New: Book Report: Developing Technical Training

Please pardon this book report: these are my notes from the book, not the usual wry and insightful commentary.

"Instructional design", as near as I can tell, is a movement to apply some rigor to lesson planning & curriculum planning, piggybacking on some theories of learning from psychology.

I've been reading some I.D. books. They seem to hammer on some points that are "old news" to tech writers... but they keep hammering on them so maybe they're not such obvious points. When trying to teach some material, you have choices about how to present that material. There's no one best way.

"As to theory, this book reflects the instructional design model of M. David Merrill, one of my mentors during my doctoral work at USC... Guidelines for the design of textual materials are based on the work of Robert E. Horn and are available in Information Mapping(TM) seminars... Finally, the illustration of instructional methods applied to two media--workbook and computer--is drawn from the instructional method/instructional media distinction of Richard E. Clark."

A set of steps

This book attempts to categorize things to learn. Other books do too, and of course they don't agree on categories. This book's schtick is a matrix:

Apply Classify new examples Solve a proplem/Make an inference Perform the procedure Solve a (hazy) problem/Make a (deeper) inference
Remember Remember the facts Remember the definition Remember the stages Remember the steps Remember the guidelines
Facts Concepts Processes Procedures Principles

A great way to teach things: force students to apply the knowledge. As they use it, it weaves into their brains.

Facts Unfortunately, there's not generally a way to "apply" facts. If you have multiple related facts to present, try to show them in a list. In text, call out facts in some way. Suggest mnemonics. Set up "job aids" (references/"cheat sheets")

Concepts Definitions. Ask people to differentiate: which of these is/is not a ____? When teaching start with the "platonic ideal" example, work out to border cases.

Process This is a set of steps, but it's not a set of steps to carry out. It's like describing the "Life of a Chassis on the Assembly Line". This is useful if a car emerges with no wheels--you can ask at what stages something might have gone wrong.

Procedure A set of steps that someone might carry out. To assess--ask them to carry it out.

Principle High-level judgement calls. State the principle. Provide examples, non-examples. Sometimes analogies help.

Planning lesson/curriculum at the high level: Make sure that you start with an overview. Tell the students what they'll learn before they even sign up--so they're sure that they want to sign up. "Knowledge-based" vs "Job-Centered" -- group topics by similar topics or similar-time-applied? Knowledge-based good for long-term, high-level; job-centered good for immediate.

A section on computer-based training... that reminds us of how far computers have come along in the last few years. Nowadays, this section is about as useful as the Chicago Manual of Style's explanation on how to make an index from index cards.

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Posted 2008-06-08