Yes I Can

Am I am ready for San Diego State University (SDSU) to award a Master's Degree in Educational Technology to me?  I wondered the same thing For the first two weeks of my final term.  For the first time, it was challenging for me to keep up.  Assignments were time consuming and numerous. My writing fell short of my 795B instructor's expectations. Confidence in my ability to finish strong was shaken.  One afternoon, after hours of wrestling with the keyboard,  I decided to meditate in the hammock on my deck. I needed to get a mental grip on the work.  Once I calmed my mind, an approach to my problem emerged.  I recognized that I had a performance problem!  I decided to apply the ADDIE model the problem I faced - delivering a professional portfolio on a short timeline. 

First, I thought about the work I needed to complete.  A task analysis focused on the expectations for the final product.  Using methods taught by Dr. Kopcha,  I framed the requirements for portfolio components as terminal objectives then identified the work required to meet each one as enabling objectives.  The task analysis revealed that I possess the skills and knowledge to meet the portfolio requirements. Next, I thought about the causes for my inability to make progress on the portfolio.  What are the constraints to my performance?  Do I have the knowledge? Yes.  Is my work environment stocked with necessary tools and a sufficient space to complete the work?  Yes.  Am I motivated to complete the work.  Most definitely.  Breaking the problem down to get a complete understanding of the skills and knowledge I possess in relation to the objectives allowed me to see that I am capable of completing the work.  As Dr. Rossett communicates, analysis provides clarity to the work ahead. I was able to see that time management is the real problem, not the tasks themselves. 

I am ready for SDSU to award a Master's Degree in Educational Technology to me.  Two years ago, I held a narrow view of the field of instructional design and technology. I thought it was all about using software and hardware to improve students' learning. Today, my tool box is stocked with models, theories, and principles that I can draw on to develop viable solutions to human performance issues.  I am learning to view problems as challenges, formulate holistic learning interventions, and deliver solutions using media that matches the audience and situation.  Confidence in my abilities grows as my knowledge and skills increase.  This I engaged in two instructional projects outside of the Cohort Online Masters of Educational Technology (COMET) program.  I participated in the district-level identification of "power standards" (terminal objectives) and the skills which support them (enabling objectives).  I then assisted in the creation of aligned assessments.  When I learned that the California Department of Education was seeking pilot teachers to evaluate and recommend web-based activities to support Algebra standards, I jumped at the chance to participate. Drawing on experiences from the COMET program, I contributed to our virtual work group's completion of tasks. My application of processes, models, and theories increased the value of my contributions tremendously.

The COMET program aligns with my personal interests.  First, the coursework included topics that built on my focus of study in my undergraduate program, particularly in the area of cognitive psychology.  I was first exposed to cognitive psychology while searching for explanations for mental disorders in children and adolescents.  Theories that explain what happens inside the "black box" help me understand the root of human behavior and develop interventions that address the issues underlying the behavior that a person presents.  Second, I feel uncomfortable approaching issues without a plan for my plan.  My colleagues kid around with me about being a planner but know that they can rely on me to be thorough in my work.  Over the last two years, I've learned about models that I now use to systematically work through human performance issues.  I find myself reaching for three models, A(R)DDIE, Criterion Referenced Instruction, and Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction when I'm tasked with providing solution systems to instructional problems.  Using models to structure my work allows me to frame my efforts in a self-correcting model that accounts for evaluation and redesign when necessary.  Now I understand that being "right" is not as important as recognizing flaws and reformulating solutions. Finally, my love of collaborative work environments has morphed into the love of virtual work environments.  Globalism and technological advances make it necessary for a shift in the way we work and learn.  Completion of work tasks no longer requires physical proximity to co-workers.  Working in virtual collaborations in the COMET program has allowed me to complete projects with people I've never met in person.  I have learned how to organize, lead, and participate in virtual collaborations and look forward to applying that knowledge to professional endeavors in the future.  Following is an in-depth description of my loves in the field of instructional design and technology.

Learning Theories

Instructional settings contain learners with varying levels of experience. Designers who possess a working knowledge of the different learning theories and keep them mind while moving through the phases of instruction will support a wider range of learners. The coursework I've completed in the COMET program substantially increased my knowledge and ability to apply learning theories to instructional design.  Understanding learning theories also provides me with an empirical basis for the design, development, and implementation strategies which lends credibility to my solution systems. 

Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism offer "clarity, direction and focus throughout the instructional design process" (McLeod, n.d.).  Each paradigm offers a different perspective on the way we learn and remember and has specific contextual relevance. Instructional designers understand that specific learning outcomes, contexts, and audience characteristics require particular design strategies and apply each at the appropriate phase of their instructional design.

Behaviorism offers a theoretical framework to develop performance based on environmental stimulus rather than accounting for cognitive processing in the learner's mind. Mager suggests principles of behaviorism in the process of writing performance objectives.  Overt learning outcomes frame learning as the demonstration of observable behaviors in tightly constrained situations.  Instructional events that require automatic performance, such as the recitation of multiplication tables, are well suited for this type of outcome.

Cognitivists view the human mind as an information processor and describe learning as a change in mental representations.  The change occurs as new information is compared with existing schema. Learners who have little prior knowledge of a topic may become frustrated with a cognitive approach, highlighting the importance of front-end analysis to identify learner's characteristics.  Pre-assessment reveals conceptual gaps and informs instructional design. Cognitive changes may be difficult to measure. Assessment of learning using a cognitive perspective should include a comparison of pre- and post-test gains. 

Constructivists, like cognitivists, believe that learning is defined in terms of change to existing knowledge.  Differences between the two include constructivism's emphasis on the importance of personal experience, often in social contexts, in learning. Learning is not viewed as a passive activity or automatic function of the brain. Active engagement with the content is required for learning.

I love learning theories because their application has a direct effect on a learner's experience.  I'm able to tailor the amount of instruction that is just right for the learner and context.  Do the learners have extensive prior knowledge?  Then I could apply a constructivist approach to the design, which allows students to learn from each other's experiences with the content as they match new information to a well-developed schema.  Is automatic behavior the goal of student learning?  A behaviorist approach will develop automatic performance as a response to stimuli.  Many settings contain learners with mixed abilities.  Using a blend of learning theories also helps me to differentiate instruction, which creates a richer learning experience for all.

Virtual Work Environments

I was introduced to virtual collaboration in 1996 in my role as Cybertutor Program Coordinator in a University of California (UC) online learning initiative.  I supervised UC undergraduates who created subject-specific, online tutoring help desks in Blackboard and delivered live tutoring to high school students through Illuminate Live! online classrooms. Nearly every phase of my work was completed at a distance. Through trial and error, I developed processes to manage hiring, training, and evaluating my staff using online tools. It was during this time that I learned that supervising, working, and collaborating with co-workers at a distance requires a different approach than face-to-face environments. 

Increasingly, organizations and educational institutions seek Internet-based alternatives to traditional work or educational processes.  Rossett and Sheldon (2001) expand the role of training professionals to include knowledge management, contribution to achievement of strategic goals, and configuring groups that transcend traditional boundaries.  Instructional Design professionals possess the skills and knowledge to facilitate the implementation of virtual work environments.  However, we must recognize that just "doing it online" is not good enough - effective virtual work environments must be housed in friendly interfaces with thoughtfully designed communication structures.  

Intuitive interfaces allow users to focus on the task at hand instead of using work time to figure out the interface.  In addition to designing for accessibility, adherence to design principles presented in EDTECH 541 support a user-friendly virtual work environment.

  • Contrast - Use color schemes that are easy on the eye. Think of color as a design element rather than an adornment for the page.  

  • Repetition - Use Cascading Style Sheets for web site formatting.  Unify the environment with a consistent layout and navigation scheme on every page. Use consistent labeling conventions, list structures, call-out boxes, etc. 

  • Alignment - Maintain consistent vertical alignment on the same page for graphics and text. 

  • Proximity - Design for readability by grouping similar items.   Use white space on the page to separate content.

Motivating workers in online environments can be difficult.  Virtual relationships take longer to develop and require specific strategies to maintain.  A task analysis yields data that can be used to set up the communication structure and select communication tools.  If the online environment will be staffed by an existing workforce, an audience analysis will reveal the staff's current skill level with virtual communication tools.  Transactional Distance theory, derived from distance education experiments, conveys that distance can be manipulated by adjusting the structure of the environment and the amount of dialogue among individuals.  This theory is useful when fleshing out the amount of communication that will occur among the staff and the structure of the virtual work environment.

My virtual work skill set has increased tremendously through COMET coursework and participation in work groups. The program exposed me to varied communication structures that will help me guide others in their virtual endeavors.  I can recommend and model the use of virtual classrooms, collaborative documents and audio/video conference using Web 2.0 tools.  Practice with a variety of tools and work groups boosted my written and verbal communication skills as well.

The sky is the limit in working virtual environments -- we are limited only by our own imaginations.  The saying, "none of us is as strong as all of us" takes on a deeper meaning when applied to collaborating at a distance.  "All of us" is no longer comprised of the people in close proximity.  "All of us" becomes a global collective of like-minded individuals working together to research and create.  I find value in virtual work environments.  They provide a vehicle for individuals to contribute to their field of interest, work, and attend school.  Virtual work environments allow us to transcend time and space and provide the platform to realize individual and collective goals. 

Systematic Instructional Design

None of the professional development trainings I've attended over the last ten years addressed a systematic approach to instructional design. If district trainers had conducted a needs analysis, they would have found that we teachers do a lot of instructional design but don't use a common language or model.  One of the greatest benefits of the COMET program for me is learning how to use instructional design models to systematically design and evaluate instruction. 

As I learned about the phases of ARDDIE, I realized that I was using parts of the model in my work as a math teacher.  I created class profiles based on standardized test scores, created, and implemented my own instructional materials.  My approach lacked a complete plan that accounted for all the processes related to instructional design. Today, I recognize many changes in the way I approach instructional design.

Instructional Design Phase

Pre-COMET Strategies

Post-COMET Strategies


Shallow, limited to performance on standardized test scores, did not consider analyzing anything other than learners' performance

Conduct a variety of front-end analyses, depending on the focus of the project or the problem I am tasked to solve


Narrow, limited to audience

Broader scan of literature provides insight into issues I may not be aware of and successes/shortcomings of similar efforts


Strict adherence to state standards as instructional objectives

Restate standards as performance objectives then design to increase learning efficiency


Loose, unstructured, and non-508 compliant

Adhere to print and web design principles while maintaining compliance to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act


Recognized cognitive overload; however, assumed overload imposed solely by complexity of material

Avoid working memory overload to facilitate changes in schema acquisition


Only students were evaluated

Continually evaluate all phases of the process, revise when necessary

Robert Mager's Criterion Referenced Instruction model guides me to clarify learning goals then write performance-based instructional objectives.  I also learned to align practice and assessments to the objectives.  Identifying tasks (and sub-tasks) is fairly straightforward.  If the instructional designer cannot perform the tasks herself, she can observe the performer or speak with subject matter experts to identity the "need to knows" for each goal or objective.  In my work outside of COMET, I catch myself asking for clarification when goals or objectives are fuzzy and use the "hey dad" test to help others understand why the goal/objective statement is not clear.  Aligning performance objectives to instruction and assessment was more difficult than it seemed.  It also made me identify the numerous instances when my objectives, instruction, and assessment were not matched correctly.

After learning about Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction, a road map for the cycle of instruction, I immediately revised my lesson plan template for my math classes.  The nine events of instruction are part of Gange's Conditions of Learning Theory, developed in the mid 1960's.  The theory identifies different types of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes.  Incorporating the nine instructional events in design ensures that that the learner is exposed to a complete instructional loop. The nine events are:

  1. Gain attention 
  2. Inform the learner of instructional objectives 
  3. Activate prior knowledge 
  4. Present content
  5. Guide the learner's practice 
  6. Learner practices individually 
  7. Provide feedback to learner 
  8. Assess performance 
  9. Enhance retention and transfer

Of all events, I believe that feedback is the most important.  Learners who do not receive feedback miss information that builds proficiency with the content as well as metacognition. 

Of all my loves, using a model to guide instructional design has impacted me the most professionally.  Before the COMET program, I had no idea that instructional models even existed.  Now, I frame every instructional design effort using whichever model is appropriate.  Not only do I apply the models, I recognize when my work fits into a phase of a particular model.  This helps me to deliver without being told exactly what to do; I can anticipate subsequent steps in large projects.  My work is more efficient and thorough now that I utilize systematic instructional design models. 

To Infinity and Beyond! The Future of My Loves

What does the future hold for my loves?  I cannot say with certainty; however, I believe that three areas in the field of instructional design and technology will endure:

  • The application of learning theories to instructional design and technology efforts
  • The implementation of virtual work environments 
  • The use of systematic models to guide instructional design efforts

Each area will evolve as technology and cognitive science advances. 

Learning Theory 

Of the theories developed prior to the use of technology in education, constructivism fits our modern way of learning the best.  Learners who perform cognitively undemanding tasks in isolation are shrinking.  Constructivism offers instructional designers a theory that accounts for the increasingly social nature of “learning” and the knowledge individuals possess relating to the new information presented.  Problem-based learning is an example of a constructivist approach.  The instructional method transfers beyond the classroom doors because it is based on developing solutions to real-world situations. 

George Siemens’ 2004 article communicates the importance of moving beyond prior to technology-enhanced learning experiences.  Connectivism, which incorporates principles of chaos, network, and self-organization theories, may be the applicable learning theory of the future.  The theory’s structure matches the way we now "mash-up" software applications to match our own needs.  Just like a mash-up, connectivists seek to do more with current knowledge rather than sticking to original intent.  The process of decision-making equals learning gains and the opinions of others is important.  Knowledge moves from static, universal truth, to a mutable body of ideas.

Virtual Work Environments 

Imagine you are a business owner (pick any industry).  How much would it cost you to hire the most qualified individual for every position?  What if they were sprinkled around the world?  Could you afford to relocate them? 

In the past, there was a narrow perspective about the notion of work.  People earned degrees or certificates aligned to one field then gained employment within commuting distance (often with the same company) through retirement.  Technological advances dramatically changed the way we work and will support the growing virtual workforce.  Entire companies are now staffed with global, virtual workforces who work at a distance to support organizational goals.  In 2001, Jack Hughes’ company, TopCoder, employed roughly 175,000 individuals from over 200 countries. Digital collaboration tools combined with virtual managerial paradigms make distance work a viable option for companies.  The notion of anytime, anyplace work based on individual interest and talent makes working at a distance an attractive option for many workers. 

A number of workers seek single-company employment to gain a comprehensive benefit and retirement package.  As the virtual workforce increases, we can expect demands for those perks to shift.  Workers in countries that offer universal health care and portable retirement plans offer support to virtual workers that the United States does not.  Our country’s economic competitiveness may suffer if we continue to burden industry with providing for individual’s health and retirement needs.

Systematic Instructional Design Models 

Google’s search engine displays 6,180,000 hits for the term “instructional design model”.  Adding the term “future” to the string yields 1,040,000 hits.  It appears that the future of our field’s models, providing a methodology for our work, is considered less often than current or historical perspectives.  Given the evolution of all things technological, it is imperative that we review our tried and true models to ensure that work processes match the world in which they are embedded.

The field of instructional design and technology has produced “more…models than there are elements on the periodic chart” according to J. Michael Spector.  The models are differentiated by factors such as “content, setting…underlying learning theory, delivery mode, and so on.”  Frankly, there are too many models. Researchers who propose 21st century modifications to existing models rather than developing and entirely new model move our design process forward. Brent Wilson’s description of two approaches, the old and the emerging, provide guidance for transforming models to fit emerging learning needs. 




Core Models and Ideas



Learning theory

Instructional theory

Technology-mediated learning


Maintain flexibility and a   commitment to pluralism in ideology and theory base


Always be open to change in the canon and entry of new ideas and mode


Work Methods 


Locally developed solutions, both quick-and-dirty and validated


Local methods reflecting a value consensus of workers, clients, and sponsors


Going beyond established rules with professional commitment and craft-like attention to detail


Established research methods, particularly experimental designs


Full range of reasoned inquiry, including:

Qualitative and quantitative methods

Design/developmental research

Action research

Documentation of best practices

Local and applied research

I look forward to participating in the theoretical and practical shifts that will move the field of instructional design and technology to infinity and beyond!


     Kearsley, G. (Copyright 1994-2009). Explorations in Learning & Instruction: The Theory Into Practice Database. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from

     Kruse, K., (n.d.). Gange's Nine Events of Instruction: An Introduction.  Retrieved July 2, 2009, from

     McLeod, G., (n.d.). Learning Theory and Instructional Design.  Retrieved on June 30, 2009 from, R.F. (1984). Preparing instructional objectives. (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: David S. Lake.

     Merrill, M. David. (2001). Components of Instruction Toward a Theoretical Tool for Instructional Design. Instructional Science, 29, 291-310.

     Press Release, (2009). TopCoder to Keynote MLab Conference on Innovation in the Workplace at London Business School. Retrieved July 5, 2009 from

     Rossett, A., & Sheldon, K. (2001). Beyond the podium: delivering training and performance to a digital world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

     Ruark, B., (2008).  The Year 3014: ARDDIE is in, ADDIE is out. Retrieved on June 26, 2008 from

     Saba, F., & Shearer, R.L. (1994). Verifying key theoretical concepts in a dynamic model of distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 8(1), 36-59.

     Siemens, G., (2004).  Connectivism: A learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved July 5, 200f from

     Spector, M.J., (2005). Reflections on the Future of Instructional Design and Technology. AECT 2004 IDT Futures Group Presentations. Retrieved July 5, 2009 from

     Weiss, T., (2006). How To Manage A Virtual Workforce.  Retrieved June 26, 2009, from

     Williams, R., & Tollett, J.  (1998).  The Non-Designer’s Web Book.  Berkley, CA.  Peachpit Press

     Wilson, B.G., (2005). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River NJ: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.