Instructional message design explores how various media and delivery systems might be used more effectively to help optimize instructional communications within context-specific instructional situations and learner needs. But use of the term appears to have fallen out of favor over the years since the mid-1990s. A review of the historical and theoretical foundations of instructional message design reveals that, while instructional design generally has shifted from objectivist to more constructivist perspectives on learning theory, the instructional message design field remains firmly rooted in early “transmission oriented” communications models. It appears that instructional message design has also suffered from definitional problems as well, with more recent narrow views of the field focused on media attributes supplanting earlier broad views of the field as an applied “linking science” between theory and practice. And, finally, while findings from studies on media attributes provide designers with some guidance for generally what will not work in terms of cognitive processing, the guidelines seldom shed light on what one should actually do within a particular learning context. Reestablishing instructional message design as a valid area of inquiry within the field of instructional design will require catching up with recent philosophical shifts in communication theory while adjusting our definitions and research foci accordingly.
In this presentation I will briefly revisit instructional message design’s objectivist learning theory and transmission-oriented communication theory foundations, discuss current trends and issues being raised in the literature, and explore ways the field might continue to serve as a “linking science” between learning theory and instructional practice. I will conclude with recommendations for a revised guiding theoretical framework based in conversation theory, a broader definitional focus that looks at more than just optimizing cognitive processing, and a new systems view of our approach to research in this area.
Dr. MJ Bishop directs the University System of Maryland’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, which was established in 2013 to enhance USM’s position as a national leader in higher education transformation. The Kirwan Center conducts research on best practices, disseminates findings, and supports the system’s institutions as they develop innovative academic programs. Prior to USM, Bishop was Associate Professor of Instructional Design and Technology at Lehigh University and Director of the College of Education’s Teaching, Learning, and Technology Program. Author of numerous peer-reviewed publications, her research explores how instructional media might be designed and used more effectively to improve learning. She has received several awards for her research and innovative teaching, including Lehigh’s prestigious Stabler Award, conferred by students to faculty who have mentored them to “excellence in their chosen field” as well as “excellence as human beings and leaders of society.”