pb-ISD: When to Use One Instructional Mode vs Another?

Advance Organizer

And of course, blending modes and media over the cycle of performance-based Instruction – as one-shot Instruction isn’t always sufficient unless the Target Audience’s Prior Knowledge is sufficient.

My 3 Instructional Modes, each using any number of Media, which I have been using to classify modular Instructional Content since 1982, including these 3:

  1. Group-Paced
  2. Coached
  3. Self-Paced

Of course, your classification scheme may vary.

Note – this article’s title is a misnomer. I will address the question it raises, but in a roundabout way. The opposite of making a long story short, if you will.

You have been forewarned.


I’ve been using these 3 Instructional Modes to tag gap Modules and Events and available Modules and Events in Curriculum Architecture Design (CAD) projects as a consultant since my first in 1982.

That first project, for Exxon Exploration USA’s geologists and geophysicists, was almost 100% Coached. And, of course, non-digital, it being 1982. The modules were deployed as paper booklets to guide an experienced Oil Explorationist, acting as a formal Coach. The Coach would deliver the performance-based Instruction on Tasks and Outputs that were part of a 10 Phase Process (Workflow) framework that framed how they explored for oil back in the day, at Exxon Exploration USA.

That project was driven by management’s desire to accelerate the development of experienced Oil Explorationists, as their current informal approach was taking about 10 years to get someone up-to-speed and able to run a play, as they say, back in the day. That meant to lead a cross-functional team effort to find a Play, to drill for oil. Later those kinds of efforts were known as Time-to-Performance projects or similar labels.

The Arab Oil Embargo, as it was called in 1973, had seen a mad scramble in the Oil Patch, as it was called, for Wildcatters, smaller companies who bought land leases and drilled for Black Gold (some of you may remember Jed Clampett finding Black Gold after “shooting at some food,” in the opening of the TV sitcom, The Beverley Hillbillies. People my age are now signing or humming that tune, I bet.

Those Wildcatters took many people, usually the best of the best, with the lure of higher pay and bonuses and company stock. Most Wildcatters didn’t make it long term. And many of the Big Oil companies refused to hire people back if they had left to join the competition. But they still needed to increase their staff dedicated to searching for bubbling crude, oil that is, Black Gold, as the song went.

So in 1981, this future client had assembled a team of managers and Explorationists to develop the training. They fought amongst themselves for 9 months, as they later told us, about both “how-to” and “whether or not” you can train people to explore for oil in the sands of West Texas, the Rocky Mountains, the tundra of Alaska, or off-shore, using the same Instructional materials.

After fighting over the possibility, or not, they brought in Ray Svenson, having found him at an ASTD Conference, where Ray was speaking about Strategic Planning for T&D. Ray had made some off-hand mention of this thing that he called a Curriculum Architecture at ASTD and our eventual client jump up and approached Ray once he had finished his presentation.

Now I had met Ray when I was at Motorola’s Training & Education Center (MTEC) in 1981 when Bill Wiggenhorn brought Ray in to speak to the new staff in a one-day workshop, much as Bill had brought in Geary Rummler and Neil Rackham, to orient all 13 of us Training Project Supervisors to a performance-based approach to Training and Education.

MTEC was a new corporate T&D shop, after a 10-year gap when the corporation has distributed T&D to the Business Sectors (SBUs) and washed their hands of a centralized approach. Ray had also mentioned this thing he called a Curriculum Architecture and described what one would include.

So I did one for Manufacturing Supervisors across Motorola’s 5 Business Sectors, using a Rummler-inspired Swim Lane Map with 6 swim lanes portraying a progression of performance-based T&D based on the Analysis I had done. The Path showed shared and unique modules of Instructional Content, intending to take a new supervisor through what was called, much later OnBoarding. And OnBoarding led to OnGoing development. A life-cycle for learning, if you will. A system of Instruction to those of us who preferred the label of ISD over ID.

Ray had come to see my creation at my cubical on the 6th floor of the Motorola HQ building in Schaumburg, Illinois on one of his visits with Bill, as they formulated MTEC’s Strategic Plan for T&D. My T&D Path, the 6 Swim Lanes, one of which was for shared Content and the other 5 for Unique Content for each Business Sector stretched around my 3 cubical walls and out into the hallway.

A year or so later, I found out that the notion of a Curriculum Architecture was simply that, and no one had done one, to Ray’s knowledge, before mine. Ray, a former Bell Labs engineer who had moved into AT&T Management, had previously spent a few years working at the Bell System Center for Technical Education in Lisle, Illinois, where one of their target audiences, the IT folks (back when they were still MIS) had requested an architecture of curricula with shared and unique Content for all of the folks working a code development.

THAT was the genesis of what I started calling CAD – Curriculum Architecture Design after I joined Ray’s small consulting firm after 18 months at MTEC.

Ray hired me as I had proven capable of taking a concept and producing an artifact that was highly received by my clients. The 30 or so Manufacturing Operations Managers (MOMs) that I was working for loved it.

It wasn’t the same old fare – generic Content with a slim-to-none-chance of improving performance back-on-the-job, even though a CAD didn’t produce any new training. It only designed the architecture of a modular set of Instruction, defining each in terms of the Tasks and Outputs it would address and the enabling Knowledge/Skills that would be included.

And it also “sized” each module and defined the Instructional Mode of the 3 that I had chosen to use that were intended for that T&D Path.

Whew! Was that a long way or not to get to Instructional Modes?

But hold on – I’m not done yet with this background.

Bill Wiggenhorn had already asked his new staff of 13 Training Project Supervisors, after making a round of visits to his internal Motorola clients, the Business Sector and site leaders across all of North America, to stop creating Group-Paced Instruction – which was really called ILT – Instructor Led Training back in the day – and to instead produce Self-Paced that provided greater flexibility to the field to get what they wanted ASAP instead of having to wait for a Course Schedule to make something available.

Nothing was more frustrating, it seemed, than to have to wait for something needed NOW to be scheduled and to hope and pray that it wouldn’t get canceled when not enough people had signed up. That led to the site’s overbooking course deliveries with people who didn’t really need the training just to better ensure that it wouldn’t be canceled. We called that approach Cold Storage Training and Just-in-Case Training. THAT also led to many other bad habits and wasteful investments – the topic of another long story – some other time.

Now I had come to MTEC from Wickes Lumber’s HQ in Saginaw, where I had spent 18 months learning how to develop Video-based Instructional packages that were to be delivered by Lumber Center store management at each of the 183 or 283 Lumber Centers.

These Instructional packages of 15-minute videos and materials that augmented the video content were all both Coached – when management would deliver them to the staff that assembled every Saturday morning for an hour before the store opened to the customers – as well as Self-Paced when a new hire would come on board and need training.

I knew about that authentic Learning Context, as I had been an inside salesperson for 2.5 years in a Lumber Center before graduating with my radio-TV-Film degree from the University of Kansas and being offered a job in Michigan.

So I had experience creating Instruction that was both Coached and Self-Paced. A switch hitter, so to speak, in baseball terms.

My CAD for Manufacturing Supervisors was heavy on Self-Paced as I refused to pretend that a supervisor’s boss, a manager, would take the time to prepare for and then deliver and then follow up on and reinforce the learning from the training modules. When challenged by the MOMs (remember them?) about why almost everything was Self-Paced and not Coached (there were a few at the beginning of the Path) I told them my reasons.

After some huffing and puffing, as management is sometimes wont to do, they conceded that I was probably right, and they let it go. That enabled me to boldly proclaim that one key to success would be middle management’s involvement in the first few modules – now known as OnBoarding, where developing a Plan of what any new manufacturing supervisors to take – from the T&D Path’s linear flow – and when to take it – was central to the module’s objective. Timing being everything, as they say.

THAT declaration caused a slight eruption as I was suggesting that that Path’s modules were not sequenced correctly. And so some attacked me and my Path as being just more crap from the HQ Training outfit. We were not beloved by the field – and that’s why there was no corporate T&D function for 10 years. And knee-jerk reactions from clients who scarcely listened to the details beyond the advance organizer of most presentations was just standard operating procedures. You either learned to anticipate, attempt to avoid, AND then roll with the punches thrown your way, as a T&D practitioner, or you got bloodied.

I had been burned, and so I had learned how to preface my presentations with issues and how to duck.

So I had a story to go along with the T&D Path that wrapped around and out of my cubical – as I rationalized why it took the mostly modular form that it had, and why it was mostly Self-Paced in nature.

Ray heard that from me, and later asked me to spend a couple of weekends doing some freelance work for him during the summer of 1982 to design a Curriculum Architecture using the Analysis data he and my-wife-at-the-time, had generated with the Exxon managers and Explorationists down in Houston.

So I did. I created a Path of mostly Coached Modules, with some Self-Paced modules and a few Group-Paced courses that already existed. The clients at Exxon loved it.

Then I left MTEC and joined Ray’s consulting firm in November 1982, where I became the CAD Guy. I did almost all of the CAD designs, even when I didn’t do the Analysis myself. That led me to standardize the Analysis process and outputs – so as to reduce the headaches caused by Variation – the bane of smooth Processes, or what your people might call Workflows nowadays.

That led to the writing of these 2 articles published in 1984 in the ISPI (NSPI then) Journal and in Training Magazine.

Note – I originally used the term Module to define an Instructional Product – but in the mid-to-late 1980s, I changed that to Events. If an Event were a book, the Modules would be the chapters. And chapters might be shared “As Is” or “After Modification” (creating derivatives of both Modules and Events) to avoid the generic nature of shared Content often known as “Learning Objects” that were too often simply watered-down and made generic to improve its “sharability” but have a huge negative impact to Transfer and Impact “Back-on-the-Job” for most learners. Asking people to learn out-of-context and then apply it in their context is something only 5-15% of people can do (according to a discussion I had with Richard E. Clark, Ed.D., about this back in 2012).

Now – finally – to the 3 Instructional Modes that I use in my work…

When to Go Group-Paced?

First, “Group-Paced” can be either Face-to-Face or Virtual, or of course, a blend. Great for developing most Skills, but may be overkill-in-the-extreme for creating Awareness and Knowledge and some simpler Skills.

This Instructional Mode is appropriate generally when:

  • There’s a large audience to process through the training, AND,
  • There is a need to get people away from the distraction of the job to focus on learning something critical (with High Stakes), AND,
  • The series of Practice with Feedback ideally requires more than just one or two or three Learners, for role plays requiring interpersonal skills and such, AND SOMETIMES…
  • Culturally it’s how everyone likes to consume training due mostly the Social nature of this mode, with the opportunity to meet and develop networks of peers for future Social Learning and Informal Learning needs

When to Go Coached?

First, “Coached” can be either Face-to-Face or Virtual, or of course, a blend. Great for developing most Skills, but may be overkill-in-the-extreme for creating Awareness and Knowledge, and some simpler Skills.

This Instructional Mode is appropriate generally when:

  • There isn’t a large target audience at any one time and the need to get it done ASAP is key for the business, AND,
  • Practice with Feedback is needed but doesn’t require more than a performer and a source for Feedback.

Note, I distinguish between “Coached” where almost anyone can be the coach, and “Certified Coached,” where what needs to be conveyed requires special training and/or certification (due to legal or other reasons, such as the Risks and Rewards at Stake) before allowing one to be a Coach.  

When to Go Self-Paced?

First, “Self-Paced” can be either digital or non-digital, or of course, a blend. Great for developing Awareness and Knowledge and some simpler Skills.

This Instructional Mode is appropriate generally when:

  • What needs to be learned doesn’t require another human to observe the Practice to provide appropriate Feedback, where the individual learner can self-check, or a computer can be programmed to review the results of performance and provide Feedback.

Blending Instructional Modes

It is probably best to blend Instructional Modes when the need is to create a Chains of Events where the Main Event is Group-Paced.

Pre-Events and Post-Events might tend toward the Self-Paced mode and the Coached mode.

But, as always, it depends.

This Post as a PDF


One comment on “pb-ISD: When to Use One Instructional Mode vs Another?

  1. Pingback: Reflecting on TQM – Total Quality Management Back in 1982 | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.