Instructional Design Should Be About Thinking Not Process

In past work John Shank and I have drawn parallels between some core elements of instructional design and design thinking. For example, both begin with efforts to understand users. Both involve prototyping to develop an appropriate product. And both incorporate efforts to evaluate outcomes to determine if the product, as designed, achieved the desired solution. In fact, for those with some background, prior experience with or training in instructional design, it should be a logical leap to grasp the key concepts of design thinking.

A new article about instructional design in the latest issue of Educational Technology (Sept-Oct 2007) titled “A Principle-Based Model of Instructional Design: A New Way of Thinking About and Teaching ID” is primarily about instructional design, but the author makes a case that what it is really about is not the process we’ve all come to know and love – as exemplified by ADDIE – but is really a set of principles and a way of thinking. The author, Kenneth Silber, never mentions the phrase “design thinking” but he writes:

If ID (instructional design) is problem solving (not a systematic procedure), then the real questions are how designers think, and the principles they use.

In drawing his own parallels between the two, Silber develops five principles, one of which is “The thinking process is similar to one designers in other fields use.” In other words, the commonality between the many different fields of design is the application of design thinking. “There is a great deal of similarity between the way IDers think about problems and the way designers in general do” writes Silber.

Silber’s goal is not simply to draw these parallels, but to make a case that instructional design is more about problem solving and thinking of ways to design solutions. If that is the case, and he presents a great deal of literature to support his argument, then he states that instructors of ID should rethink their methods and help learners to understand how to use design thinking to identify problems and determine their solutions. I’ll have to read this one a few more times for it all to sink in, but it was great to find an instructional design instructor whose principles can help us to further refine our thinking about the intersections between instructional design and design thinking.


Designing A Video Presentation On Design Thinking

Whenever introducing a new idea or concept to your colleagues there’s a possibility that they might encounter some difficulty in grasping it. Then again, it’s important to develop a message or way of introducing this new idea that makes it easier to grasp. I think that’s the point of developing a “sticky” message. It’s the type of message that grabs the listener’s attention, and keeps them focused on the message. The message must also effectively communicate the core concept in a way that is simple and memorable.

So I attempted to design something that would better communicate what design thinking is, and do so in a way that offers a sticky message. I had mentioned in a previous post that I would be working on this. A colleague recently pointed me to Jing, a web-based utility for creating short screencasts. It’s easy to use and works well for short, instructional videos that can quickly be posted on the web so that students who need some instructional or research assistance can be guided to it. I thought this might be a useful tool for creating a message about design thinking.

You can see the results by going to the new design thinking page on my re-designed personal web site (it’s not done yet). On this page you’ll find the link to a 5-minute eClip presentation that serves as a brief introduction to design thinking. There’s a lot more that could be said, and the real challenge was trying to decide what to say, how to say it, and how to present it. In the spirit of design thinking I look at this video presentation (screecast) as a prototype – in fact this is about the fifth iteration so far. I look forward to your comments and suggestions that can help to improve this eClip presentation.

Check Out The Latest Inside Innovation

The September 10, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek contains the latest IN:Inside Innovation supplement. If you don’t have the paper issue handy the supplement is available in online format. The focus of this edition of IN is collaboration. Featured articles include ones that explore how IBM gets its innovation networks to work, how 10 top innovators use cross pollination to draw inspiration from crossing the boundaries of their own professions, and how twenty-somethings are transforming social sites into business networks.

An article that should be read by librarians is the one on brand hijacking. That refers to situations when customers take over the brand to conduct negative attacks on the product or institution. Yes, it’s true that most libraries don’t even know what their brand is, let alone offer one that the hijackers would want. But there is some good advice here for libraries that want to use branding to build better relationships with the members of their institution (be authentic and honest; listen to consumers; and get more involved with user communities). There are some good, brief examples of making things work better with design.

Explaining What Design Is Can Be A Challenge

I’ve always found it a bit of a challenge to find good, short, memorable messages that can provide a simple but powerful way of communicating the concepts behind design thinking. I’m currently reading the book Made to Stick (great read BTW – more on it later), and that’s already providing some good ideas on how to create a better way to deliver the messages that will effectively communicate why this is an important set of skills for librarians who want to design better libraries. As I develop those messages I’ll be sharing them with the readers of this blog for your feedback and opinions. Right now, I am developing some slides and messages (e.g., “design thinking is a way of solving library problems the way designers solve design problems”)- which are a good start but perhaps still too vague to quickly capture an audience’s attention and have them wanting to learn more.

Well I see I’m not the only one trying to develop better ways to, with simple and effective messages, communicate about design and design thinking so that it will stick. Take a look at Design Session 01, a video made by design student David Ngo, that tries to explain what design is. While it is somewhat amateurish and a bit corny in spots it looks like this video, which is the first in what will be a series of videos on design, has some promise. Well, take a look and see what you think. Perhaps a video on design thinking for librarians might have some possibilities?