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Do You Ever Just Sit and Stare?

Date:September 30, 2013

Do you ever just sit and stare?

I know I do . . . but sometimes there are also thoughts running and whole conversations being conducted internally. Of course it’s always a good idea to keep those internal conversations . . . internal . . . especially if you are sitting alone on a train-station bench.

So this is what was running through my head the other day while sitting on a bench waiting for the local commuter train.

There are five factors associated with individualized instruction that can be varied to meet individual learner needs. With client-centered program development we have to keep these five factors in mind: (1) pace, (2) sequence, (3) content, (4) mode of instruction, and (5) level and type of interactivity. So if our goal is to maximize our clients’ satisfaction with our programming, which factors should we address? (Ideally all five, but let’s say we can only focus on one or two.)

Smith and Raglan (big-wigs in instructional design) offer a comprehensive list of learner characteristics to consider when designing instruction, which they summarize by saying that the "most important factor for a designer to consider about the audience is specific prior learning". Given this is true I believe that of the five factors mentioned above it is content, as well as interaction, that matters most to maximize our clients’ satisfaction with our programs.

Top quality content and increasing interaction is a core aspect of our program development. Terry Anderson (an International voice in distance education) states that "there is a long history of study and recognition of the critical role of interaction in supporting and even defining education". Anderson suggests that three types of interaction exist in instruction: (a) student-to-student, (b) student-to-content, and (c) student-to-instructor. Anderson points out that higher levels of interaction in one area will often supplement lower levels in other areas.

The importance of prior learning ties in directly with interaction and content, i.e. as program designers we want to engage our clients with the content by invoking prior knowledge. The dialogue between teacher and students and among students is essential. It's this discourse that fuels fire, passion and the application of learning.

If we look at the Socratic Method or, more close to home, the Oral Traditions of our First Nations we can see this at work. (Oral Traditions being loosely defined here as storytelling, spoken poetry, or dance.)

Robert Bringhurst, in his remarkable book, A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World, states passionately that, ". . . a book is a dehydrated voice, set adrift in many copies, like a seed, and a work of oral literature is rooted like a tree, in time and place and in the person who is speaking".

The challenge of any program to fully engaging the learner is overcoming the inertia of being a dehydrated voice. By endeavoring to incorporate the power of Oral Tradition into our content we are on the right path to deliver ever more effective programming. I spent several years on the West coast in the areas of Bella Bella and Bella Coola, and having lived with our First Nations peoples was exposed to the power of Oral Tradition.

Discourse is an essential and powerful tool to maximize our clients’ satisfaction with our programs.

Here's some good stuff on instructional design:

Anderson, T. (2002). Getting the mix right: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction. Instructional Technology Forum, Paper #63. Retreived from:

Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (2005). Instructional Design (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.




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Date:September 30, 2013