A couple of years ago I decided we needed some good ethnographies of instructional design work. Life in organization is so complex, and never static, and imbued with so many competing considerations and values, that all the studies of instructional design I knew about seemed to reduce it to a simple, input-output model. Even our attempts to be sophisticated at best call it an “iterative process.” Through my ethnographic look into design I wanted to complicate this picture. Of course, no formal research can capture that completely, especially in only 30-some pages. But I gave it a try. And I do think it offers a pretty compelling picture of what makes this form of life what it is.
This article reports research into the everydayness of instructional design (meaning designers’ daily routines, run-of-the-mill interactions with colleagues, and other, prosaic forms of social contact), and how everydayness relates to their pursuit of quality in online course design. These issues were investigated through an ethnographic case study, centered on a team of instructional designers at a university in the United States. Designers were observed spending significant amounts of time engaged in practices of course refinement, meaning mundane, workaday tasks like revising, updating, fine-tuning, or fixing the courses to which they were assigned. Refining practices were interrelated with, but also experienced as distinct from, the specialized processes of instructional design or innovation that the designers also applied. Refining played a meaningful role in designers’ pursuit of course quality, both to help them achieve quality, as well as to understand what the ideal of quality meant in specific instances. The article concludes by exploring what implications these findings have for the study and practice of instructional design in the context of online course development.
At BYU Scholar’s Archive
At the journal website
McDonald, J. K. (2023). The everydayness of instructional design and the pursuit of quality in online courses. Online Learning, 27(2), 137-169. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v27i2.3470
I’ve studied and practiced some form of design for nearly 25 years. While I’ve championed it in various settings, I’ve also become increasingly disillusioned with it. At first I thought I was just getting fed up with shallow and superficial design methods (like the reductive design thinking process). But I’m becoming more convinced over time that there are some fundamental flaws in design when we apply to education. This chapter starts to explain why. Be prepared for more research on this topic. It’s going to occupy me for some time.
We currently face a problem in the field of learning and instructional design and technology (LIDT). We have an important contribution to offer towards what Beckwith (1988) called “the transformation of learners and . . . learning” (p. 18). However, in pursuit of this mission, we have become too fixated on being designers and applying the methods of design thinking. As valuable as design has been for our field, it’s ultimately too narrow an approach to help us have the impact we desire because it overemphasizes the importance of the products and services we create. To be more influential, we need approaches that focus our efforts on nurturing people’s “intrinsic talents and capacities” that are ultimately outside of our ability to manage and control (Thomson, 2005, p. 158; see also Biesta, 2013). Tying ourselves to design will not accomplish this, so we need to cultivate an identity of our own—an identity centered on what Dunne (1997) called the character and dispositions of “practical judgment” (p. 160).
In this chapter I hope to make these issues clear. I start by describing how design’s focus on creating and making misleads our understanding and application of important dimensions of our field. Doing this limits our impact. I then describe how we can cultivate an LIDT identity that is better suited for the aims we are pursuing. An LIDT-specific identity may include some methods from design thinking, but it will also encompass additional ways of improving the human condition, all centered in the character of practical judgment. I end by calling on readers to consider what this important evolution for our field means for their personal practice.
At BYU Scholar’s Archive
Link to book chapter
McDonald, J. K. (2023). The future of the field is not design. In R. E. West, & H. Leary (Eds.), Foundations of learning and instructional design technology: Historical roots & current trends (2nd ed.). EdTech Books. Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/foundations_of_learn/the_future_of_the_field_is_not_design