Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Decision-Making in Instructional Design (and Life)

How Do You Make Decisions?
How do you make your decisions? What do you do before you decide something? This is an important question, because the decisions we make determine our destiny in life. And if we want to enjoy all of the blessings that life has to offer, we must examine how we approach decision-making so that we can improve our decision-making.

In previous posts, I have written about principles for using data to make decisions, as well as leadership and decision-making. In this post, I will continue my discussion on decision-making and will relate it to instructional design and to life.
Decision-making in instructional design

Decisions can be grouped as lower-level decisions (reactive) and higher-level decisions (proactive). Based on my experience, within these levels are several different approaches, which I describe below.
Lower-level Decision-Making (Reactive)
  • Reaction - the decision is based solely on the compulsive nature of the environment. Design changes only occur when the designer is compelled to design.
  • Rule-following - the designer uses a checklist approach to design. He does what others have done before him and thinks little.
  • Social decision-making - the designer allows social influences to determine the design. This is heavily related to Reaction approach. 
In each of these lower-level decision-making approaches, the designer actually does very little design thinking.
Higher-Level Decision-Making (Proactive)
  • Systematic - in this approach, the designer gathers data to support each phase of the design process. This approach is more scientific in nature and relies on critical thinking.
  • Principles-based - in this approach, the designer bases decisions on principles of instruction. These principles are formed through their own instructional practice as well as through their exposure to research.
  • Intuition - this approach uses the creativity of the designer. The designer creatively applies or ignores systematic or principles-based approaches. 
In my experience, when good design occurs, a lovely combination of all three of these approaches emerges. A good designer knows when to be more systematic and when to use principles instead. A good designer knows how to add his or her creativity to the work, and this creativity is best used when it employs principles in unique, tailored ways.
Use the Higher Levels
We should make our decisions based on the higher levels of decision-making. Very often, these approaches are more difficult, time-consuming, and are sometimes unpopular. With the ever-constant pressure to "get the work done," we are often tempted to revert to the more reactive approaches.

Progression in Decision-Making Approaches
People can progress in their decision-making approaches. We all have a tendency in our youth to employ the reactionary approach. But over time, we can develop the capacity to subdue the reactionary approach and develop disciplined habits. These habits enable use to continue on up the progression until we are creatively combining higher-level approaches to achieve success.

A Note on Habits and Decision-Making
The old axiom states that "excellence is a habit." I extend this by saying that "Design Excellence is achieved through excellent habits." Habits can empower us in our work, or they can drag us down. The lower-level, reactive approaches are easy to form because they are the path of least resistance and require little thinking. The higher-level, proactive approaches are more difficult to form because they are difficult and require lots of thinking and feeling.

Organizations and Decision-making
 It should be noted that these kinds of decision-making approaches are evident in organizations. Have you ever worked in an organization that is totally reactive? That does what it does because that is how it does what it does? That encourages its people to follow the rules, even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so? What about a proactive organization that gathers data to make decisions? That runs based on solid principles and allows its employees to use their creativity to bring about success? Yes, these decision-making approaches certainly apply to organizations.

Designing Life
So, where do you fall in your own decision-making as an instructional designer? What about your decisions in life? Either way, you are designing. You design instruction by making effective decisions. You design your life the same way. And the fundamental truth is that proactive approaches will always yield greater success that reactive.This can apply to organizations, as well.
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