As an elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and now, graduate student, I never realized that almost everything I learned in school was not a reflection of a carefully crafted instructional system design. It was about whether my teacher implemented the instruction with gusto – or couldn’t care less.
In his article, Designing Innovation from an Implementation Perspective, Jan Van den Akker, author of books such as Design Approaches and Tools in Education and Training, and other highly cited works, wrote, “Many innovations in education are either total or partial failures” (Van den Akker, 1994). This reknown instructional design expert went on to explain that instructional designers should stop to consider their main audience when designing lesson plans: teachers because it is up to the teacher to decide if the new material works. Van den Akker argues no matter how well written or designed new curriculum is, it is up to the teacher to make the lesson plan work.
This should concern new instructional designers because teachers face many challenges while trying to implement innovation in their classroom. Van den Akker referenced work by Michael Fullan who categorized the challenges into four variables:
- the human’s innate resistance to change;
- internal school politics that influence teachers, students and classrooms;
- external policies or politics that bleed into the instructional environment; and
- the instructional designer’s failure to integrate implementation instructions, job aids and considerations into new learning products (Fullan, 1991).
Van den Akker also noted work by Walter Doyle and Gerald A. Ponder who theorized instructional designers should seek to convince teachers that their new innovative instructional design is needed, relevant, clear, simple, and practical (Doyle & Ponder, 1977-1978). This led Van den Akker to argue, it does not matter if a teacher’s first impressions and judgments about the instructional design are accurate or superficial. Van den Akker further infers what is more important is for the instructional designer to convince the teacher that the new instructional design product is worth their while to implement as proposed (Van den Akker).
Van den Akker concluded by recommending “a set of potentially fruitful procedural specifications” (Van den Akker, 1991) instructional designers should incorporate when presenting new learning products. The specifications include:
- Lesson preparation instructions such as estimated time each component should take, resources and provisions required, room for adjustments based on situations and strategies for addressing or overcoming constraints the teacher could consider while preparing to deliver the new product to their students;
- Clear and concise information about the central elements of the learning materials such as outlines of concepts and activities, possible questions with answers and operational requirements and a list of objects needed;
- Suggested teaching patterns such as recommending groupings and task distribution, roles, materials, sequencing of activities, discussion guidelines, etc.; and
- Learning effects such as descriptions of how students might react to the materials and suggestions on how to measure and evaluate the effects.
Van den Akker infers that instructional designers can no longer afford to look at teachers as mere “gatekeepers”. Designers must consider teachers as vital “partners” in the instructional design process. After all, Van den Akker argues, it is the teacher that decides if the instructional design is successful in their classroom. Not you.
In other words, as instructional designers, we must understand: Teachers can make you – or break you!
Doyle, W., & Ponder, G. A. (1978). The practicality ethic in teacher decision making. Interchange, 8(3), 1-12.
Fullan, M. (1991). The New Meaning of Educational Change. Teachers College Press. New York.
Van den Akker, J. (1994). Designing innovations from an implementation perspective. The Encyclopedia of Education 2nd Edition, 1491-1494.