SDoI: Chapter 5: Analyzing Learners and Contexts

Posted by Betsy on June 28, 2011 in InstructionalDesign, Language |

[This is the sixth in a series of posts about Dick and Carey’s The Systematic Design of Instruction. Want to read an overview and my thoughts on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4 before proceeding?]

This chapter is about characterizing learners, the context in which they will be performing, and the context in which they will be learning.

Bounty Hunting School – Language Course by Stéfan Creative Commons License


This chapter tells us that we need to know certain characteristics of the targeted learners. But what is the purpose of gathering that information? How will it affect the instruction that is later developed? If the learners do not have skills that you initially considered entry behaviors, you can directly use that information to design instruction that includes more basic skills. However, why do we need to know about gender, for example? Will knowing that learners have positive attitudes toward the content change the way that the instruction is designed? More information on this topic is apparently found in later chapters, according to p. 90:

In this chapter, we identify a set of variables that research has indicated affects learning. If you describe your learners in terms of these variables, you can modify your instructional strategy to enhance learning.

So, information on specific variables will directly impact the learning design. We just don’t yet know how they will impact it. Here are those variables, from p. 91:

  1. Entry behaviors
  2. Prior knowledge of the topic area
  3. Attitudes toward content and potential delivery systems
  4. Academic motivation
  5. Educational and ability levels
  6. General learning preferences
  7. Attitudes toward the organization giving the instruction
  8. Group characteristics

I wonder about #7, since this could be a loaded question. How can you get an honest answer? Also, I am not sure that this is relevant to, for example, college students who are studying a foreign language at a particular institution. Should the design of the instruction be changed if the students hate their university? Or if they love it?

Performance context

The listed characteristics of the performance environment (pp. 93-94) are

  1. Managerial or supervisor support
  2. Physical aspects of the site
  3. Social aspects of the site
  4. Relevance of skills to workplace

But what is the performance context for foreign language learners? Various work, school, and social settings in the foreign-language culture? A home stay? A workplace in the United States? Only the classroom? There are simply too many possibilities. My opinion is that this should be moved to the learner characteristics in this case. We cannot know how the learners plan to use their language skills unless we ask them. But will this affect the instruction that is created? Only, I think, if it affects the instructional goals.

Learning context

The listed characteristics of the learning environment (p. 95) are

  1. Adaptability of site to simulate workplace
  2. Adaptability for delivery approaches
  3. Learning-site constraints affecting design and delivery

In universities, the instructor or instructional designer may not know what classroom space will be available or assigned, which complicates any investigation of the learning context.

The third characteristic is very important to consider if the instruction includes any technology, even that as basic as chalkboards. The classroom itself may limit what type of instruction is possible.

Evaluation and revision of the instructional analysis

Tacked onto the end of this chapter is a recommendation to have your instructional analysis evaluated by learners before proceeding to the next step.  From p. 97,

The reason we are discussing the tryout in this chapter, rather than in the last one, is that the tryout can occur at the same time the designer is conducting the learner and context analyses. Those analyses bring the designer into contact with potential learners, or recent learners, who can review the instructional analysis with the designer.

Ah, great idea! Rather than relying on your own intuitions about steps and skills and entry behaviors, you can get an informant to check out your ideas and get feedback before proceeding.

Next up: Chapter 6, Writing Performance Objectives.


1 Comment

  • Mhika says:

    I think the biggest issue for English Language Learners would be silmpy, understanding English and the rules of the language. Going from one language that you’re used to, having grown up your whole life speaking and listening to, understanding the rules to one language; to another language can’t be easy. I understand that knowing one language sets the foundation for the L2, but I would think the learners would still have some confusion between which rules apply to which language. When taking Amercian Sign Language, I know I was very confused on changing the subject-verb order completely around in writing. When using ASL, I would move very slowly because I had to think about which word came when. Depending on the mother tongue of ELL, I would think they would have some of the same problems. The easiest way to address this issue; I think would be practicing the language; written and spoken. There are many people that could help with this between teachers, peers/friends, speech pathologists, or others who have a good grasp on Mainstream American English.Another difficulty of a ELL, I would think, would be understanding sarcasm and idioms. If an ELL were to hear someone say The cat’s out of the bag, I think they would be incredibly confused, looking around for a loose cat. I, myself, use a lot of sarcasm and a lot of people with English as their L1 still don’t understand sarcasm. I think sarcasm would be a hard concept for an ELL to grasp. A way to address this issue would be to provide the ELL with a list of common idioms, and their meanings. I saw a graduate student doing many activities with idioms in the clinic with an English Language Learner. The client seemed to be grasping the idea quite well.Another difficulty that doesn’t have as much to do with language is the English Language Learner’s culture change. In many cases, the ELL would be coming from another country. Not only would they be trying to grasp the Mainstream American English, they would be thrown in with many people of different cultures. They wouldn’t have to adapt their own culture, but socializing and being exposed to people of other cultures may be a foreign idea to them. It could cause culture shock, or a lot of stress; maybe not being accepted because of their own culture as well. A way to address this issue would just be for the English Language Learner to maybe research some of the new cultures they are exposed to, and learn what they could expect to see from these cultures. Being educated on cultures of the people around you could help a lot with not offending someone of another culture, understanding why they act/dress the way they do, and much more.

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