May 12, 2022

Instructional design in higher education

Amid the sweeping changes taking place in higher education and society, colleges and universities are faced with the challenge of developing a product that meets the needs of our complex and unstable world. Our graduates must not only retain the learning gained from subject-specific courses, but also acquire professional skills that will enable them to succeed in a variety of environments.

Rather than adhering to outdated conceptions of what constitutes higher education, our obligation as instructional designers is now to equip our learners with the skills that will enable them to be critical thinkers with an aptitude for flexibility and creative problem solving.

This move towards competency-based training is in direct alignment with the evolution of design practices at SNHU. In “6 reasons why higher education needs to be disrupted”, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Becky Frankiewicz note that today’s learners are looking for skills, not titles. Through research, we are increasingly learning that the most important thing college can teach you is to stay adaptive and flexible. Chamorro-Premuzic and Frankiewicz argue that college degrees become less important to employers than new hires who show the ability to learn new things and easily absorb change.

A shifting focus for instructional designers in higher education

When striving to meet the needs of our diverse body of learners, designers must consider not only the learning goals to be achieved, but also the opportunities to develop professional skill sets that reflect the needs of a global labor market. In fact, within higher education, the language of these professional skills has played an increasingly important role in course design.

As universities seek to improve their best practices in instructional design and science learning, designers strive to balance traditional subject knowledge with the professional and technical skills of their learners. It is critical that we, as learning designers, strive to remain aware of professional landscapes while balancing important foundational practices and learning associated with curricula.

To more closely align with this change, SNHU instructional designers have developed numerous design practices and principles to support reflective, authentic, and scenario-based learning opportunities. We do this by using consumer feedback and data in conjunction with workforce data to create a product for our learners that results in future-ready candidates for the workforce. .

Building trust by design

What must remain paramount in this process, however, is the development of the learner’s self-confidence and self-efficacy. Let’s hope Perlman notes that success depends, in part, on the support we receive from others. As designers, we ask ourselves how can we help our learners succeed in their activities? How should the changes they will undoubtedly face be reflected in their curriculum? What does success look like in today’s competitive landscape?

The process of transforming education to incorporate a competency-based curriculum is a tricky recipe that requires the use of high-level domain expertise in conjunction with strategic design practices that draw on metacognition. and learner self-reflection. The use of metacognitive strategies in course design helps learners become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Such levels of awareness and reflection on thinking and performance further contribute to higher rates of academic self-efficacy.

Simply put, when learners believe in themselves, they are more likely to achieve their goals. By helping to build learners’ confidence, we can, in turn, build their adaptability and flexibility to handle new tasks and skills presented to them in the workplace – and these skills, according to employers, are what distinguishes the best recruits.

Preparing students for the workforce of tomorrow

Universities have a huge role to play in preparing the workforce of tomorrow, and at SNHU we meet this challenge with a variety of design strategies to deliver both big and small rewards in the process of road.

Current design processes incorporate the practice of establishing “quick wins” and opportunities for small moments of genuine achievement, thereby enhancing students’ perception of effectiveness. This is perhaps best exemplified by our efforts to incorporate specific industry-recognized skills to complement traditional coursework. By using the Universal Design for Learning model, we provide learners with flexibility in their engagement options while providing equal opportunities for learners to succeed. We strive to engage our learners through workforce-relevant projects that require learners to plan, monitor and evaluate their work while navigating their learning experiences and immersing themselves in critical reflection around relevant and topical issues.

Simultaneously, we are scaffolding inclusive learning experiences in a way that provides our learners with early feedback from instructors while working to create transparent student-facing language that highlights the skills learners are acquiring throughout their journey through mastering our skills.

Despite all of these principles, it is important to keep in mind all the variables that impact learners and adjust expectations accordingly. After all, building a sense of competence and the ability to thrive through diverse experiences doesn’t happen overnight. With thousands upon thousands of learners in our sights, SNHU instructional designers must not only be proficient and flexible in learning science and learner psychology; we must be responsive to the ever-changing needs and expectations of a 21st century workforce.

Dr Amanda DolanDr. Amanda Dolan is an instructional designer in the Department of Learning and Assessment Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Higher Education at Southern New Hampshire University. She strives to design authentic and academically rigorous learning experiences using data-driven practice, science learning, and educational psychology. With equity and accessibility at the forefront of her practice, Dolan continually seeks to research and integrate meaningful ways to apply theory to practice while engaging learners.