Visscher-Voerman, I. & Gustafson, K.L. (2004). Paradigms in the theory and practice of education and training design. Educational Technology Research and Development 52(2), 69-89.

Visscher-Voerman & Gustafson (2004) do not characterize their research as addressing a problem as much as filling a gap- the gap of empirical research to support claims that instructional design processes are more heterogeneous and diverse than represented by the dominant model of the field, ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate). The purpose of this study was to reconstruct the actual practices of professional designers in order to “develop insight” into the differences between ADDIE and design practices by asking “What design strategies do professional, high-reputation designers use in practice in various training and education contexts?”

Visscher-Voerman & Gustafson (2004) call this a reconstructive study and use a “development research approach” that includes conducting twenty four case studies on different design projects by collecting data through interviews and document analysis in a two stage process. Between the two stages, they developed a conceptual framework and changed their original focus on activities to a focus on rationale for decision making. Twenty four case studies may not have been enough because they only find support for three out of four of the paradigms they eventually identify, yet they include the assumption that this other type of design paradigm still exists.

The participants are designers from six types of design settings, nominated as “competent, high-reputation professional designers” by experts from each of the six design settings. This purposive sampling strategy seemed valid, but one result of the sampling really stood out, the only designers chosen with formal design education, approximately 50% of the sample, all had their design education at the same university. This homogenous result would seem to point to a flaw in the sampling procedure, but it turns out this is the only university in the country where the study was conducted.

Visscher-Voerman & Gustafson (2004) organize the results of their first phase of analysis by describing the activities observed under each of the phases proposed by ADDIE, focusing on differences. In the results section for the second phase, they offer alternative design paradigms to describe the different rationales designers gave for the activities and align those paradigms with epistemic stances: e.g. Instrumental design paradigm- Modernism; Communicative design paradigm- Critical Theory; Pragmatic Paradigm- Pragmatism; and Artistic design paradigm- Postmodernism. They then relate each paradigm to corresponding ADDIE phases and roles of clients and designers.

I think this study makes an important contribution to advancing knowledge in Instructional Design & Technology. This field has this heavy ADDIE model hanging over it all the time, as almost the definition for the field, and it barely scratches the surface of what needs to understood, explored and morphed in the process of designing learning environments and opportunities. By taking on the task of describing the activities and rationales of designers in several settings and placing these descriptions within a useful framework, these authors offer guidance for practice, teaching and further research.

What I did not like about this study: They include the Artistic paradigm, yet admit none of the case studies reflect this paradigm in their rationales. This highlights what I am most concerned about in this type of research—it seems to just affirm a theory that we would probably all agree on from our experience with instructional design and different types of designer. It seemed they had these alternative paradigms in mind- a useful theory in my opinion. But they want to ground this theory in experience, so they conduct the case studies hoping to find the fit. They’ve chosen a qualitative research approach, which is supposed to be inductive. How do you end up with a paradigm with no evidence that induced it?

I am interested in describing, eventually through several case studies, the instructional design process in cross-border settings and cross-sector settings. This not only provides some guidance in the way of conceptual frameworks, it also highlights the messiness of trying to fit some of these very-close-to-causal (or at least mind-reading about intent) questions into a qualitative framework.