Instructional Design

Characteristics of the Adult Learner


Predictable traits of the adult learner, such as attitude, allow us to build a Theory of the Adult Learner. The adult learner wants:

  1. content to answer their immediate need(s) in a timely manner.
    They want a short, predictable, sequenced routine they can easily understand and duplicate for efficiency and effectiveness. 
  2. ready-to-use ideas, skills and procedures.
    They are adamant about no-nonsense! Therefore, throw out the fluff and discard the wordy explanations. Do not beat around the bush; be straight-forward and clear, and stick to the facts.
  3. clear connections from the training to what they are needing in their job.
    They need to see the relevancy between the training and their work situation.

Learning Practices of the Adult Learner (guiding principles)

Strategies (in the “work-setting”) for the Adult Learner


Fogarty, R. and Pete, B. (2004). The adult learner: some things we know. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California.

Learning to Love Assessment


Walden University – Course 6714: Week 1 Discussion

Assessing Diverse Learners in the Classroom

I can relate to Carol Ann Tomlinson’s early years as a teacher. I did not like assessments, and only gave them when I had to. However, reading through her ten understandings to classroom assessment, I realized it was not assessing students that I disliked so much, but the singular method through which I might give assessments. We all have our preferences for how we communicate. By broadening the scope for communication, students can demonstrate their understanding via a method they are most comfortable with; like a written essay, verbal or visual presentation, etc. (Tomlinson, 2008).

The fourth understanding described by Tomlinson (2008), “Informative assessment isn’t separate from the curriculum,” has recently impacted me in my work by how I develop curriculum. I used to create lessons first and then build my assessments from what was covered in my lessons. This was backwards. I did not realize at the time that I could not successfully measure my students’ understanding of information if I did not first define my goals and outcome. Covey (n.d.) discusses the importance of knowing first what you should be focusing on so that you can visualize and make connections; “begin with the end in mind.” By clearly identifying lesson goals (what they will learn) and the outcome (what they should be able to do) from the beginning, students have a higher chance of successfully learning what is being taught. Additionally, assessments given during units of study become a more accurate form of evaluating and determining student understanding.

This new insight has helped me develop a template for creating lessons. I first identify the purpose; this is the “overall” reasoning for the lesson. Next, I identify the goals, or objectives, for the lesson which are the key points the students will learn. Lastly, I identify the lesson outcome. This clarifies tasks, or what the students will be able to do with the new knowledge and/or skills. By mapping out my lesson purpose, objectives and outcome(s) from the beginning, students do not have to guess at what will be coming next. They know what to expect, are better prepared for the activities, and more likely to formulate personal connections that will aid in their learning.

Shanna Falgoust


Covey, S. R. (n.d.). The 7 habits of highly effective people, habit 2: begin with the end in mind. Stephen R. Covey: The Community. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from

Tomlinson, C. (2008). Learning to love assessment. Educational Leadership, 65(4), 8–13. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Structuring an Online, Self-Paced Course: Part II


Once the course overview has been defined, the organizing of content into manageable “chunks” is the next step. The best way to do this is to take your objectives and put them in an outline format. This “skeletal system” is an important component to building a successful course as it defines how the course will be broken down in a logical structure, giving order and flow to the information being presented. In addition, it helps the course stay on track with its purpose and outcomes, while allowing the course developer to identify excessive details that should be taken out in an effort to prevent cognitive overload (Meux, 1999).

Constructing an Outline

  1. Review the course objectives and identify the topic from each.
  2. Assemble the topics into the order in which they will be discussed.
  3. List subtopics under each topic.
  4. List additional points under subtopics, as needed.

Structuring course content in this way is like the method used in journalistic writing, known as the Inverted Pyramid. This method guides journalists to present crucial information at the beginning and taper down to the less important details. This is important in journalism for two reasons; the audience could stop reading at any given time, and when fitting articles into newspapers and magazines, the less important details can easily be cut without losing the story’s integrity. Similarly, the “additional points” in a course outline could sometimes be considered as less important details. It is up to the course developer to determine if these points align with the purpose and outcomes of the course, or if they are merely excessive details that can be discarded.


Meux, C. (1999). How to write a course outline. Retrieved January 7, 2011, from

Structuring an Online, Self-Paced Course: Part I

OVERVIEW: “Begin with the end in mind”

Be specific! Your introduction should clearly define exactly what your audience can expect from this course; it should not be a guessing game. If the audience does not know what to focus on, they are more likely to disregard important information unintentionally as our minds can only take in a certain amount of content at any given time; referred to as cognitive overload* (Bozarth, 2010). Never assume your audience knows your intention. Make your intention known! To help you do this, always define the following for each course you create:

  1. Purpose
  2. Objectives
  3. Outcomes

By mapping out the course overview from the beginning, you provide:

  1. yourself with a roadmap to keep the content focused,
  2. the audience with a clear picture of what they will be learning and come away with, and most importantly,
  3. a clearly structured course that will ensure success.

Identifying the PURPOSE
This is the “overall” reasoning for providing the course.

Identifying the OBJECTIVES
These are the key points to be learned. First, identify the main TOPICS (in one to two words only), then construct your objective sentences, informing the audience of what they will be doing, using key sentence starters (see chart below).

Identifying the OUTCOMES
This clarifies what the audience will be able to do with the new knowledge and/or skills.

As funny as it may sound, it is TRUE…”You can’t do without the P.O.O.!” ~Shanna Falgoust

Course Overview Template


Bozarth, J. (2010, June 8). Nuts and bolts: find your 20%. Learning Solutions Magazine: Home. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from

Ezine. (2009, July 17). Tracy Schiffmann – Expert Author. Ezine Articles. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from

Schiffmann, T. (2009, December 22). Writing Curriculum For Adults – Begin With the End in Mind. Ezine Articles. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from—Begin-With-the-End-in-Mind&id=3453916

Chunking Content


The main challenge presented to a course designer is the limited capacity of the working mind to retain information at a given time. Therefore a strategy, referred to as chunking, breaks down information into bite-sized, manageable pieces of information the brain can easily identify and digest. Chunking is essential to online learning, especially self-paced courses, as there is not an instructor to answer questions and guide the learning process. This strategy groups together conceptually related information to help the learner form meaningful connections and promote comprehension (Malamad, 2009).

An additional benefit to grouping related information is that content duplication is typically eliminated in order to create a more clear, concise and efficient course! ~ Shanna Falgoust

Chunking Methods

  1. Have a Solid Internal Structure/Outline – Use chunking while determining the organization method for content.
    1. Start with large chunks of conceptually related content (Topic or Module level).
    2. Divide large chunks into smaller related chunks (Subtopic or Lesson level).
    3. Continue this process until content is broken down into its lowest level.
    4. As you become more familiar with the content, fine tune the internal structure.
  2. Chunk at the Screen Level – Organize the content so each screen consists of one chunk of related information. As a guiding rule, avoid introducing multiple topics, learning objectives or concepts at one time. If the chunk of content requires the learner to hold more than a few things in memory at one time in order to understand it, break it down again using visuals and text in multimedia to lessen demands on the working memory.
  3. Turn Bits into Chunks – Use any strategy that turns individual bits of information into meaningful chunks. Working memory can hold four chunks or four bits of information. By grouping small bits of information into one chunk, learners can process more at one time (Malamad, 2009).

Employ simple visual design basics; use white space and fonts as organizing tools, and make use of meaningful (not decorative) images that teach (Bozarth, 2010).


Bozarth, J. (2010, August 3). Nuts and bolts: brain bandwidth – cognitive load theory and instructional design. Learning Solutions Magazine: Home. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from—cognitive-load-theory-and-instructional-design

Malamad, C. (2009, September 23). Chunking information. The eLearning Coach. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from

Organizing Methods for Instructional Design

  • Alphabetical – As most people learn how to use alphabetical order in childhood, it’s nearly intuitive.
  • Categorical – There is no hierarchy, no sequence and all topics are typically the same level of difficulty with no prerequisites.
  • Cause and Effect – Used when content presents problems and solutions.
  • Inherent Structure – For content presents events in a time line, or revolves around various geographical areas.
  • Order of Importance – Learners pay the most attention to the beginning and end of a topic, therefore you can:
    1) place the most important content at the start AND the end,
    2) proceed from the least important to the most important content, or
    3) go from most important to least.
  • Simple to Complex – Organized from simple to complex providing a slow initiation into a subject, building the learner’s confidence and knowledge base.
  • Sequential – When presenting a process or procedure, it’s most effective to use a series of steps providing hooks for learners to remember.
  • Spiral – Revisits each topic in a systematic way at a more detailed and complex level each time.
  • Subordinate to Higher Level (Hierarchical) – Used when content requires learner master subordinate skills or knowledge to advance to a higher level skill.
  • Whole to Parts – Introduces the big picture or system first, then delves into the parts of the system. Providing the big picture helps adult learners make sense of information. It also provides a framework for fitting information together in memory (Malamad, 2009).


Malamad, C. (2009, November 30). How to organize content. The eLearning Coach. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from

Why Implement Instructional Design?

  • The organization of content provides a meaningful structure that is logical;
  • Structure is imperative in helping end-users comprehend and retain content; and
  • Structure within a course also helps end-users quickly find content they need (Malamad, 2010).

Defining the content structure is not often an easy task. Instructors or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) develop face-to-face facilitated courses to flow based on their own preference and grouping structure. In these instances, fundamental details are often left out as the instructor typically presents main points and then merely elaborates on the details. An personalized grouping structure can hurt a self-paced course when it is converted from a facilitated course, as we all have different thought patterns, and it is never a best practice to assume an audience will automatically understand your thinking and intention. This is why it is imperative that instructors and SMEs review any face-to-face course needing to be converted to a stand-alone, self-paced course, and establish a basic outline, or visual structure, for the content. This will allow them to verify the course purpose and outcomes; and help them identify topics and subtopics that need to be covered, in order to establish the flow of the content. From this structure, the instructor or SME can then pull content from their current course and chunk the similar information together, supplying a more effective strategy for end-user cognition.


Malamad, C. (2009, September 23). Chunking information. The eLearning Coach. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from

Malamad, C. (2009, November 30). How to organize content. The eLearning Coach. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from

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