The Maturing of Constructivist

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Instructional Design: Some Basic Principles

That Can Guide Practice

Jerry Willis contributing Editor

In 1995, I described the first version of an instructional design model based on constructivist learning theories and an interpretivist philosophy of science (Willis, 1995). It was developed during work at NASA抯 Johnson Space Center in Houston and at the Center for Information Technology in Education at the University of Houston. The model, named Recursive and Reflective Design and Development (R2D2), was one of the first to lay out in some detail an approach to creating instructional material that was based on constructivist theory. The 1995paper emphasized the philosophical and epistemological underpinnings of the R2D2 model. That paper also dealt with the family characteristics? of ID models based on the modernist perspective that has held sway in both psychology and educational technology for most of this century versus the characteristics of ID models based on postmodern epistemologies, particularly interpretive and constructive world views.

In this present article, I will not address these broader issues in any detail. Instead, I would like to briefly discuss some of the emerging constructivist instructional design (C-ID) models. Then I will suggest a set of general principles or guidelines for instructional design that are based on an interpretivist philosophy of science and constructivist theories of learning. In a later companion article, I will provide a more detailed guide to ID practice using the R2D2 model.

Until recently, the great majority of instructional design (ID) models have been based on postmodern philosophies of science and learning theories from the behavioral and information processing families (Dick, 1996). There is, however, a growing body of literature on the practice of instructional design from a constructivist perspective (Winn, 1992). Much of this literature has emphasized the types of learning environments that can be developed, such as anchored instruction or problem-based learning (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1993; Lin, Bransford, Hmelo, Kantor, Hickey, Secules, Petrosino, Goldman, and the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1995; Reigeluth, 1996, 1997; Wilson, 1996).

Some very useful papers have also offered general guidelines for constructivist instructional design (Wilson, 1997; Winn, 1992). Some have emphasized the differences between constructivist and other ID approaches at the philosophical level. Wilson (1997), for example, delineates four issues that separate constructivism from traditional ID: the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, the nature of human interaction, and the nature of science. Others have presented principles that should guide design (Lebow, 1993).

In addition to general guidelines for C-ID, a number of more specific frameworks for doing?constructivist ID have been proposed. These are C-ID models.

C-ID Models

Constructivist theory, and particularly the epistemology upon which it is based, is mot a comfortable framework within which to proclaim that your mew and improved ID model is a step closer to some Platomic ideal form that represents perfection. Constructivist theories of knowledge view truth and knowing as local events, and highlight the importance of context in making meaning. Multiple perspectives, the importance of context, and the social construction of meaning are all values that push the ID theorist away from any tendency to view his or her creation as THE way to think about design. Thus, it is important to view the R2D2 model, and any other C-ID model, as just one of many possible constructivist ID models. It is one of many possible 搕ruths?when it comes to ID.

When I teach the introductory and advanced instructional design courses at lowa State University, I do not present the R2D2 model as the test or only model students should consider. As they construct their own understanding of design, I expect them to explore a number of different models and to consider what the impact of using various models would have on their own design work. Fortunately, there are a number of other C-ID models in use today as well as several models that, while not based specifically on constructivist theory alone, have much in common with C-ID models.

Layers of Negotiation. Catherine Cennamo, Sanera Abell, and Mi-Lee Chung (1996) constructed the Layers of Negotiation ID model while they were creating a series of case-based interactive videodiscs for use in constructivist teacher education programs. Cennamo and her colleagues see C-ID as a process that involves five basic actions:

Embrace the complexity of the design process.

Provide for social negotiations as an integral part of designation the materials.

Examine information relevant to the design of instruction at multiple times from multiple perspectives.

Nurture reflexivity in the design process.

Emphasize client-centered design.

As they analyzed their work on the video cases, they concluded the Layers of Negotiation ID model was different from most other ID models in three ways:

1. It is process-based rather than procedure-based. whereas traditional instructional design models prescribe a set f procedures to be followed to design instruction, we found our emphasis shifted to the process of decision-making that is involved in designing instruction?(P.42).

2. It is question driven rather than task driven. Instructional designers should ask good questions instead of following a linear sequence of prescribed steps that are part of traditional ID models.

3. Spiral cycles were used instead of discrete stages. whereas traditional instructional design models often include discrete stages for analysis, design, development and evaluation activities厰 (p.43).

the Layers of Negotiation ID model has much in common with the R2D2 model that will be discussed in detail later in this article.

Chaos Theory ID. One of the most interesting ID models to be described in the literature in recent years is the Chaos Theory ID model of Yeongmahn You (1994). You contrasts traditional ISD (instructional systems design) models with a model based on chaos theory. You summarizes chaos theory in three key elements: (1) sensitive dependence on initial conditions; (2) fractals; and (3) strange attractors (see his paper for an explanation of these concepts). You then points out four weaknesses of traditional ISD models and suggests that chaos theory points to things we should move away from as well as appropriate alternatives we should move toward:

Away from linear design and toward nonlinear design.

Away from determinism and expected predictability toward "indeterministic unpredictability."

Away from closed systems and toward open systems.

Away from negative feedback (input from users is considered a 損roblem?if it suggests major changes) and toward positive feedback (input that suggests the need for change presents opportunities).

You抯 paper is one of the most thoughtful treatments of the theory-to-design question. His discussion of the implications of chaos theory for ID calls into question many of the basic assumptions underlying traditional ID models.

A-Maze. Joann Bing and her-colleagues (Bing, Flannelly, Hutton, & Kochlany, 1997) have also developed a constructivist ID model, A-Maze. This model organizes work around four questions: Why, What, How, and How Well. Answers to these four questions are organized around involvement of the learner in the process. Learners, however, are not objects to be studied. Instead, "just as the learner must take an active role in the learning process, so too must the learner be given an active role in the design process. But the learner must be involved in the entire process if she is to fulfill her responsibilities as chief architect in the construction of personal intellectual structures"(p.3). The A-Maze model emphasizes the collaborative development of learning environments. Learners, teachers, and designers participate as a team in a fluid process of design and development. This model, which is suited to the creation of learning environments in classrooms, is contrasted with traditional ID models, especially Dick and Carey抯 ISD model.

I believe all of these ID models deserve attention and consideration. Each has strengths and desirable characteristics that may make them a good match for certain types of instructional design work. In addition, they offer the design theorist a source of inspiration. My revision of the R2D2 model, to be set forth in more detail in a later paper in this magazine, took into consideration the strengths of these models.

An Overview of the Revised R2D2 Model

The original R2D2 model has received some attention in the literature. It is now covered in a number of instructional technology courses around the country (e.g. Santa Fe College, 1997; Turner, 1997), and the developers of other C-ID models such as the Layers of Negotiation model (Cennamo, Abell, & Chung, 1996), A-Maze (Bing et al., 1997), and the Jigsaw ID model (Robinson, 1997) have cited R2d2 as one of the influences on their work.

R2D2 has also generated some criticism. Apparently because the 1995 paper on R2D2 challenged some of the long-held assumptions of traditional instructional design theory, Braden (1996) commented that the author was 搈uch like an arrogant adolescent with a chip on his shoulder?(p. 19). For what I consider a more thoughtful comparison of the Dick and Carey ISD model and the R2D2 model by one of the creators of the ISD model, see Dick (1996).