Monday, February 9, 2009

Context in instructional design

Tessmer and Richey (1997) define context as “a multilevel body of factors in which learning and performance are embedded” (p. 87). The importance of context and its impact on the instructional equation were discovered through context analysis or environmental analysis (Dean, 1994; Tessmer, 1990; Tessmer & Harris, 1992; Tiene & Futagami, 1987). According to Tessmer and Richey (1997), the designer (or design team) conducts a thorough review of the environmental factors that have direct bearing on learning during context analysis, then follows the analysis with conscious, informed decision making procedures to change the learning environment during the instructional design process.

A context analysis can be either similar to or different from needs assessment or needs analysis. The similarity is nested in a broad view of needs assessment (Eastmond, 1994) in which needs assessment is defined as “a systematic inquiry into the most important needs to be met” (p. 88). However, Dick and Carey (1996) assert that the needs assessment tends to focus on “the exact nature of an organizational problem and how it can be solved” (p. 18). This notion implies the distinction between needs assessment and context analysis, while the latter is interpreted as an examination of “physical and psychosocial factors that affect learning…a phenomenological approach to instructional design in that it seeks to describe the learning ‘as it is’ in the real world…” (Tessmer & Harris, 1992, p. 15).

Tessmer and Richey (1997) proposed a general model of the dimensions of context in which the authors classified three context types: orienting, instructional, and transfer. The first dimension, orienting context, addresses issues that influence learner motivation and preparedness. The second dimension, instructional context, includes the factors that are “directly involved in the delivery of instruction, the immediate physical, social and symbolic resources” (p. 91) surrounding the learner. The third, transfer context, describes the environment in which the learner will use his/her newly gained knowledge. Embedded in each of the three types of contexts are three levels of analysis: the learner, the immediate environment, and the organizational environment. A combination of the context types and levels provides a framework of the “multilevel” nature of context as reviewed earlier.

Information for the context analysis can be collected in a variety of ways, for example, data analysis (documents), interviews, site visits, surveys, and small group (team) discussions (Tessmer, 1990, p. 61). The variety of data sources help an investigator triangulate and verify information about the context (Tessmer & Richey, 1997). Dean (1994) further outlines seven ways that context analysis might address instructional design concerns. Data from context analysis can:
1. Identify those who can help guide the instructional design process.
2. Provide another way of specifying instructional goals and objectives.
3. Assist in developing appropriate learning activities.
4. Define the format of a program and describe the availability of equipment.
5. Identify which methods of instruction people accept or resist.
6. Frame an understanding of learner evaluation methods.
7. Elucidate critical summative evaluation components. (p. 66)
Tessmer and Richey present another perspective on the use of context analysis data with the following five steps:
1. Identify criteria for “successful” instruction.
2. Mitigate effect of inhibiting factors.
3. Install missing factors.
4. Secure or exploit facilitative factors.
5. Monitor the contextual factors of orienting, learning and transfer context during their continued implementation. (p. 104)

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