Effective Instructional Materials

Ironically, I can provide a few different examples of ineffective design from completely different decades. First, as a secondary student in the mid-80’s, as well as an undergraduate student during the early 90’s, the concept of instructional design was not even remotely entertained either my high school or college. The classes were traditional lecture-based classes with no student interaction. In fact, I am not sure the concept of “student engagement” had occurred quite yet within the educational community. At the high school level, the teacher would have the students popcorn read from the book and then complete a worksheet. At the college level, the professor would stand up in the auditory and deliver the lecture for the length of the class session. For both scenarios, the assessments were formal black and white, right or wrong tests. The textbooks used during that time were not “designed” for optimal learning. There were no illustrations, graphics or referential diagrams to aid the student. Most the textbooks used small print, from top to bottom, with minimal headings, minimal color and certainly no chunking. In the vast majority of my classes the student sat down, took notes and that was it. Clearly, my early education hearkens back to a time when “group presentations” were the preferred method of instruction. Actually, according to our text, the lecture format “is familiar and conventionally acceptable to both instructor and learners. This method is the most common form of instructional delivery” (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, & Kemp, 2011, p. 221). It is also clear why this type of format was beneficial at the university level. In my foundational courses there were probably 200+ students per class, filling an entire auditorium. I remember sitting so far back they had to use a movie screen projector to put notes up, rather than a chalkboard. “Larger numbers of learners can be served at one time with a lecture. The group is limited only by the size of the room; thus, lectures can be highly economical” (Morrison, et al., 2011, p. 221). Although these are strengths of the group presentation method, I do not recall any of the presentations being “motivating and interesting for the students” (Morrison, et al., 2011, p. 221). In fact, at the time attendance was not a contributing factor in how the schools received funding; therefore, whenever I encountered a class where the lecture came straight from the text, I would only attend on the day of the exam. This was true both in high school and college. Apparently, I did not miss much because I graduated from high school 15th in my class, and from college with a GPA of 3.982. I suppose this is only further anecdotal evidence that these classes were not effectively instructionally designed.

Unfortunately, a more recent example is not much better. I attended the credentialing program at the University of Redlands in 2008. The Foundations of Education course was taught by an adjunct professor who readily admitted he did not learn “how to teach during his teaching classes.” This apparently was a bad omen, because in all the classes I took and passed, learning “how” to teach was never actually taught. In this particular theory class, there were no objectives, but the teacher did provide us with a Power Point print-out; however, he then proceeded to read directly from the Power Point word for word what he put on the screen. Sadly, for me, this program required attendance. Missing two classes was grounds for failing and repeating the class. Believe me, for an ADHD student taking a night course, after working all day, I was not enthused to be cooped up with an instructor “reading” his lecture to me. I was not then, nor am I now, in any way an auditory learner. [Ironically, I would liken my learning issue with the split-attention effect described in the text. I was incapable of splitting my attention between the hearing the words, and reading the words, so nothing was understood. I would have to reread the notes after I got home so I understood what he had discussed]. This tended to be the way the majority of the classes were handled for the credentialing program. I readily admit I was not the “most disciplined” student. Mind you, I excelled; however, the program was designed for 8-10 cohorts to go through the program together. By the time we were in the second or third class, we all knew each other pretty well and sort of took the class over. The courses were not effectively designed for adult learners. The teachers were not effective in explaining why we needed to learn what we did, the material did not seem relevant, even the assignments seemed to lack relevance (Lieb, 1991; Merriam, 2008). As a result, the cohorts would often become tangential (this is my diplomatic way of saying off task). Most of the instructors tolerated the behavior, but there were a couple no-nonsense instructors who seemed to believe mightily that “lecture places the instructor in direct control of the class and in a visible authority position” (Morrison, et al., 2011, p. 221).

Another interesting caveat, the University of Redlands either was not aware of or concerned about the readability of their texts. The texts were excessively dry and boring, and often derogatively referred to by the cohorts on a fairly regular basis. On the flip side, after these experiences, I am even more grateful the texts chosen by Walden are, to date, following the criteria of effective instructional design. They are personable, concrete, provide a plethora of examples, including worked examples, lots of examples (reducing the pacing size), and is completely engaging. This is true for every text assigned in each of the three classes I have taken to date. In fact, even the supplemental readings and articles have been interesting, and that is a serious achievement. I have built quite a library in the last several months. Many times the chapters from a book are so engaging I purchase the entire book. Needless to say, that is fairly positive anecdotal evidence for at least the aspect of text selection within the instructional design context.

Lynn Munoz


Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning design. AACE Journal, 16(2), 137-159. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Reader.ViewAbstract&paper_id=24286

Lieb, S. (1991, Fall). Principles of adult learning. Vision. Retrieved from http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/adults-2.htm

Merriam, S. B. (2008). Adult Learning for the Twenty-First Century. Third Update on Adult Learning Theory (pp. 93-98). Doi: 10.1002/ace

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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