A discussion of ITForum provided a pointer to an interview with Badrul Khan (who provided the link). In it he suggests that instructional design deals with just 2 dimensions (pedagogy and evaluation) of 8 dimensions required to create learner-focussed learning material.

It includes the observation that the learner must always be the focus of instructional design. I agree, but with a reservation that is linked to my new job in instructional design.

My reservation is based on the following observations

  • The idea that the learner must always be the focus of instructional design is an innovation for most university faculty.
  • The diffusion theory literature, along with a lot of other literature, indicates that you will not get adoption of an innovation by simply coming along and saying, “This is better than what you are doing, you should really do it.”.
  • The person making the adoption decision in instructional design is each individual faculty member. Regardless of whether or not they are being “required” to do it, they still make a decision.

Hence, I tend to think that the focus of instructional design (defined as what we do to help academics design instruction) is on encouraging the faculty member to adopt the innovation that “the learner should be the focus”.

Diffusion theory has been criticised for having a pro-innovation bias that, amongst other effects, can separate members of a social system into the superior innovators group and the inferior recalcitrants group (McMaster and Wastell, 2005). i.e. you are a bad boy if you don’t accept the innovation.

This is not what should be aimed for, instead something like the following

Here we would argue that the innovation succeeded due to internal development, through a participative process involving strong local leadership, engaged staff and the fortuitous occurrence of a series of local crises that aligned all stakeholders around the need for change.


McMaster, T., & Wastell, D. (2005). Diffusion – or delusion? Challenging an IS research tradition. Information Technology & People, 18(4), 383-404.