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 a product or service. The product or service is the means by which a organization survives or supports itself.
There are four inputs necessary in every system to produce a product or service (Laird, 1985):
- People: The workers making up a group and linked by a common activity.
- Material: The raw products which 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.
Every system must also have at least one output in order to survive. The output can be a material product, such as a television or computer software; or a service, such as a protection agency or an insurance policy. The output of a particular system in an organization may be the final product, a service sold to its customers, or a product or service to aid or enhance the organization in its goal to produce a marketable product or service.
An example of a system might be a production team (people) who transform electronic components (materials) into computers by working on an production line (technology), and completing each production run within a given deadline (time). The final products (output) are then used in the organization to sell to its customers. Someone developed this system by:
- Analyzing what was required by the organization
- Designing the system to meet the needs of the organization
- Developing the system using the outputs of the analysis and design phase
- Implementing it
- Evaluating the project throughout its creation and implementation
This process could have been an haphazard creation, which generally waste time and money; a planned action; or a combination of both. A Systems Approach to Training is a planned creation of a learning program. It is a development program that uses step-by-step processes to solve problems.
A large company may have several systems, which are generally broken down into departments or groups, while a small company may only have one system. All of these systems have three basic functions:
- Input: Something must be going 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. Training is mostly concerned where people and technology meet.
- Process: Some type of work must be accomplished in the system. This work is the technology performed that changes the material input into the systems output. Look for the means to help workers master and apply the unique technology governing their tasks.
- 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 goal in a good learning program is to allow the workers to use the available technology efficiently and effectively to produce the desired product or service.
In ISD, the system is composed of:
- People: The instructional designers, SMEs, trainers, learners, etc.
- Material: The content used to help the learners become better performers.
- Technology: The learning methodologies, media, etc. 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 to train the learners.
The three basic functions are:
- Input: The instructional designers, SMEs, trainers, learners, content, learning methodologies, media, etc.
- Process: Aid the learners with gaining new knowledge and skills in a new technology.
- Output: Performers.
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. Like a system, it also has an input and an output. In the system example given above, a couple of example processes within the computer production system might be:
- The circuit-board assembly team (people) who solders electronic parts (materials) onto circuit boards by working on a specialized production line (technology), and completing each production run within a given deadline (time). The final products (output) are then used by other members of the production team in the assembly of a computer.
- An inspection team (people) who test each computer (materials) by using specialized test equipment and software (technology), and completing each production run within a given deadline (time). The computers are then passed on to the packing team who boxes and palletizes them.
Notice that in these examples there is always a customer and a supplier. These can either be internal or external. Parts are received from vendors and then moved from various stages throughout the production line. The final process would be the completed computers going from the warehouse or showroom to outside customers (the sales process).
Some of the processes that take place in a learning department include:
- Registration: people who want to learn —> registration forms completed —> people who are now registered for class.
- Development: training need —> develop courseware —> a learning program.
- Computer Training Class: students who need to learn MS Word —> learning platform —> employees who can now perform.
Being able to break an organization into systems and process will help you in your learning development. 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 task 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.