Traditional curriculum development starts with the defining the information that the teacher wants to disseminate to the student and designing the supporting materials. This is considered a “Content Approach” in which the curriculum is a list of knowledge that the learners are required to absorb, synthesize and reiterate. A subject matter expert, a trainer, or a curriculum advisory group can create the knowledge list. The instructor receives very little guidance on how to facilitate the learning process and successfully impart the content. When delivering the content in a traditional classroom setting, the instructor can monitor and adjust the successful communication of the material by reading participant’s physical cues of engagement and understanding.
However, in distance education the instructor does not necessarily have the immediate student feedback nor do they have control over the student’s learning environment or the inherent distractions of said environment. As David Murphy states “I perceive instructional design as the art and science of crafting effective learning environments” (Murphy). Instructional design is a science and every project has its own intrinsic issues. Therefore, the instructional designer must take the planning stage very seriously so all possible scenarios can be addressed up front before a single word of the curriculum is written.
When designing long distance curriculum modules the challenges can be numerous but Murphy dedicates the majority of this article to the planning stage, which in my humble opinion, is the most important design stage. “All instructional designers agree on the need for effective planning of the design and development process. The success of this process largely depends on the preparation of a document, often called a plan or a blueprint, with essential elements such as clear indications of what will be done, who will do it and by when. “ (Murphy) During the instructional design planning stage it is important to identify the audience, the goals, the aims and objectives (in other words how you meet those goals), the content outline, the learning environment, interaction and learning activities to be utilized, assessment tools and evaluation methods. Proper planning eliminates the majority of rework and interactivity issues.
Effective planning of the design and development process is vital to the success of the instructional design process. In addition, taking the time to define the audience and interactivity needs of that particular audience helps the designing team define key interface and interactivity components. As instructors we tend to focus on the assessment and evaluation pieces but if the teacher does not present the learning materials in a concise, logical and engaging manner the student will not be engrossed enough to absorb the key concepts the long distance module is trying to bring across.
Many instructors expect technology to compensate for the lack of structure and content in their online course. The instructional designer will need to retain the user’s attention and including specific information that will describe the curriculum material in an exciting manner can do this. Technology has to be used appropriately in distance education instructional design and should enhance the content. An educator should use online technology applicably where it can enhance the learning process by providing opportunities for discussion, submission of assignments and immediate test results.
Murphy reminds us that in there are no concise or foolproof methods of designing long distance curriculum. “fundamentally it is about people. This is why no neat prescriptive system can ever hope to cope with all the complexities of course development in distance education.” (Murphy) Each subject has inherent immersion issues. It is the job of the instructional design to turn these challenges into opportunities for students to learn.