Case Study: Malcolm Gibson

As a child, adults often ask, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The child, often in utter simplicity, will say they want to “be” a fireman, policeman, nurse, lawyer or doctor. Typically, these are professionals of esteem in our society. Ironically, in my small universe, one way to show admiration is to say, “When I grow up I want to BE [insert name].” This person is already an expert in their field, with the skills and capabilities we would like to emulate. In this context, I have to admit; when I grow up I want to BE Malcolm Gibson. His expertise as an instructional designer becomes readily apparent in his proposed certificate program structures and his single “model” online class.

Malcolm initially reflects on possible concerns regarding his abilities to design material in the context required, “Malcolm’s expertise related to designing instruction that incorporates authentic learning activities. A lot of the content for this project was procedural. Malcolm hadn’t really designed instruction for rule-based content before and wasn’t quite sure how to do it in a meaningful and relevant way for students, which was a core requirement of the RFP” (Ertmer & Quinn, 2007, p. 100). However, Malcolm expertly applied the principles of effective design all the while producing a deceivingly simplistic format designed to address both the needs of the learner and the online environmental context every step of the way. In fact, his design was so well crafted that it addressed the many concerns regarding the differences between online instruction v. face to face instruction before they were even brought up by the faculty.


The authors of our text state, “The sequence of a unit of instruction may use strategies from each of the three sequencing themes – learning related, world related, and concept-related” (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, & Kemp, 2011, p. 142). Malcolm’s proposed certificate programs illustrate this type of structure.

1. Learner-Related Sequencing
Each certificate program proposed utilizes Posner and Strike’s sequencing themes, including: “identifiable prerequisite, familiarity, difficulty, interest and development” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 138). For instance, Malcolm’s proposal suggested restructuring the certificate programs to be “stand alone” programs focused on a particular position in the information technology field (Systems, Network, Database or Web Engineer). This was an excellent idea in that it more precisely met the requirements of the RFP and it also inherently addressed the issue of interest. Students would enroll in the certificate program that most applied to their professional goals. Second, designing the certificate programs this way allowed for other learner-related sequencing. The classes would begin with the basics, most familiar topics and work their way up to the most complex topics, fulfilling the identifiable prerequisite, familiarity, difficulty and development sequencing criteria.

2. Word-Related Sequencing
“Sequencing is typically done according to spatial relations, temporal relations or physical attributes in the real world” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 139). Malcolm’s proposed design reflects this type of sequencing in that the individual courses in each certificate program are geared towards that particular specialty. For instance, although “data structures” is a required course for each of the certificates, the emphasized elements within each certificate program would be directed towards that specific learner outcome (i.e., systems, networks, databases or web).

3. Concept-Related Sequencing
“Content can also be sequenced in a manner consistent with how we organize the world conceptually or logical” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 140). Again, Malcolm’s proposed structure for the certificate programs meets these criteria as well as the content of each certificate program is designed to meet the learner’s desired professional goal in IT, incorporating classes within the class of that professional category (class relations).

4. Task-Expertise Sequencing
Amazingly, Malcolm’s proposed certificate program structure also illustrates task-expertise sequencing, “the elaboration theory sequence for teaching tasks uses the simplifying conditions method, i.e., start with the simplest tasks (fundamental of …) and proceed to the more complex tasks (applied …..) (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 143).


Analysis of the online class module Malcolm presented as a “model” is also reflective of effective instructional design.

1. Instructional Strategies
The online module incorporates many of the prescriptions for instructional strategies discussed in our text. For instance, Malcolm utilizes concept strategies when he presents the concept of “variables” and then defines the term, followed by visual example. His method is largely organizational in that although the students are not asked to list characteristics, they are provided with two different models for printing, requiring a comparison of the two procedures. Malcolm’s generative strategies incorporate the four categories identified by Jonassen as: “recall, integration, organizational and elaboration” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 152). Specifically, in the deliverables section of the module the students are required to add to a previous script (recall/embellishment), create a new quiz (application performance) requiring the “learner to apply the content to a new situation or problem” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 153). There are also optional challenging assignments for more advanced students. The portion of the module “Collaboration/Discussion” once again requires the students to utilize their acquired knowledge academically and elaboratively as they address four sets of questions. The first question is largely illustrative of providing the student an opportunity to reflect on their current circumstances and progress in the course. The second question allows for incorporation of ideas for utilizing the tools being learned in the learner’s professional life. The third and fourth questions address micro and macro views of problem solving techniques.

2. Designing the Instructional Message
Once again Malcolm demonstrates his expertise, selecting a preinstructional strategy “overview” designed to prepare the learners for the learning task and especially beneficial for high-ability students (those that would typically take these types of classes ((Morrison et al., 2011).

Additionally, Malcolm made use of message design for text by utilizing explicit signals with a list structure, such as “two things to keep in mind” (Ertmer & Quinn, 2007, p. 107) followed by the two items in a list format. Malcolm also expertly utilizing typographic signals such as headings which “signal change of topic and to provide the learner with a picture of the materials organized” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 183), specifically he has the main topic heading for the class, “Programming with PHP and JavaScript,” and subheadings “overview,” “study guide,” “readings/surfings,” “deliverables,” and “collaboration/discussion.” Further, Malcolm incorporated a layout strategy of vertical spacing for ease of readability. There is also utilization of typographic variations which “signals the structure of the information by varying the type – adding boldface, italics, or change in type size – which creates a variation in the pattern of the page” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 185). Malcolm clearly uses boldface to signal “important words and new information” (p. 185) such as “print,” naming guidelines for the quiz, addition of a link, etc. (Ertmer & Quinn, 2007).

3. Pictures and Graphics in Instruction
Once again, Malcolm demonstrates his aptitude for designing instruction by incorporating pictures and graphics when necessary to enhance the instructional method, without detracting from it. For instance, he uses a decorative picture with the main title for the class of a boy with a book next to a monitor with the words “PHP” as an obvious signal to the learner a new section is beginning, as well as providing a little interest and motivation to lesson design. Malcolm also utilizes screenshots / graphic pictures of organizational information as explained by the text, “designers can use pictures, such as step-by-step how-to pictures, to provide a framework for the text” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 189). There is also utilization of tables to “provide a concrete reference for verbal information which makes the information easier to grasp and more meaningful to the learner” (Morrison et al., 2011, p. 189). This is accomplished by using two tables providing examples of the PHP print function with backslashes and without.

There are other aspects of the case study that deserve mention, briefly:
(1) The successful incorporation of many learning strategies recommended for adult learners as described by (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).

(2) Incorporation of authentic, situated learning activities as described by “Critical Characteristics of Situated Learning (Herrington & Oliver, n.d.).

(3) Last, but not least, Malcolm addresses every concern of the faculty regarding differences between face to face instruction and online instruction in the design of his module. However, the nature of the faculties’ questions is deeply troubling in that they indicate a significant lack of knowledge regarding online learning environments. This would provide Malcolm an excellent opportunity to pitch a training seminar for the faculty in order to bring them up to speed regarding constructive teaching in online learning environments.

Lynn Munoz


Ertmer, P. A., & Quinn, J. (2007). The ID casebook: Case studies in instructional design (Third ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (n.d.). Critical characteristics of situated learning: Implications for the instructional design of multimedia. Retrieved Oct. 27, 2009, from

Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2011). Designing effective instruction (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


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