eLearning, Instructional Design, Technical Writing, And Training

(The Maze of Hidden Relationships! )

Are you one of those who are looking for the answers to these questions? If you are, you’ve reached the right place, for this simple article is written to unveil the nature of these relationships.

What is eLearning?

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Let us begin with eLearning. A simple analysis of the term (e+learning) will lead us to the theoretically correct answer to this question. “eLearning is using electronic media for imparting learning.” As I said, this is theoretically the correct answer. In the last few years, computers have stolen a march over other forms of electronic mediums such as television and radio; thus, eLearning today is commonly understood as “using computers to impart learning.”

So any learning/training that is imparted using computers can be called eLearning. If you’ve heard terms such as virtual classrooms, webcasting, podcasting, online learning, WBTs, CBTs, etc. you’ve heard of eLearning.

Today, eLearning is being used to impart learning in almost all subject areas. eLearning courses and trainings are being created for kids in schools, adult learners in universities, engineers working in corporations, BPO executives handling client-processes, farmers learning to make compost manure, and so on.

This is so, because eLearning has certain advantages over the traditional classroom learning. Some of these are:

  • eLearning content is less expensive in the long run.
  • If you want to train a group of fresh engineers on the process of continuous casting every four months, you would rather create an eLearning module and implement it again and again; This will help your organization save the cost of the expensive trainer time through reusable eLearning content.
  • eLearning content is standardized and the content delivery is not influenced by the ability of the trainer.
  • Classroom trainings are as good (or as bad) as the instructor’s command over the subject and his or her delivery skills. ELearning content is “designed” in advance. Its quality remains the same each time it is presented to the learner (It may also improve through incorporation of learners’ suggestions.)
  • Web-enabled eLearning content can be delivered to any learner anywhere anytime.
  • eLearning content takes away the pain of physically transporting oneself from one place to another – It also allows the learner to manage his or her time more effectively.

What is instructional design?

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Another term that we often hear is, Instructional Design. What is it? Does it have any relationship with eLearning? This term is also closely associated with training. What is the relationship that instructional design shares with training?

Let us begin by understanding instructional design. I shall not go into long-winded, detailed definitions of instructional design. Personally, I am not enchanted by definitions, as I believe in understanding, analyzing, and creating; rather than knowing. Definitions are often instrumental in killing our urge to comprehend and analyze. In my opinion readymade definitions often destroy our will to define concepts as we see them fit to be defined. Instructional design is a discipline that requires us to create, and hence, I will help you see the concept and formulate your own opinion about it.

Instructional design is about “imparting learning effectively”. So whatever one does to make sure that learning takes place effectively; is part of instructional design. This would naturally include:

  • The ways of determining the desired/required level of learning.
  • Different Methods that can be used to make learning interesting.
  • Selection of the appropriate medium for imparting learning.
  • Different Methods of ensuring the development of the required skill.
  • The theories and models that enable us to ensure that the content is designed for effective learning.

What is the difference between technical writing and instructional design?

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Those who are new to instructional design but have some exposure to technical writing, often wonder whether technical writing is any different from instructional design. The answer is very simple. Instructional design is applicable to everything that can be classified as learning while technical writing has a relatively limited application (technical content).

Instructional Design has no boundaries. The discipline helps us decide the language, the presentation of the content, even the activities to be provided to the learner for practice. Technical writing is always done for a specific use (how to use/do something), for a specific type of content (technical content), for a specific type of audience (the users); and it also requires us to use a specific type of language.

There is another difference between instructional design and technical writing, which will probably be clear to those who know Bloom's Taxonomy. It is that almost all of the technical writing is done at BL3 or Application level while instructional design requires that we determine the Bloom's level that the audience needs to reach if he or she seeks to accomplish a given task upon completing the training.

I hope that the difference between technical writing and instructional design is amply demonstrated. Technical writing is but one of the applications of instructional design. If you wish to ask, whether a technical writer benefits from learning instructional design – my answer is: Yes. You become a better technical writer if you know why you are writing in a particular way. You are also able to add more value to your content while remaining within the scope of technical writing – because you know what should be added to the content and what shouldn’t be.

What is the relationship between eLearning and instructional design?

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eLearning and instructional design share a very important relationship. In a classroom, a great trainer can make learning effective even with mediocre content; but eLearning is learner-centric. When a learner takes an eLearning course, the responsibility of completing the course properly, lies on the shoulders of the learner. Online learning may have facilitators who could guide the learner to an extent, but they may not be of much help against instructionally ineffective content. If an eLearner finds content boring or useless, he or she may kill her learning experience with a click of the mouse or a tap of a finger.

When we create content for eLearning delivery, we need to consider the vacuum of a real instructor and fill it using instructional design. Instructional Design enables us to find the right examples, activities, and exercises to guide the remote learner, reinforce learning, and then assess the learning as objectively as possible. Thus, ID helps us design and develop elearning content that makes the learner happy and satisfied. This is why the bond between instructional design and eLearning is exceptionally strong. The IDCD Course helps the learners explore this relationship by enabling them to learn how to use instructional design to develop elearning content.

What is the relationship between instructional design and training?

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Now I bring you to the final question – What is the relationship between instructional design and training?

Training is usually oriented towards the fulfillment of an immediate skill generation or skill enhancement need. Training is usually visualized as a classroom session, which

  • is guided by the instructor
  • uses PowerPoint presentations
  • provides some learning material to the learners
  • has some activities for reinforcing learning
  • has some quizzes to check learning
  • has a feedback session at the end

To understand the application of instructional design to training completely, we need to move the viewfinder to see what happens before and after the above process. The process listed here is just a snapshot of the entire training development process (refer to the ADDIE model here.). The lifecycle of any training doesn’t begin in the classroom where it is implemented. Any training is born in answer to a need identified by the corresponding department’s managers. It is then designed to map to the audience’s profile and the job’s requirements. Finally, it is developed into an instructor’s manual, a student’s manual, a PowerPoint presentation, and if required, the corresponding job aids.

    • Use of ID during Training Design and Development:
      Each of these processes requires instructional design. If trainings were designed without using instructional design, they would most probably fail in the classroom. Trainings designed using instructional design would work well for all trainers and for all types of content.
    • Use of ID during Training Implementation:
      The difference between an average trainer and a great trainer is that an average trainer doesn’t use the principles of instructional design to gain the learner’s attention, build relevance of the content for the learner, and make the learner confident of the content; while a great trainer does so. Some trainers are intuitively great trainers. Others can become great trainers – all that they have to do is – implement trainings through a conscious use of instructional design.
    • Use of ID during Training Evaluation:
      Instructional design also helps us evaluate the trainings correctly. Trainings are evaluated for two main reasons:
      • To determine how the training can be made better.
      • To determine whether the training resulted in a substantial benefit for the organization.

We can use instructional design to ensure that the formative evaluation or the step 1 listed above, results in useful information.

Instructional design is the strong backbone of any training – it not only provides form to the training, but also makes it strong and effective. The IDST course helps you establish how instructional design principles connect with your experiences related to training and learning, and how you can use the ID principles to ensure learning effectiveness.

The above discussion clearly underlines one important point. Whenever we speak of learning, education, or training; we unknowingly acknowledge the importance of instructional design. Whenever we come out of training session voicing the opinion that the session was not good enough, we inadvertently point out the lack of instructional design. Whenever we take an online course yet we don't feel confident of our knowledge and our ability to apply that knowledge, we experience the lack of instructional design.

- Author: Shafali R. Anand


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