Systems & Processes in Instructional System Design
A system is defined as a set of concepts or parts that must work together to perform a particular function. An organization is a system or a collection of systems. Every job in an organization is used by a system to produce or support a product or service. The product or service is the means by which a organization survives or supports itself. A large organization may have several systems that are generally broken down into departments or groups, while a smaller company may only have one system.
Inputs of a System
There are four inputs necessary in every system to produce a product or service (Laird, 1985):
- People: The workers in the group are linked by a common activity.
- Material: The raw products that go into the system.
- Technology: The technique for achieving a practical purpose or goal.
- Time: The measured period during which an action or process begins and ends.
Note: We often think of technology as computers, electronics, etc., but it is much more. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines technology as the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area. It includes the usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, processes, and methods of organization.
An example of the inputs of a system is a production team (people) who transform electronic components (materials) into computers by working (process) on an production line (technology) and completes each production run within a given deadline (time).
Functions of a System
All systems have three basic functions:
- Input: Something must go into the system, otherwise, it is a mysterious sphere where products or services mystically radiate from it. The basic inputs of a system are material, people, technology, and time.
- Process: Some type of work must be accomplished in the system. This work is the technology performed that changes the material input into the system's output.
- Output: A desired service or product must be produced. If there is no output, then it is a black hole where things go in, but nothing emerges.
The Inputs and Functions of ISD
In ISD, the system's input are:
- People: The instructional designers, SMEs, trainers, learners, etc.
- Material: The content produced, such as lesson plans, slides, activities, and learning aids that help the learners to become better performers.
- Technology: The learning methodologies, strategy, and media that enable the designers to produce customized content. It also includes the technology that the learners are trying to master.
- Time: The time invested in creating the learning platform and the time used helping people to learn a new skill.
Training is mostly concerned where people and technology meet — look for the means to help workers master and apply the unique technologies governing their tasks. The goal in a good learning process is to allow the workers to use the available technology efficiently and effectively so that they may perform better.
The three basic functions of ISD are:
- Input: The instructional designers, SMEs, trainers, learners, content, learning methodologies, media, strategies, etc.
- Process: Create and organize content that will aid learners gaining new knowledge and skills that will help them to master a skill.
- Output: People who can perform the necessary functions of their organization.
Instructional System Design almost always starts by identifying what their customer needs (business need) so that they can create the best output possible. This process is the start of Backwards Planning.
A process is a planned series of actions within a system that advances material or procedures from one stage of completion to the next. A system generally has several processes in it. A process is like a mini-system in that there are inputs and functions. The main difference is that a system produces a complete product or service, while a function produces or supports part of the product or service. A couple of example processes are:
- The circuit board assembly worker (people) who solders electronic parts (materials) onto circuit boards by working on a specialized production line (technology), and completing a circuit board within a given deadline (time). The final product (output) is then used by other members of the production team in the assembly of a computer.
- An Instructional Designer (people) who creates a learning activity (materials) by using her knowledge and skills (technology), and completing the task within a given deadline (time). The activity is then inserted into a learning process, such as a performance support aid, classroom, or elearning program, which in turn, helps a person to master a new skill.
Notice that in these examples there is always a supplier (the creator of the product or service) and a customer (people who will use the product or service). The customer can either be internal or external.
Being able to break an organization into systems and process will help you with your instructional design skills. By identify a process within a system, you will be able to concentrate on a small chunk of a very large piece. For example, when you are analyzing a job, you break it into duties, tasks, and steps to make your work more manageable.
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Laird, Dugan (1985). Approaches To Training And Development. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
U.S. Army Field Artillery School (1984). A System Approach To Training (Course Student textbook). ST - 5K061FD92.