Using the Power of Instructional Design

Why websites fail to transfer key information and what you can do about it by using the power of instructional design.

Weve all had the experience at least once a great class taught by a favorite teacher. Regardless of when it happened, we remember it and remember the feeling about that particular teacher or professor. We probably have also retained more information from that class than most others. In some cases that class actually influenced our important life decisions.

Most of the time we attribute these fond memories to the personality or particular dedication of the teacher. Sometimes we assign credit to the content of the class; we just clicked with that subject. But what if it could be some other reason entirely? What if we remember certain class content and were so able to act on it because ofthe technique the teacher employed? What if it was the delivery of the content that made all the difference?

Well, in fact the delivery does make a difference and a big one at that. The same principles that worked in the classroom can be applied to your website to ensure your online audience retains more of your content long after they leave your site.

The Power of Instructional Design

Its called Instructional Design (ID), and it has deep roots in cognitive psychology. ID can and should play a significant role in the shaping of online experiences. Companies, colleges and interactive agencies of merit employ Instructional Design techniques when developing their Web-based training modules. Why? To ensure retention and to influence the behavior of the learners once they go offline. This makes a lot of sense for online training programs that often cost well into six figures. Heck, it makes sense for all Web content you develop for your constituency, be they learners orcustomers.

However, outside of web-based training, Instructional Design techniques are seldom used. ID is indeed related to the often utilized Information Architecture (IA). In fact, there is a lot of overlap. Both involve that shaping of Web experiences, both involve determining information hierarchies, both plot out the online user paths. But if IA is primarily focused on guiding site visitors online experiences, then ID focuses on guiding their experiences once they go offline. Smart organizations are employing both methodologies in crafting online experiences.

IA and ID: Together at Last

Lets Juxtapose the foundational Instructional Design model, ADDIE, with the well-accepted 5Ds of web development:

web development and design

Its clear to see that the 5Ds place more emphasis up front, breaking ADDIEs Analysis into both Discovery and Definition. On the other hand, ADDIE goes beyond Deployment to Evaluation. Any good online training department or shop will use both paradigms to drive their WBT development workflow. For now, though, lets look at what ADDIE brings to the table with its last step.

Evaluation and Retention

Evaluation. You want to measure your Web sites performance, right? Educators and Instructional Designers have been obsessed with evaluation for decades, so it makes sense to borrow from them. Evaluation includes standard site metrics, but goes beyond the number of active users and test scores. Most Instructional Designers use training pioneer Donald Kirkpatricks four levels of evaluation to inform initial design and measure training program efficacy: 1) Reactions; 2) Knowledge; 3) Behavior; 4) Results. Measuring Reactions and Knowledge can be as simple as placing surveys and tests online. You then pull the data which informs detailed reports. But levels (3) and (4) more often than not are measuring phenomena that occur offline. You look at, for example, workplace behavior that occurs as a result of the training. You may examine a trained sales forces increase in revenue. Of course, its another (big) topic to look into how you measure behavior and overall training results. And lots of online training programs, frankly, dont have funds earmarked for follow-up measurement of these two important categories.

Instead, it falls on initial design decisions. And heres where we get back to the web. Instructional Designers rely on a body of research to inform online design decisions that determine retention. Retention. Thats the key. How can you ensure that your audience retains your online training, your web messaging, or even recognizes your brand once they leave your site and the web altogether?

See the parallel with the dream class taught by the brilliant teacher mentioned above? The way the class was taught and the techniques employed determined your retention of the content. And the same goes for web content. The way its presented not only influences your clicks on a screen or how long you stay, but it also influences how well you retain the information lateroffline.

Web Design Dos and DontsIf You Like Audience Recall

How about some specifics? Interestingly enough, sound Instructional Design can be surprisingly counterintuitive. For example, lets say you want to put an animated product demo on your site. Your interactive team works for a month and creates a compelling Flash piece complete with sound effects and music. Good, right? Not necessarily.

Better recall occurs when sounds and music are excluded in favor of narration. Same goes for extraneous pictures and video. If you're focused on audience retention, you want imagery to explain, never merely decorate. With words and pictures, more is often worse, not better.

instructional designWhat about choosing onscreen text versus audio narration? Instructional Designers carefully consider that people have separate information processing channels for auditory/verbal processing and for visual/pictorial processing and the capacity for each channel is limited (Clark and Mayer, 2003). In light of this, its better to choose audio narration over onscreen text to support onscreen visual imagery because the incoming information is split across two cognitive channels rather than competing in the same one. Voice-over narration is a common practice in e-Learning not as often applied to non-training Websites.

Put simply, your audience wont as likely be distracted or confused. They will better absorb and retain the information conveyed in your Flash demo if you include audio narration to augment the visualsand exclude extensive onscreen text. (Makes us think well need to create an audio version of this article!)

Going back to the teacher metaphor, we have a right to expect the teacher to architect the in-class experience so that the students stay the expected time and feel served while they are thereas you want your audience to be with your website. You also should expect that teacher to have instructionally designed the lesson so that when those students walk out the door, they remember some and can do something with the content. Expect no less from your Web content. Once your audience goes offline, they should be able to recall and act upon the content. Your messaging, your customer benefits, your brand all stay with them. To ensure that happens, you need to pick an interactive agency that complements sound Information Architecture with Instructional Design. That way out of site need not mean out of mind.