Instructional Design – A Tool from Digital Promise

Instructional Design: Last month I wrote about the Learner Variability Navigator created by Digital Promise – my new favourite tool I have to say. And just when I thought it couldn’t be any more brilliant, they go and knock my socks off with a great new addition to ramp up the awesomeness.

Instructional Design with Digital Promise

Digital Promise, an independent, bipartisan non-profit, was created with the mission to accelerate innovation in education to improve opportunities to learn. They work at the intersection of education leaders, researchers, and technology developers, to improve learning opportunities for all and close the Digital Learning Gap.

In their efforts, they embarked on a rigorous examination of the learning sciences to offer factors and strategies for how learners learn in specific content areas. The result of this research is the Learner Variability Project, and more specifically, the Learner Variability Navigator.

The Learner Variability Navigator is an open-source, completely free online resource for educators “which translates the science of learner variability into easily accessible learner factor maps and strategies to improve educational product design and classroom practice.” In addition to the Navigator, the site includes the Learning Needs Explorer which allows educators to create, collaborate and share their own workspace of individualized factors and strategies, complete with their own annotations, focused on their students and situation.

The site now also offers educators the Instructional Design Tool to help them determine how the strategies they are using are impacting learners and discover new strategies to increase support for learner variability across the whole child or adult in their classroom.

When you go to the Instructional Design Tool, you are able to select the content area and grade you are focusing on and what or who you are currently designing for. After making these selections, you are taken to a page listing strategies where you are able to select strategies that you use. You can filter the strategies by keyword or category (literacy, cognition, social and emotional learning, and student background) to expedite the process.

Once you have selected the strategies that you already use, you are given a Learner Factor Coverage Heatmap. Below is one I created by selecting some of the strategies I regularly use in my high school English classes. The Heatmap is based on Digital Promise’s whole child and adult learner framework as also seen in the Learner Variability Navigator.

Learner Factor Coverage Heatmap

The Factor Heatmap Legend outlines how the numbers and color saturation show how much support the strategies used provide for each factor. I can immediately see that I have not accounted for vision at all and very little for hearing, auditory processing and reasoning but I have provided lots of support for emotion, motivation, adverse experiences and short term memory. This is a great tool to quickly be able to assess gaps in your instructional strategies.

Instructional Design Tools

You can also click on any of the factors to learn more. For example, I clicked on vision, the factor showed up as unsupported in my heatmap, to reveal this helpful summary.

Vision information Digital Promise

I was then able to continue to find new strategies thus facilitating the process for me to find strategies to help me fill the gaps I just discovered.

Factors - instructional design tool

I selected a couple of the strategies that showed low amounts of support in my earlier heatmap – auditory processing and hearing. I was then able to look at a selection of strategies that improve or support all the factors I chose (auditory processing and hearing). A subsequent grouping showed more strategies that support or improve many of the factors I chose.

Strategies - Instructional Design

It is super helpful that I can click on any of the suggested strategies and get a thumbnail summary about as seen below: “Dictation/Speech-to-Text”.

Dictation summary

I am then able to move directly to the full summary page to learn more. The full summary includes a description as well as a video of a real-world example of the strategy in action in a classroom setting. Furthermore, a second video is included to show an educational tool that is focused on or particularly useful in supporting the strategy and its use in action. In the Dictation/Speech-to-text full summary shown, Dragon Naturally Speaking is the educational tool highlighted. I really appreciate the Resource section that follows the videos. I learn best by seeing multiple examples of a strategy and seeing how it is applied in a variety of scenarios. The additional research included in the resource section also helps to solidify my understanding of the strategy and how it supports students.

Information on the advantages of dictation

After exploring Digital Promise’s dynamic and informative Instructional Design Tool, it is easy to see how it, coupled with the Learner Variability Navigator and the Learning Needs Explorer create a professional learning power pack that should be at the top of every educator’s list of top tools.


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