Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Industrialist and the Craftsman - Differing Views of Instructional Design

There are two fundamental metaphorical views of instructional design that seem to compete with one another: the Industrial View and the Craftsman View. While each of these viewpoints has great merit, they are based on assumptions that are often at odds with one another. In this post, I will share what these two views are and will describe the conflict that inherently comes about when these two views clash.

The Industrial and the Craftsman Views of Instructional

In the "Industrial View" of instruction the goal is efficiency in design and delivery and consistency in quality. It might be characterized as "cranking out courses." This approach is most often favored by the administrator. This standardization yields a sort of baseline quality, but raises the quality to an acceptable level. Unfortunately, it can often inadvertently places restrictions on those who excel and perhaps brings them down to a lower level. This is the the result of the shift to industrialization.

In the "Craftsman View" of instruction, the goal is quality of a higher standard. The value is autonomy. This view is usually taken by the instructional designer. The goal is to exceed expectations of effectiveness, to achieve something above the norm - excellence. The instructional design faculty I work with at Franklin University's i4 strive for this kind of excellence, some of the work I have done with them has produced outstanding instruction. Note: For an incredibly insightful essay on the clash between these two views, I highly recommend reading the classic essay "Quality" by John Galsworthy - an outstanding illustration of the shift from the Craftsman to the Industrial view.

An Illustrative Analogy

We might use the ax as an illustrative analogy. Prior to the industrial age and  mass production of goods, an ax made by a master blacksmith was durable, strong, held a sharp edge, and cut wood in extremely well. However, the work done by the blacksmith was relatively slow and labor-intense. When large manufacturers began mass-producing axes, they produced a very high number of axes at a consistent level of quality, and the work was accomplished quickly. However, the quality of the ax was mediocre when compared to that produced by the skilled craftsman. To the naked eye, these tools look the same but both possessed benefits and disadvantages that the other perhaps did not. In the final analysis, too much emphasis on efficiency will inevitably require a sacrifice of quality.

Tension in Instructional Design and Education

In the related field of instructional design and education, we seem to hold a tension between each of these views. As a field, we have adopted systematic processes in our work, which seem to reflect an industrial view. Yet we still want to hold tight to our autonomy and freedom to design with creativity, carefully crafting instruction as the craftsmen we are. This is likely reflected in many fields today - the competitive environment places great pressure on organizations and employees to produce more, and the priority of quality is potentially placed on the altar of efficiency.

Can this tension be resolved? Is it possible for both efficiency and high quality to exist in the same organization and function? It seems that moving toward this ideal of efficiency while maintaining quality will be a major priority in the field of instructional design and education at large. What is being done in this area?
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