The Science and Art of Instructional Design

  • Sept. 19, 2013, 10:56 a.m.

The Science and Art of Instructional Design

Instructional design is both a science and an art.

Scientifically, it is a process of organizing information in a logical sequence in order to present new information to learners while at the same time, activating and scaffolding the learners’ existing knowledge. Cognitive science and what we know about motivation, information processing, and communication all contribute to a better understanding of what it means to learn – and to teach. Artistically, instructional design is also concerned with the aesthetic elements of the learning experience. Striking an appropriate balance between beauty and purpose, the art of instructional design seeks to make the learning experience visually stimulating and inviting, while avoiding elements that distract or detract from the content.

Incorporating an intuitive design and managing technological demands is also important. Instructional design relies heavily on the psychology of learning, technological expertise, and creativity in order to organize course content into an engaging learning experience.

Instructional Design and CLS

There are plenty of theories about how people learn, and nearly as many models for instructional design. It is the job of the instructional designer to navigate this ocean of theory, technology, and praxis, and to use science (and art) as a foundation for educationally sound course design.

At the College of Liberal Studies, we have the unique tradition of well over a decade of experience providing quality fully online courses. Over the years, our approach has been to provide an intuitive course structure that helps our students and faculty manage the demands and responsibilities of online courses delivered in 8-week and 16-week formats. And as appropriate learning technologies became widely available, we integrated them into our courses until multimedia elements and various online communication tools became familiar.

Now, we are about to embark on another shift; to keep pace with the advances in learning technologies, we will honor our past while embracing a bright new future! And though the intuitive structure of CLS courses will remain, our curriculum will continue to evolve, reflecting our commitment to providing our students with the highest quality learning experience possible.

Changes Ahead

How will things be different? Well, one of the major changes we will make is an increased use of the features and functionality of the university’s learning management system, Desire2Learn (OU D2L). We’ve maintained limited use of D2L for several years, but with the recent increased functionality of the system, we can now make better use of it. OU D2L allows us to incorporate a wide variety of multimedia elements into our courses to enrich the learning experience. OU D2L also collects and provides important learning analytics, which deliver robust information about student activity and performance to both faculty and students. The OU D2L system uses responsive web pages, so information can be accessed from a variety of screen sizes, and on a wide array of platforms (e.g., PC, Mac, and a variety of mobile devices). And there are several apps available as well, including D2L Binder, which allows students to access e-textbooks (when applicable) and download course content to view offline. (An Android version of D2L Binder is in the works.)

Photo of instructional design on desire to learn

Another change pertains to course texts. We are working to increase the flexibility and convenience of required course materials. Where possible, we will try to offer e-textbook options. Online textbook options tend to be more affordable, and with freely available eReader apps, are often easily downloaded and accessed from a variety of devices. It doesn’t mean we won’t offer the standard print version of required textbooks – it’s just one of the many areas in which we remain mindful of the needs of our students. We will also be updating the design of many CLS course websites, as well.

A third change involves the implementation of e-learning industry quality standards, like the online course design standards of the Quality MattersTMProgram (QM). QM Standards are considered a national benchmark for high quality online course design, and CLS will be using the QM Rubric (along with other nationally-recognized quality standards) in our efforts to continuously improve our online and blended courses. Leveraging greater use of OU D2L, QM, and a variety of online learning tools and options will enhance the learning experiences our courses provide.

At the core of these efforts, of course, is maintaining and building upon our already strong tradition of offering quality online degree programs. The upcoming changes to the CLS Curriculum are being implemented with the needs and interests of our students (and faculty) in mind and are based on our desire to continue to provide enriching, engaging learning experiences in every course! This is an exciting time, and the future of CLS’s curriculum is VERY bright!

Tammara Williams-Dias holds master’s degrees in Urban Education and Higher Education and is a doctorate candidate in Instructional Psychology and Technology. She has taught face-to-face, blended, and online courses at colleges and universities in both Oklahoma and Texas.

Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017. 

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The College of Professional and Continuing Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.