The connectivist paradigm is very democratic and in many cases it treats all participants as equals. Unfortunately, several of the blogs I have read seem poorly conceived or misinformed. I do realize that this is a self-correcting mechanism as other contributors make counterpoints and corrections. However, like many things on the internet it is hard to separate the good from bad and opinions from facts.

Communities of Practice

As a young environmental scientist, I belonged to something that I believe meets the definition of a Community of Practice. A Community of Practice (CoP) refers to a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better through interaction. The CoP that I belonged to was not anything formal but grew organically as slightly older more experienced employees taught less experienced employees the tricks of the trade. It was much easier to ask someone in your peer group a “stupid question” than it was to ask your supervisor.   Eventually the CoP became more formalized as brown bag learning lunches were set up and mentor/mentee relationships were established. Now that I have moved on from the environmental field and started my first job in instructional design, I long for the days when I belonged to a CoP. In my current situation, there is a lot of protecting ones turf and a certain unwillingness among some of my coworkers to share their experience. This is not only bad for me but bad for the organization. Recently, I have started looking on-line for a CoP that I can both learn from and contribute to. One obvious instructional design CoP is the E-Learning Heroes community. While I have gotten some useful information from this community it seems more like a marketing tool for Articulate software than a true CoP. If you are reading this blog and know of a real CoP for instructional designers, please send me an email or comment on this entry. I would be happy to hear from you.

Experiential Learning

This week’s blog is on experiential learning. Experiential Learning is the process of learning through experience; by acquiring skills and expertise by doing things.  It supports learners in applying their knowledge and understanding of real-work problems or situations where the instructor directs and facilitates the learning.

The educational theorist most associated with experiential learning is David Kolb. Kolb developed a model of experiential learning that consisted of four stages that learners go through in the learning process:

  1. Concrete experience – the openness and willingness to involve oneself in new experiences;
  2. Reflective observation – observational and reflective skills so these new experiences can be viewed from a variety of perspectives;
  3. Abstract conceptualization – analytical abilities so integrative ideas and concepts can be created from their observations; and
  4. Abstract experimentation – decision making and problem solving skills so the new ideas can be used in actual practice.

Kolb viewed these elements as a cycle starting with concrete experience.  The result or action of the final phase would lead to a new concrete experience, thus starting a new learning cycle. Kolb’s model is built on the idea that learning preferences can be described using two continuums: active experimentation-reflective observation and abstract conceptualization-concrete experience. The result is four types of learners: converger (active experimentation-abstract conceptualization), accommodator (active experimentation-concrete experience), assimilator (reflective observation-abstract conceptualization), and diverger (reflective observation-concrete experience). Real life examples of experiential learning include internships, practicums, cooperative education, service learning, and field work.

I had my first real experience in experiential learning in 2014 when I completed a teaching practicum for my MED program. I definitely completed the four phases of Kolb’s learning cycle. Teaching Earth and environmental science to high schoolers was definitely a “concrete experience”. As part of the practicum, we were required to create a portfolio where we reflected on our teaching experience. Based on these reflections, I tried to identify my strengths and weaknesses and what was working and what was not (i.e. abstract conceptualization). Finally, I tried to use this information to improve my teaching. For me, experiential learning was a very effective learning strategy. Unfortunately, my practicum came as the culmination of my Master’s program. It was at the end of two years of work that I realized that not only did I not like teaching high school but I really did not have an aptitude for it. This was more a flaw of education programs than indictment of experiential learning. Had I experienced real teaching earlier, I would have recognized my own limitations.


This week’s topic is constructivism. For those of you who did not major in education, constructivism is a human development/learning theory most notably associated with Jean Piaget and Len Vygotsky.   While constructivism has many flavors, its primary tenant is that learning is a process of constructing meaning from experience. While I agree with this tenant as it relates to adults I find it troubling when applied to childhood learning. Most if not all adults struggle to give meaning to their life experiences. However, this requires a high level of cognitive skill and reasoning. However, unlike Piaget I believe that babies are born as a blank slate without language, culture, or social skills. They are not capable of abstract thought, lack an internal dialogue, and do not understand the context in which learning events occur. While their brains are hard wired to develop these skills, constructivism does not seem to adequately explain how they do. I believe there must be other mechanisms for human learning/development that ultimately create the high level thinking abilities of adults. Nevertheless, the constructivism paradigm, with its emphasis on active engagement and hands on activities, does seem like a good building block for adult learning.

Learning and Emotion

While doing some reading for my Instructional Design Master’s program, I came upon a discussion of the triune brain. This was not a new concept for me as I had taken several biology courses as an undergrad. The triune brain is a model of the evolutionary development of the brain proposed by the neuroscientist Paul MacLean. In MacLean’s model, the innermost and most primitive part of the human brain is responsible for instinctive behavior including the fight or flight mechanism. This part of the brain is known as the reptilian brain, or reptilian complex, because it was first developed in reptiles. As reptiles evolved into mammals the limbic system, or paleomammalian complex, arose. The limbic system is where emotions are processed before they are given meaning in the neo-cortex.   The neo-cortex is the part of the human brain responsible for high level thinking (e.g. language, abstraction, planning, and perception).

So you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with education and instructional design? Well, for many people, myself included, a new challenge is met with pure unprocessed emotion. When a person like me is confronted with a difficult or complex learning task our limbic systems triggers the fight or flight mechanism in our reptilian brain before our neo-cortex can process the infomation. Our bodies are then flooded with stress hormones the same as if we were being chased by a lion. These excess stress hormones can lead to anxiety and depression which in turn impacts our ability to think and learn. We as educators need to be mindful of how emotions, both positive and negative, impact both children’s and adult’s ability to learn.