Instructional Artistry

Most of the time, I read Maish Nichani's elearningpost for pointers to other people's stuff. Today I was impressed by his eloquence in describing his own learning at the BodyWorlds exhibit:

    But even with the explicit exhibits and the information cards, I would not have captured the entire essence of some exhibits if I did not happen to listen in to a doctor explaining the exhibits to his girlfriend. I found his explanations so interesting that I took his route and followed him till he became conscious of my omnipresence.

    Instruction and experience seem to take different routes in explaining. The informality of experience just seems to explain things a lot better, and at a higher plane too. We can call it the power of the narrative or it just could be that we humans (me at least) are hardwired to make sense of the informal. We are sense-making creatures and thus thrive on fuzzy conditions that force us to make sense of the situation. Maybe that's why we consider the formal to be mundane.

Maish's observation crystallizes an important factor in learning informally: fuzziness. This is akin to what lends a story impact -- enough left out that the listener's mind can create its own story, a joint effort of making meaning in a shared space. "I enjoyed the book more than the movie because the colors were better."

While old-school instructional design purists busy themselves with structuring learning, I seem to be working to dismember it. This lends new meaning to "back to the basics." Once again, the honest, friendly voice of The Cluetrain Manifesto trumps officialdom and hype.

Maybe it's time to counter the supposed efficiency of Human Performance Technology (HPT) with the effectiveness of informal learning head-on. ISPI describes HPT as "the systematic and systemic identification and removal of barriers to individual and organizational performance."

ISPI tells us to:

  • Be systematic in the assessment of the need or opportunity.
  • Be systematic in the analysis of the work and workplace to identify the cause or factors that limit performance.
  • Be systematic in the design of the solution or specification of the requirements of the solution.
  • Be systematic in the development of all or some of the solution and its elements.
  • Be systematic in the implementation of the solution.
  • Be systematic in the evaluation of the process and the results.

In my intellectual adolescence, I always took systematic to be a good thing. Now I have my doubts. The dictionary defines systematic as

    methodical; formed with regular connection and adaptation or subordination of parts to each other, and to the design of the whole; as, a systematic arrangement of plants or animals; a systematic course of study


    marked by thoroughness and regularity

Roget's entry on systematic lists "Arranged or proceeding in a set, systematized pattern: methodic, methodical, orderly, regular, systematical." Makes me think of McDonald's hamburgers.

If embracing HPT reduces design to things that are orderly and regular, I wouldn't embrace it. Nor would Edison, Galileo, Monet, Shakespeare, Bohr, Coltrane, Picasso, or Scott Adams.

Maish has kickstarted my thinking about replacing instructional design (which is really instructional engineering) with something entirely different: Instructional Artistry.

Posted by Jay Cross at November 25, 2003 09:41 AM | TrackBack

This idea of Instructional Artistry is of course very close to the ideas I outlined in my 'Learning by design' article on elearningpost:

If we are to return to values of design, craftmanship and artistry, then how to educate learning designers? my thoughts:

Posted by: mindful_learner at November 28, 2003 08:31 AM

awesome !

Posted by: paris hilton movie at June 30, 2004 01:13 AM

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