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Friday, February 01, 2008

Common Sense and Intuition Not Enough

Jay Cross jumped in early with a response to this month's Big Question. The question this month is:
For a given project, how do you determine if, when, and how much an instructional designer and instructional design are needed?
Jay Cross response concludes with:
The answer this month’s Big Question is: common sense and intuition.
I love mixing it up with Jay. Neither of us is shy about our opinions. And while I would agree with him that the current answer to the question is common sense and intuition, this shouldn't be the answer going forward. It's clearly insufficient. How do you back it up when you ask for funding?

Further if you look at Jay's examples and turn those into theoretical projects, e.g., help audience X, with background Y:
  • learn to speak French
  • learn the way to the store
  • learn Ruby on Rails
  • learn to negotiate
  • learn to taste wine critically
  • learn to lead effectively
You would need to break down each quite a bit more right. Haven't we already required some ID? So is there some level in every "help learn ..." type task?

I don't buy that the end of the answer is common sense and intuition.


bill7tx said...

My common sense and intuition says that the answer has something to do with expertise. There will be projects for which the SMEs efforts will be "good enough" and there will be others where "good enough" is beyond what an SME can do. That of course is what your Big Question is about. Going away to scratch my head and come up with a better answer.

Stephen Downes said...

The problem (as usual) is how the question is phrased. It presents a perspective where you are some kind of manager and are going to decide where and how to use an instructional designer. But how are you going to decide this? probably, you do niot have ID expertise, nor are you an expert in the subject matter. So the best you can do is ask someone, say, an ID or an SME. Then, how do you make the determination? Common sense and intuition.

Or to put the same issue another way, what sort of metrics would allow one to make such a decision? The question presupposes that there is a set of variables accessible to the manager such that, given the values of those variables, a formula (more or less precise) would result in ID allocations, tasks and timelines. But we both know that no such formula exists, that no such formula could exist, because we are dealing with a complex problem, and that (as I would put it) the right approach is to *recognize* how much ID support is required, or as Jay says, to use common sense and intuition.

The suggestion in the response is that common sense and intuition (or, again, as I say, 'recognition') are not good enough. This is because these complex decision-making processes are being equated with picking an answer out of the air. If this were really the case, the objection would be valid.

However, these are complex decision-making processes. They are based on the (network-based) assessment of prior experience and the present circumstances. They are not (as the question implies) rule-based, and so you can just describe a process that people could learn.

bill7tx said...

Thought some more about it.

Anonymous said...

While eLearning does develop its own culture, my task is to provide training content across cultures (and time zones), and "common sense" in one culture is quite often not common or sensible in another. Knowing your audience is critical, and you need both the experience and the relationship to your audience. Fortunately you can use other people's experience as well as your own.

jay said...

Tony, I love to mix it up with you as well, but I don't see any disagreement between us. You write that "And while I would agree with him [moi] that the current answer to the question is common sense and intuition" and you conclude "I don't buy that the end of the answer is common sense and intuition." Aren't we answering a question about the current time? I don't think common sense and intuition are the final solution either. Doesn't that mean we agree?

Bill Brandon points to expertise as the necessary ingredient. Betsy's comment that experience and customer knowledge are vital supports Bill's viewpoint. I agree with them; the first paragraph of my original post reads, "You might as well ask how much design is needed to manufacture an automobile. The answer is 'the optimal amount,' and that’s determined by judgment based on relevant experience, and it comes up different for a Fiat than for a Ferrari. There’s no formula because oversimplifying an unruly world inevitably leads you to the wrong place."

Perhaps we should alternate the Big Question with a Great Debate.

Tony Karrer said...

Stephen - Agreed that this is a complex question and that there's not really any single answer. However, that doesn't mean that there are not factors in the consideration that we should be aware of. Are there rules-of-thumb? Guidelines? Is there a spectrum of choices? Would we prefer some parts of the spectrum in certain places.

Jay - okay, we agree for today. But I would hope that there's a better answer for tomorrow.

The car design is somewhat a good analogy, although the result is so much more concrete and it's also easier for someone to evaluate the result.

That said, I don't think there's any question that there's better definition of the kinds of people involved in car design and that you don't leave car design (in any large organization) to the SME.

I'm hoping there's more there. Take a look at Bill's post - he's giving guidance.

And I welcome the Great Debate. What's the topic?

Reuben Tozman said...

I couldn't agree more with Stephen. The problem with the question is the question itself. It irks me that we have watered down the science, art and practice of instructional design to the point that we need to justify that instructional designers are needed at all.

To Tony's point about the question being a complex one, I would argue its not complex if you have all the missing information in the question, such as in what situation, who are the resources, who are the learners, etc, etc. The fact that the question is presumptious and vague doesn't mean its complex. It just means its not a very well phrased question. You might point to this and say well it is those factors that I alluded to that make it complex, because there are no hard and fast rules about what criteria make the question easy to answer. Would the question "For a given ailment, how do you determine if, when, and how a doctor is needed?" be complex? What if I asked "If someone had a pain in their abdomen and there was no obvious reason why the pain was there and noone had any training that could solve why the pain was there, is a doctor needed and to what extent?" Is that as complex?

That being said I would argue that there are specific skills and knowledge that a trained instructional designer possesses that are unique to this profession. The question for me is how do we use those skills and apply them to the evolving corporate or academic training world.