Instructional designers (IDs) have a crucial role in education as they are responsible for creating learning curricula that is engaging and rooted in well-founded literature of how we learn best and what affects learning. In order to be an effective ID, one needs to take into account all the variables that can be conducive to better learning as well as the ones that have a negative impact. This includes understanding the many learning theories, students’ different learning styles and the idea of multiple intelligences, cutting-edge technology in the field of education, and other influential factors such as motivation.
Learning theories lay a strong foundation for IDs to plan instruction that is compelling and engaging for students. Behaviorism explains learning through an interaction of stimulus-response that, when associated with reinforcers and punishers, can increase or decrease the frequency of a behavior. IDs can use Behaviorism to determine the desired outcome, or the terminal behavior, and then write learning objectives with measurable results (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). They can also implement appropriate use of feedback, incentives, rewards or punishers, and even behavior modification plans (Standridge, 2010) to keep students engaged throughout the courses they design. Cognitivism focuses on the study of mental processes through scientific method and abstractions from behavior (Atkisson, 2010). It observes how we perceive, organize, store, connect, retrieve information, as well as how we can consciously apply this knowledge, a skill known as metacognition, in order to learn concepts, problem-solve, and transfer knowledge (Ormrod et al., 2009). Cognitivist taxonomies, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy (a hierarchical classification of varied levels of thinking) can help IDs plan activities that guides students in the development of higher-order thinking skills. Constructivism claims that learning is constructed by the individual while they process information received through the senses and make their own meanings. Based on constructivist views, IDs can plan activities that maintain learners active engagement with the material through hands-on assignments and experiences that will help them in the construction of knowledge. Social learning theories show evidence that social interactions and cultures are key influencers in learning. With this in mind, incorporating activities that lean on social interactions between teacher, students, and an online community of learners in the instructional design is absolutely vital. Finally, Connectivism, although not widely accepted as a learning theory, provides a framework to understand the role of technology in learning in today’s digital era. As learning occurs by connecting nodes in the many networks a person acquires throughout his or her life, which could be internal (in the mind) or external (on computers and other sources of knowledge), IDs can incorporate technology that helps students to internalize concepts in a more effective and fun way, through videos, games, interactive social networks, a variety of online learning platforms, and to investigate and self-direct their learning experience as they find information, make links across domains, and create new knowledge that can be applied to real-life scenarios.
Another important aspect of learning is the concept of learning styles and multiple intelligences, which has been widely promoted within the field of education. While there is an acknowledgment that people do have individual strengths and weaknesses as well as personal preferences on how they believe they learn best or their preferred instruction mode (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.), in-depth investigations of current research does not provide substantial evidence that “learning will be ineffective, or at least less efficient than it could be, if learners receive instruction that does not take account of their learning style” (Pashler et al., 2009). Instructional designers should select the techniques that are most appropriate to the subject at hand rather than individual’s learning styles. They should also give students multiple ways to access information, avoiding a one-size-fits-all method of teaching, incorporate the arts rather than focus only on activities that regard linguistic and logical intelligences, and provide opportunities for students to develop their full potential in as many domains as possible (Terada, 2008). Yet, they should recognize the existence of a multiplicity of intelligences and learning styles and present the material in a way that integrates as many of the senses as possible. When writing about common misconceptions that consider learning styles and multiple intelligences to be the same, Gardner suggests that educators should (1) individualize teaching whenever feasible; and (2) pluralize teaching by presenting materials in a variety of ways as to reach as many students as possible (Gardner, 2013). IDs should avoid labeling students based on their learning style or intelligence profile as this can discourage students from developing other ways of thinking and strategies for learning.
Technology has been permeating education for a few decades, but its growth has been exponential in the last couple of years. The Internet has completely changed the way we access and interact with information. The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the need for distance learning programs that depend on technology even more and e-Learning became one of the biggest trends in education. Along with online learning, IDs need to stay current on latest technological trends, such as the integration of analytics technologies to better understand the learner and gather relevant information to guide the selection of teaching methods and strategies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), gamification, immersive learning through Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), multimedia tools (animations, videos, presentations, etc.), hands-on activities involving STEAM-based programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), big data collection of relevant information on student’s learning experiences, softwares and apps that can enhance or facilitate learning, and the use of social platforms that open new possibilities for student’s collaboration and exchange with a much greater community of learners.
Lastly, IDs need to analyze all other factors that influence learning, including one of the most important ones: Motivation. When students are motivated to learn, they tend attentive, engaged, and self-determined. Similarly, when they are not motivated, no matter how great the design or how engaging the technology, learning will not take place. Motivation can be intrinsic, originated internally and propelling a person to engage in an activity because he or she finds it interesting and inherently satisfying, or extrinsic, sourced externally and moving a person to engage in an activity to receive a reward or to avoid a punishment (Domenico & Ryan, 2017, March 24). Research supports that intrinsic motivation should always be the ultimate goal because it promotes a much greater impact on the level and quality of learning outcomes. Nevertheless, learners can also be extrinsically motivated (Ormrod et al., 2009) and that is important for designers of instruction as incentive, rewards, and constructive and personalized feedbacks can be easily integrated in the curricula. Most importantly is to look for strategies that can positively satisfy learners’ psychological needs such as autonomy, competence, feelings of relatedness, belonging, self-worth, self-determination, need for arousal (Ormrod et al, 2009) as this will provide students with the necessary tools to increase their intrinsic motivation for learning. Giving feedback that is accurate, constructive, and positive, offering rewards for informational purposes rather than for behavioral control, providing opportunities for hands-on mastery, and encouraging learners to set high-quality goals while monitoring their progress (Cork & Artino, 2006) are some of the many ways teachers and IDs can help improve student’s motivation.
In conclusion, a thorough familiarity with learning theories, learning styles, technology, and motivation are an essential foundation to develop instructional materials that are efficacious in promoting learning. Instructional designers need to consider the different ways in which people learn, their individualities, strengths and weaknesses, their preferences in regards to the instruction mode they feel more comfortable with, as well as be able to identify what motivates them to learn so they can address these issues in the instructional plan. Finally, they have to stay current with new technological trends that can assist them in selecting the appropriate strategies and methods of instruction, in order to create curricula that is captivating and suitable for optimum learning.
Behaviorism vs. Cognitivism. Ways of Knowing. Michael Atkisson. (2010, October 12). https://woknowing.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/behaviorism-vs-cognitivisim/.
Cook, D. A., & Artino, A. R. (2016). Motivation to learn: An overview of contemporary theories. Medical Education, 50(10), 997–1014. https://doi.org/10.1111/medu.13074
Gardner, Howard (2013). Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles. The Washington Post. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answersheet/wp/2013/10/16/howard-gardner-multiple-intelligences-are-not-learning-styles/
Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York, NY: Pearson.
Pashler, H., McDaniel. M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x
Standridge, M. (2010). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://textbookequity.org/Textbooks/Orey_Emergin_Perspectives_Learning.pdf
Terada, Y. (2018, October 15). Multiple intelligences theory: Widely used, yet misunderstood. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/multiple-intelligences-theory-widely-used-yet-misunderstood.