Technology Centered vs. Learner-Centered Approach to Instructional Design

In week two I talked about what rich media means.  This week I want to talk about the Technology Centered vs. Learner Centered Approach to incorporating new technology into instruction.  Clark and Mayer describes one of the challenges of a technology-centered approach as not taking the learner into account, including what is known about how and why people learn.  This is in sharp contrast to the learner-centered approach to instructional design which focuses on how to facilitate the learner’s natural learning process.  In a learner-centered approach instructional designers use rich media to adapts to serve the needs of learners.

Lockheed Martin in redesigning their Fire Control Focus quarterly newsletter was a prime example of using rich media wisely and using the learner-centered approach to instructional design (ID).

Fire Control Focus Newsletter image

Fire Control Focus Newsletter

Fire Control Focus is a  a quarterly publication catered to workers at Lockheed Martin who work on the company’s “Fire Control” program.  It was launched in 2004 as a PDF file emailed to employees. For the first few years the e-newsletter had a tough time connecting with its audience, which was made up of 2,000 employees working in Lockheed Martin plants in Southern California and Florida. Some of the problems were that the newsletter was too text heavy and needed a new look.  News stories were presented on a stark white background without any interactive content.  Some referred to their experience as “watching paint dry”.

The project redesign team came up with two primary instructional design objectives:

  • Expand the newsletter’s outreach and connect with at least 30% of the 2,000 Fire Control employees.
  • Boost the number of visitors for the newsletter through offering interactive content and online video programming, track readership metrics, and capture/compare the number of page visits per issue.

Lockheed Martin conducted an extensive pre-survey of fire control workers to see what kind of changes they would like to see in the newsletter prior to redesign and to see and how the product could foster a better sense of community. The results of the survey were put to use in reconfiguring the newsletter, with a strong emphasis on visual storytelling and interactive communications which helped with buy-in from employees.

The rollout of the new newsletter was a significant departure from the previous one.  The new newsletter was redesigned in an online format, which enabled Lockheed Martin to track metrics by page clicks but also include richer media and interactive design elements.  Each issue included the following features which came about from the employee pre-survey (i.e., learner-centered approach):

  • The Fire Control VP editorial section, which provide insight into leadership decisions, strategy and the defense environment (the Pentagon being the company’s sole customer).
  • Video and animation are used to show examples of technological breakthroughs at the company and make success stories more tangible for a broader audience. The newsletter also uses video and interactive design to promote teamwork.
  • In-depth, technically focused feature articles ranging from stories covering systems upgrades, updates on new military contracts and major program milestones; Also  runs “soft” features such as employee profiles, coverage of junior achievement and charitable efforts.

After several months, a formal survey was conducted to evaluate employee use and overall impression of the changes in Fire Control Focus.   Following are the results of the survey:

  • Expand Newsletter Outreach:  The publication reached 768 employees, exceeding the goal of 30% of the Fire Control population.
  • Boosting Visitors:  Focusing on the second quarter issue alone, the Team determined that there were 559 unique visitors, which is nearly 73% of the total unique page visitors and more than doubled the number of unique visitors from the first quarter.

When asked what employees liked best about the redesign, the survey indicated:

  • 25% Information/Communication
  • 26% Program Updates/Business Information
  • 18% Format Design
  • 16% Personal Connection to Employees

Fire Control pie chart

Looks like Lockheed Martin got it right.  At least that time, right?  The company used rich media to aid in learning and served the needs of their employees rather than the other way around.  Wonder how many tries at this (i.e., failures) before they actually achieved success?  Have you come across instances in your career as an ID where you or your firm did not get it right the first time?  Care to share?  I would love to hear and learn from your experiences.

Until next week, happy learning………


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