Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blogs worth reading

Although the term "instructional design" is unfamiliar to many people, you probably already know quite a few instructional designers. We stand at the confluence of educational psychology, practical pedagogy, educational technology, and a few other fields, and our focus is simple: whatever subject you want to teach, we want to help your students learn it. We want to make sure you give them whatever they need to absorb, understand, and retain the information, linking it deeply within their own understanding of the world.

Although there are instructional design books out there (an excellent one is George Piskurich's Rapid Instructional Design, in its second edition from Pfeiffer Press), you can also find a lot of information on the web, for free. Here are some good places to start:

Making Change, by Cathy Moore
Used without permission from
I've been reading Cathy's thoughts on instructional design almost from the first day I discovered the field, and she has guided a lot of my practical experiments at work. She has a strong pragmatic bent in her philosophy of design, and she feels that many of the traditional military-model instructional design principles (like ADDIE) are often used too rigidly. As such, I think her words will provide interesting fodder for debate when we discuss models of instructional design.

I love the way Cathy organizes her site. She's a technology-based instructional designer, and her site actually does what she talks about. She frequently posts slide shows, graphic explanations, and other tools that really increase my understanding of her topic. But she's also a philosopher and a careful thinker about why something is worth doing:
Too often, elearning is viewed as simply a way to deliver information . . . . But elearning’s strength is in its ability to challenge learners with realistic interactions that make them interpret and apply new information. ("Could animations hurt learning?", retrieved 7 March 2010).
I enjoy Cathy's writing immensely, and I always learn something new from her posts. They don't come often—the last was in November 2009—but when they do, they're worth the time.

Word of Mouth: the Articulate Blog, hosted by Gabe Anderson
Image from, used without permission
For those who don't know it, Articulate isn't merely an adjective for a well-spoken person; it's also a software package for the development of eLearning presentations and experiences. As such, the Articulate Blog sometimes comes across a bit heavily in the direction of Articulate's products, but they usually have some larger point to make—and when they do, it's worth hearing.

Articulate's bloggers tend to focus on different aspects of the technological expertise required to create strong visual eLearning materials. Since I am not trained as a graphic designer and have relatively little experience with tools like PowerPoint and Flash, I find this sort of advice very valuable.

Articulate tends to have a bias toward corporate training topics, which casts it in a different light from some of the instructional design blogs that focus on schools.

I also really like Articulate's Rapid eLearning Blog.

Instructional Design and Development Blog, by the IDD faculty of DePaul University

Used without permission from the DePaul University Department of Instructional Design and Development
I like reading IDD Blog because, although its voice represents several different writers with diverse backgrounds, it manages to present a consistently valuable, thought-provoking look at different topics that relate to instructional design. I work with a lot of college students, so their university setting is valuable to me. IDD Blog seems to have a good worthy variety of discussions, didactic materials, and simple ruminations, and I enjoy reading it.

For example, some recent posts involve such varied topics as how to handle situations where one person's lack of inability gets cast as a design problem ("Poor Usability or Just Poor Users? The Squeaky-Wheel Syndrome"), some basic tips on good PowerPoint design ("Oh, Good Old PowerPoint"), and some classroom techniques on how to get discussions moving ("Getting Students Talking in Synchronous Sessions, Part II"). None of these posts is encyclopedic, but they often have valuable insight that applies to other problem domains, and some—like the PowerPoint article linked above—are both direct and packed with information.

Why bother?
In their own ways, each of these blogs makes me think. They make me argue with myself, and they make me wrestle with new ideas. I believe that process makes me a better instructional designer, and I look forward to learning more about how these professionals do their work.

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