Three Pillars

Three Pillars

In the summer of 2012, Dr. Clinton assigned our cohort to create a presentation to define instructional design and technology.  I came up with a foundation of ethics and content supporting three pillars:

  • Theory and Research
  • Design Methods
  • Appropriate Technology

Instruction was then delivered, often facilitated by an instructor and technology and then evaluated.  How ironic that I end my work in the UGA LDT program with a reflection on Wilson’s four pillars of practice.

Tracing his own career, Wilson explores the evolution of instructional psychology from cognition to constructivism.  He points out that the psychology and theory that I explored in my masters and specialist degree programs are important.  However, the concerns of the instructional designer “move far beyond individual cognitive processing into areas of social and community context, implementation and use, management, and evolution.”  Like Wilson, I identify with a pragmatic realism philosophy that values practitioner perspective in order to develop the most effective instruction.  When I consider practitioners, I would have to include instructional designers as much as teachers or trainers or subject matter experts who are most familiar with the delivery of the content itself.  Their insights are essential to not only to promote accuracy of content, but also to help develop a learning experience that is valid and productive for the learner.

To this end, Wilson offers four pillars of practice of instructional design:

  1. The individual:  information, cognition, & message design
  2. The outside connection:  social, cultural, & tool contexts
  3. The value context:  moral and political concerns
  4. The aesthetic:  aesthetic design of the immediate experience

Pillar One:  The Individual

In this pillar the instructional designer minimizes extraneous processing needs in order to manage the learner’s cognitive load by chunking content and maintaining an appropriate level of challenge.  Even though the learner constructs his or her own learning, the instruction provides the necessary scaffolding in the form of models, examples, and other applicable resources.  Good instruction enables the restructuring of the learners schema and mental models using “repeated empirical” and “cycles of experimentation.”  It moves beyond basic knowledge and memorized facts to “integrated, whole-person learning outcomes.”  The instructional designer centers the learning experience around the learner’s prior knowledge and learning preferences and provides opportunities to apply their knowledge in context.

In my project this semester I worked with my client to chunk the content she provided into five areas:

  1. Unit and System Conversions
  2. Dosage Calculations
  3. Use of Labels
  4. Flow Rate
  5. Pediatric Cases

I also manage the cognitive load of the learner by organizing each scenario so only one situation is presented on the screen at any given time.  Feedback is provided as needed alongside the scenario, but unnecessary visual information is taken away to help the learner process the solution when they check their answer.  A sample is provided before going into each area and a knowledge check is provided before moving on to another section.  Rather than simply explaining and providing problems using dimensional analysis, each scenario is rooted in a typical situation that a home health or hospice nurse might encounter.

Pillar Two:  The Outside Connection

Learning is understood to be connected to a social context as well as the more specific work context.  Various technologies and other tools are provided at a convenient and appropriate time, allowing the learner to access the material as close to the performance context as possible.

The audience for my project this semester includes home health and hospice nurses who must be able to interpret various doctors’ orders, analyze the resources and medications on hand, and dispense (or instruct someone on how to dispense) correct dosages.  The specific environment of home health and hospice nurses personal; the professional meets the client in a home setting.  For this reason I developed two characters for the course:  Dorothy, a home health nurse and Neil, a hospice nurse.

When presenting resources such as a job aid and conversion reference materials, instead of simply presenting content on a page, I connected the user with a light box and an external connection.  This allows the learner to download or print the information depending on their work flow and personal choice.

Pillar Three:  The Value Context

Wilson’s third pillar calls the instructional designer to consider the nature of and relationship between expertise and the learner.  Instruction should also prepare the learner for appropriate social and work roles, taking care not to set unrealistic expectations for how the content and knowledge are applied in the real work setting.  Appropriate management of privilege, access, and voice controls messages of empowerment or disempowerment, incentive or disincentive; this insures that the instruction is truly accessible to all whose roles require the skills and content being presented.  The politics in any organization can play a part in the validity and effectiveness of a training program; instructional designers must keep this in mind and manage any related issues.

As a designer, I could have chosen just to narrate the scenarios.  However, I chose to create characters who appear as experts with appropriate voices and content of narration.  I consciously chose variety in gender, ethnicity, and amount of experience and I included notes with the narration text so the learning experience could be as accessible and approachable as possible to all learners in my audience.

Pillar Four:  The Aesthetic

Aesthetics can be the most fun, but also the most challenging part of a design.  Wilson points out that they involve more than the look and feel of a program.  Aesthetics also include the “peak experiences” a learner has during instruction, whether it’s a charismatic presentation, an absorbing project, well-written content, or an effective use of resources in a well-designed online course.

I enjoyed developing the look and feel of my project this semester, especially the main navigation page that works so well with Articulate Storyline.  This wasn’t a significant portion of the time I invested in this project, though.  Rather, I carefully considered the overall experience a nurse might have when shoring up the mathematical skills required to accurately convert units and calculate dosages.  Detailed attention was required to consistently present the dimensional analysis technique as it relates to the context of the workplace of home health and hospice nursing.


Wilson, B. G. (2005). Broadening our foundation for instructional design: four pillars of practice. Educational Technology, 45 (2), 10-15. Special issue on cultural studies edited by Ellen Rose.  Accessed online at