isd. Instructional Systems Design. There are Ph.D. programs based on it. Every training designer is schooled in some version of it. Thousands of rfps are framed in its language and thousands more responding proposals are phrased and phased and costed using its peculiar argot. It is the bible and guiding paradigm for Fortune 500-size companies, corporate universities and training departments across the world. Though in fact there are many versions of that bible, and a growing number of training and development practitioners and gurus continue to express doubt about its efficacy.
In truth, there is no single Instructional Systems Development model; no 100 percent agreed upon approach that is practiced by every training developer in the known universe with Celistine monk slavishness. It is not a medical or an engineering algorithm, the violation of which leads to catastrophic results. It is, rather, a general framework that had its origins in World War II training successes and then was accepted as semi-gospel in business, industry and government. Stripped to its shorts, isd is the addie model of instructional design (for Analysis, Design, Develop, Instruct/Implement and Evaluate). Volumes have been written (see "isd Texts," page 35) and classes conducted on the proper way to execute the model.
There's continuing controversy about the nature of the model among its advocates. And even claiming that the model has "steps" can generate a debate. Nonetheless, for the schematically inclined, we've boiled it down to a seven-step process that goes something like this:
Someone someplace in an organization decides for some reason that there are some people in need of training; needing to learn a job or part of a job or learn to do it better. That perception fuels a request to corporate training, or the local HR unit—to someone—for assistance in the form of training.
A trainer/analyst—someone—from corporate training or the local HR or training unit casts an irreverent eye on the request and conducts a study, often called an analysis or assessment, to determine causes and consequences of the management identified performance problem. That study can amount to a simple look-see and discussion with people familiar with the problem or a massive research effort looking for statistically correlated causes for the performance gap.
If the analysis shows the problem to be caused by a lack of skills or knowledge—rather than some tool design or system inadequacy or management screw up—somebody designs or purchases a learning package that will match media and method to learning outcomes and maximize cost benefits to the client and organization.
Then, specialists in various media and strategy areas come together to develop scripts or code, create workbooks and learning materials as appropriate to meet the learning outcomes. Experts and clients are often involved here, presumably to assure that the results will match the need/context.
The program is pilot-tested, results are evaluated, and the program is revised. Simultaneously, a system for delivering the instruction is designed and tested. The delivery system and learning outcome results are monitored on an ongoing basis.
Results are fed back to the design/development/delivery group/person/function as appropriate. Eventually, somebody goes back to see if the original problem is solved. The program is judged a success if the problem is resolved, and the cost of fixing the problem is significantly less than the costs of doing nothing.
In the textbooks, that's how isd training is supposed to get done. Neat, clean, orderly, data-driven, iterative, nearly antiseptic. The convention talks and the journal case study reports sound so scientific. The decision-making looks to have been so precise and right and planned. And though this is a highly idealized, even stylized model, a good number of organizations have taken this one page, boy-meets-girl simple plot, and turned it into a multi-bindered, Kabuki drama of infinite complexity, with checklists, form numbers and oversight and review committees.
isd has served at least two generations of industrial trainers and instructional designers well, and indeed, brought training into a world of its own divorced clearly from the general education establishment. It is, though, an approach and model whose time may well have come ... and gone. Or has it? —R.Z. & A.R.