ERIC Identifier: ED351007
Publication Date: 1992-11-00
Author: Willis, Barry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Instructional Development for Distance Education. ERIC Digest.
This digest is based in part on DISTANCE EDUCATION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE, by
Barry Willis, 1993.
Instructional development provides a procedure
and framework for systematically planning, developing, and adapting instruction
based on identifiable learner needs and content requirements. This process is
essential in distance education, where the instructor and students may share
limited common background and typically have little face-to-face contact.
Although instructional development models and processes abound (see Dick
& Carey, 1990; Gustafson & Powell, 1991), the majority follow the same
basic stages of design, development, evaluation, and revision. While it is
possible, even appropriate on occasion, to shorten the instructional development
process, it should be done only after considering the needs of the learner, the
requirements of the content, and the constraints facing both teacher and
THE DESIGN STAGE
The design stage focuses on gathering
information to help understand the instructional gap between what is and what
should be. Steps include defining the problem or need, understanding the
audience, and identifying instructional goals and objectives.
In defining the problem or need, determine why the instruction is required,
what external data verify the need, what factors led to the instructional need,
and what past experiences indicate that the instruction being planned can
effectively meet this need.
To better understand the distant learners and their needs, consider their
ages, cultural backgrounds, interests, and educational levels. In addition,
assess their familiarity with the various instructional methods and delivery
systems being considered, determine how they will apply the knowledge gained in
the course, and note whether the class will consist of a broad mix of students
or discrete subgroups with different characteristics (e.g., urban/rural,
undergraduate/graduate). When possible, the instructor should visit distant
sites and interview prospective students, both individually and in small groups.
This personalized attention will also show students that the instructor is more
than an anonymous presence, linked by electronic technology. If on-site
interaction is impossible, students should be contacted by telephone. Colleagues
who have worked with the target population can also offer advice to the distance
Based on the nature of the problem as well as student needs and
characteristics, establish instructional goals and objectives. Goals are broad
statements of instructional intent, while objectives are specific steps leading
to goal attainment.
THE DEVELOPMENT STAGE
The first step in development is to
create a content outline based on the instructional problem, the audience
analysis, instructional goals and objectives, and an understanding of the
desired course content. Next, the instructor should review existing materials.
Instructional materials should not be used solely because they are readily
available or have been effective in traditional classroom settings (see Beare,
1989). This is especially true if pre-packaged materials, such as telecourses,
are being considered (see Earl, 1989). Whereas many pre-packaged instructional
tools are developed and marketed to reach students with similar backgrounds and
experiences, they may have little relevance for distant learners who come to the
course with widely varied and non-traditional experiential backgrounds. If
pre-packaged instructional materials are to be used, consider developing "wrap
around" introductions, conclusions, and summaries that specifically relate the
learning materials to the instructional context of the distant student.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the distance educator is creating
student-relevant examples. Content, for the most part, is taught by using
examples to relate the content to a context understood by the students. The best
examples are "transparent," allowing the learners to focus on the content being
presented. If examples are irrelevant, learning is impeded. This is a special
challenge in rural and multicultural settings where the teacher's realm of
experience and content examples may be foreign to distant learners. To address
this problem, discuss potential content examples with a sampling of the target
In critiquing course content and presentation strategies, find reviewers who
have content expertise and experience teaching the target learner population.
Use informal peer networks to identify these individuals and consult with local
school teachers and community school personnel, who often cater to the needs of
The development of instructional materials and selection of delivery methods
will often require integrating voice, video, and data technology with print
resources. The challenge here is to select instructional technology based on
identifiable learner needs, content requirements, and technical constraints. For
example, it does little good to rely on delivery technology that is unavailable
or relatively inaccessible to some class members. If unusual delivery systems
are required, make sure they are available to all distant learners to avoid
having to create parallel learning experiences based on the different delivery
systems available to class members.
THE EVALUATION STAGE
The primary purpose of evaluation is
to provide information to decision makers. According to Brookfield (1990), the
utility of educational evaluation is enhanced by immediacy, clarity, regularity,
accessibility, and future orientation. With this in mind, there are two
approaches to evaluation: formative and summative.
Formative evaluation is ongoing throughout the instructional development
process and helps ensure that the course or instructional product will achieve
its stated goals (Flagg, 1990). One evaluation method for the distance educator
to consider is giving students pre-addressed and stamped postcards to complete
and mail after each class session. These "mini-evaluations" might focus on
course strengths and weaknesses, technical or delivery concerns, and content
areas in need of further coverage.
Summative evaluation is conducted upon course completion and is used to
determine the overall effectiveness of the class or instructional product.
Summative evaluation usually focuses on student performance, course relevancy,
learner attitudes towards the delivery methods used, and the instructor's
teaching style and effectiveness. Following course completion, consider a
summative evaluation session in which students informally brainstorm ways to
improve the course. Consider having a local facilitator run the evaluation
session to encourage a more open exchange of evaluative information.
Within the context of formative and summative evaluation, data are collected
through quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative techniques rely on a
breadth of response and are patterned after experimental research focused on the
collection and manipulation of statistically relevant quantities of data. In
contrast, qualitative evaluation focuses on depth of response and usually
involves gathering more subjective data and anecdotal information from a
relatively small, and possibly statistically insignificant, group of
respondents. Guba (1978) identifies a number of qualitative methods for
collecting evaluative data, including open-ended questioning, participant
observation, non-participant observation, content analysis, interviews, and
Qualitative approaches may be of special value to the distance educator
because the diversity of students may defy statistically relevant stratification
and analysis. The best approach often combines quantitative measurement of
student performance with open-ended interviewing and non-participant observation
to collect and assess information about attitudes toward the course's
effectiveness and the delivery technology.
THE REVISION STAGE
There is room for improvement in even
the most carefully developed distance-delivered course, and the need for
revision should be anticipated. In fact, there will likely be more confidence in
a course that has been significantly revised than in one that was considered
flawless the first time through.
Revision plans typically are a direct result of the evaluation process in
tandem with feedback from colleagues and content specialists. The best source of
revision ideas may be the instructor's own reflection on course strengths and
weaknesses. For this reason, revision should be planned as soon as possible
after the course ends.
Often, course revisions will be minor, such as breaking a large and unwieldy
instructional unit into more manageable components, increasing assignment
feedback, or improving student-to-student interaction. On other occasions,
greater revisions will be needed. Revisions should be made according to
priority, and significant course changes should be field-tested prior to future
To test revision ideas, contact and reconvene small groups of distant
learners, content specialists, and colleagues, and ask them to review and
critique the revision ideas being considered. Results of this process should be
tempered by the knowledge that the characteristics of each distance-delivered
class will vary and that revisions required for one learner group may be
inappropriate for a different student population.
Adhering to sound principles of instructional
development won't overcome all of the obstacles one encounters en route to
developing effective distance education programs. It will, however, provide a
process and procedural framework for addressing the instructional challenges
that will surely arise.
Beare, P.L. (1989). The comparative
effectiveness of videotape, audiotape, and telelecture in delivering continuing
teacher education. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF DISTANCE EDUCATION, 3(2), 57-66.
Brookfield, S.D. (1990). THE SKILLFUL TEACHER: ON TECHNIQUE, TRUST, AND
RESPONSIVENESS IN THE CLASSROOM. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dick, W., & Carey, L. (1990). THE SYSTEMATIC DESIGN OF INSTRUCTION (3rd
ed.). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Company.
Earl, A.W. (1989). DESIGN OF A TELECOURSE: FROM REGISTRATION TO FINAL EXAM.
Paper presented at the Annual Conference on Emerging Technologies in Education
and Training, Augusta, Maine, September 29, 1989. (ED 317 182).
Flagg, B.N. (1990). FORMATIVE EVALUATION FOR EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES.
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence, Erlbaum Associates.
Guba, E.G. (1978). TOWARD A METHODOLOGY OF NATURALISTIC INQUIRY IN EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION. CSE MONOGRAPH SERIES IN EDUCATION, 8. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Center for the Study
of Evaluation. (ED 164 599).
Gustafson, K.L. & Powell, G.C. (1991). SURVEY OF INSTRUCTIONAL
DEVELOPMENT MODELS WITH AN ANNOTATED ERIC BIBLIOGRAPHY. (2nd ed.). Syracuse, NY:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. (ED 335 027).
Willis, B. (1993). DISTANCE EDUCATION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Educational Technology Publications.