December, 1999
Issue 3 - page 1
 I N S I G H T S    I N T O    U S I N G    E D U C A T I O N A L   T E C H N O L O G Y
Part 1 of 3

Learning is a complex matter, and there are many approaches to learning. So many in fact, that all the areas of learning, instructional design and instructional theory do not always view things in the same light. There are however, important key ideas that most academic traditions provide to the designer in these areas. This issue examines some of the basics and commonalties of the more popular theories and methodologies available in an attempt to demystify the analysis and design phase. This will help ‘paint a big overall picture’ for novice designers, helping them to not only understand the processes and terminology, but also to discover their niche in a team setting.


In employing advanced learning technologies, delivering content and simply having learners observe and read or recall knowledge does not imply that significant learning has taken place. Learners should be able to actively learn and apply knowledge. The designer must apply appropriate instructional theories and design strategies during the analysis and design phase to create the types of effective content, learning activities and environments that foster this preferred type of deeper learning. 

Not only may instructional designers, theorists, teachers, technologists and creative types have different approaches to analysis and design, individuals, disciplines and organizations may have adopted or adapted their own unique styles. Is there a single or unified systematic approach to designing instruction with technology? Can one person do it all themselves? By synthesizing information from many different sources and my own experiences, I present a somewhat generalized overview of a functional analysis and design process including information on instructional design and learning theories. It is my intention that this undertaking provides a general understanding and framework that can prevent new designers from sacrificing the effectiveness of an instructional program for the efficiency of any particular brand of process or theory. 

Although the following steps appear linear in nature, a non-linear approach is more realistic, based on the amount of backtracking and forward thinking that takes place. The various phases in the instructional design process are not absolute divisions. In reading this paper, it is important to keep in mind that most processes and theories provide general explanations and are typically used as guides only. 

Whenever there is a learning need, the trend is usually towards producing brand new materials. There are millions of existing materials available, and as is the norm these days, many traditional courses and course materials are being ported over to multimedia or online environments. This has sparked some debate over the need for the development of new processes, pedagogies and instructional theories. However, good instruction is good instruction regardless of these factors, and still requires an educationally sound foundation and a process for development. Working with an existing traditional course or components of one may still require working through the lifecycle phases, judiciously eliminating any steps or data that is superfluous.


In reviewing our basic lifecycle model, after feasibility comes the analysis phase, which feeds into and provides the foundation for all subsequent design and development activities.

Analysis typically involves the following:

  • identifying the problem and source
  • identifying instructional needs
  • determining entry skill levels
  • setting instructional goals
The following should also be taken into consideration at this point:
  • duties and/or performance expected from users (task analysis)
  • parameters for feasible performance measures (validation)
  • scope and depth of the content material
  • delivery environment, delivery platform(s) and other technical needs (and/or limitations)

Activities and data collection in the analysis phase

Analysis begins with (re)defining the problem, identifying the source and determining possible solutions. Information is required. Designers should make themselves aware of any viable information already available in their organization before conducting specific research activities.

Standard software packages can serve as useful tools in the collection of information. For example, form design packages can help with the collection of data, and spreadsheets and statistical packages are useful for analyzing, summarizing and charting data. Various other methods such as videotaped interviews and demonstrations can serve as excellent information resources. 

In addition to obvious learning outcomes that are not being met, some of the more popular indicators for an instructional need include the requirement of new skills, technological advancements, and educational mandates. Other indicators could be environmental or social in nature.

There are many ways to determine what skills, knowledge and/or attitudes the target audience needs to acquire. A basic discrepancy approach can be used which contrasts the existing skill norm within a group with the final skills desired. The difference represents the required learning and helps determine the learner's entry level. These needs may then need to prioritized and analyzed for relevancy to the project (Braden, 1996). 

It is important that user entry levels also take affective, social or political issues into consideration as these factors can greatly influence learner engagement.

Learner analysis involves finding out all you can about your target audience. Obtaining this type of information should include the consideration of the following types of information: 

      • Who they are
      • Where they live
      • What their attitudes are
      • Their age(s)
      • Levels of education
      • Cultural backgrounds
      • Past experiences
      • Special needs
      • Literacy levels
      • Preferences to learning modalities
      • What ‘turns their crank’
There are various ways of collecting information concerning the learners. I find that speaking with them directly is one of the best ways to gain insight. Surveys and observation are also useful in collecting data.

A set of initial goal statements can be corroborated with the defined needs and audience analysis data. Typically these goals are a brief description of an instructional intent and are quite broad in nature. Later, performance objectives will be developed from these goals that will ensure that the instruction is measurable, achievable and technically viable. Tasks will also be developed with specific instructions on what the leaner has to do in order to achieve the goals and objectives.

Setting and maintaining clear goals is imperative, but goals may change as the result of people obtaining new external information. Discoveries during the design process may also lead to continuous goal refinement (DeYoung, 1996). 

Performance objectives describe what the learner should be able to do after the planned instruction is carried out. Various forms of concept maps have been applied in education (Lambiotte et al., 1989). Concept or knowledge maps provide a graphical representation that allows the visualization of the learner's existing and required skill sets and bodies of knowledge, and can prove very useful when creating tasks and objectives. Concept or semantic maps and various forms of flowcharts can also be used to organize content, structure and/or navigation in a multimedia environment. 

Example of a concept map representing student knowledge
A collection of information from San Diego State University for understanding and creating knowledge maps.

Each type of delivery system may organize content resources and elements such as exercises, problems, and feedback in various ways. It may prove helpful even at this early stage for the designer to take the advantages and limitations of the system to be used into consideration while developing the goals and task analysis. However, this is not always possible, such as in situations where another person or group has provided the analysis data after it has been completed.

It may even prove difficult to formulate analysis without design factors constantly creeping into the picture. Matching the characteristics of specific technologies to learning requirements and the unpredictability attribute of design can mean that the analysis phase is revisited more than once. 

Although a goal statement roughly states the desired learning outcome and task statements are very specific, occasionally, a hybrid of goals and tasks may be used.

With a set of existing skills and subskills and those to be learned now defined, the designer can begin think about performance/instructional objectives for each goal, and begin to verify that they are in fact be achievable and measurable. At this stage we begin to enter into the design phase of the program's lifecycle. This can be an overlapping area, as the way in which the tasks are performed and the goals and objectives met can be dependent on design factors. 

For example, in the chart that follows, the goal and related objectives are succinct, in that the desired performance to be met and measured is understood. However, the exact mechanics of the task as indicated here suggests some sort of multimedia presentation, and this may not be determined until later in the design phase. We will also see that in the design phase, some scheme for classification of instructional objectives into effective types of strategies is required, and these may affect the way in which we describe goals and tasks.


What it is the learner needs to know or do.


How the learning will be accomplished.


What the student will be able to do to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge.

The participant needs to learn how to use camera controls to take properly exposed photographs.


1. After being shown an example and prompted with a situation, the learner will click the virtual aperture control to either close down or open the aperture on the lens. The resulting image on the display screen will become darker or lighter accordingly, providing feedback to indicate the correct or incorrect choice. 1.The learner will be able to manipulate the aperture control to increase or decrease the amount of light coming into the lens.


As can be seen, the sequence is not ‘cut and dry’, and feedback, evaluation and revision are possible from any stage in the process at any time. The information or output from the analysis phase is often referred to as the specification data and has traditionally taken the form of a document. Therefore, we have now expanded the analysis phase in our lifecycle model to include the following: 

Analysis phase showing components required for creating specification data

Many multimedia design companies actually develop design strategies based on assumptions of basic needs before they actually do a detailed analysis. In this method, the performance/instructional objectives that are traditionally developed later in the design phase may also be assumed and precede analysis to fit into the context and flow of an overall presentational concept. This method seems to have produced some very successful ‘edutainment’ titles where the medium is also an important part of the message. 

As we all know, the introduction of new technology or software packages can also stimulate the creation of instructional programs. 

"Wow!  I could make a neat multimedia program with this cool stuff!"

This may not always be a healthy motivation as the product may be based more on novelty than specific needs.  However, I have experienced many instances where the introduction of a new software program has presented a solution to an ongoing problem.  Conversely, the ‘gadgeteer society’ is a term I use to refer to people who are always planning to do something someday as soon as the right gadget or tool comes along - and for them it never does!

Some have argued that instructional development using advanced technology is more of an art than a process (Ivor Davies, 1981), and I suppose that results and success speak for themselves and shouldn't be dismissed. After all, musicians that do not actively read or write music produce the majority of the world's modern music. However, too much artistic license in education may create many unpredictable and undesirable results (Braden, 1996).

There have been a variety of interesting and useful tools developed to assist with the analysis process. For example:
Analysis tools from Georgia State Research Institute.
NC State University - the Index of Learning Styles is an instrument used to assess preferences on four dimensions (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global) of a learning style model.

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