Why you should know where you’re going before trying to show someone else the way

Instructional Design Map

One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is – there is a right way to do something and then there is something else different.

This is especially important within the field of instructional systems design. In his book, Designing Instructional Systems, Alexander J. Romiszowski quoted B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher, as having said, “… those of us who know where they are going, and can define the path that leads there, are in the business of training, whereas those who neither know their destinations nor the means of getting there are in education.” (Romiszowski, 1981, p. 3)  Romiszowski notes that, while this “an extremist view” often adopted by educators it has flaws. First, it assumes, educators have a handle on how to design training programs.  But, what often ends up happening is that they guess whether the learning systems they design will actually result in the intended outcomes.  That’s the “something else different” I alluded to earlier.

With a firm understanding of how the “I know” assumption negatively impacts both learning and learners, Romiszowski wrote that, in order to avoid the trap of “guessing” how to design an instructional system, instructional designers should ensure they focus first on the common thread: “systems thinking and systems analysis” (Romiszowski, 1982). Romiszowski advised instructional designers need to understand the core concepts of a system first, then start to build instructional designs around that system. While I have not, as yet been able to fully digest all of the tips and techniques Romiszowski includes in his book, what I have digested so far make it clear that designing instructional systems is not something that should be taken lightly.

For instance, the first step in the design process should be a sit-down with the client and that sit-down should not conclude until the instructional designer has completed a thorough learner needs assessment. The reason being: How do you plan to design training when you don’t know what people need to learn, how they learn, and why? (Duh.)

Case in point, while attempting to design a training program for my Instructional Systems Design course, I had to stop and realize that I did not have a firm handle on what exactly I needed to include that would be of the most befit to the organization and how would it move the organization toward realization of tangible and intangible returns?

These were the points that I had to stop, go back to my client, and gather additional information. In addition to know demographic information, I needed to know what job tasks the learners perform, how frequently they perform the tasks, what is the level of importance to the organization do these tasks have and what happens when tasks are not done correctly. This enabled me to design learner-centered training activities with objectives focused on whether the learner would need to use cognitive (thinking), affective/interpersonal (group or collaborative interpersonal skills), or psychomotor skills (capabilities to actually do the task) based on the needs of the organization. Gleaning this information also helped me determine which performance measurements would best help assess the learners’ proficiency in performing the test when they got back to work and what job-aids and/or supports the learners would need as refreshers. In other words, I started designing an instructional system when I didn’t have all the information. Dangerous.

Learning to create instructional design systems right is of utmost importance to me, and should be to anyone else that work within this field. If I am to become as effective as I aspire to be within this field – I had better learn to do it right.  There are no short cuts. There are no “almost there”. There is either good instructional design that accomplishes its intent – Return On Investment for training dollars spent, or, well.  Something else different. No excuses. Nowhere to hide. Because, as Michael Wesch indicated in his video, Information R/Evolution, we don’t have to go out and search for information on how to create good instructional design.  It will come to us.  If we look for it.

Bad instructional design ain’t cute.


Romiszowski, A. J. (1981). 1. Instruction, Instructional Systems and the Systems Approach. In Designing instructional systems (pp. 2, 5). Place of publication not identified, NY: Nichols.

Wesch, M. (2007, October 12). Information R/evolution [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/-4CV05HyAbM

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