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Webinar Recap – Micro Instructional Design

Webinar Recap – Micro Instructional Design

Instructional design is both a process (macro) and a strategy (micro). Micro instructional design models should provide a formula for designing user experience, engagement, and interaction that supports learning. On March 30, I facilitated a Learning Views webinar where we explored Micro Instructional Design for Problem- and Game-Based Learning. View the recording of the Micro Instructional Design webinar.

We compared instructional design to economics and discussed macro vs. micro instructional design compared to macro vs. micro economics. Existing micro instructional design models like Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, the ARCS model, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation were considered and weaknesses identified. The Pebble-in-the-Pond micro instructional design model from Dr. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction was explored as the primary focus of the webinar, including examples of problem-based instructional solutions. Finally, we made a connection between problem-based instructional design and game-based learning, and it was emphasized that problem-based instructional design is a pre-cursor to serious game design.

Micro instructional design models are important because they support the specific design of instruction, versus the overarching process of macro instructional design. So, once your analysis is complete, a micro instructional design model like Pebble-in-the-Pond (PiP) provides a focus on the details of creating a learning solution to impact performance.

Micro ID Webinar Recap Chart1


The first step in the PiP model is to identify a problem. This can be difficult for instructional designers who are accustomed to paging through stacks of Powerpoint slides and notes to develop learning objectives. The PPT-dive often results in an information-based design that has little impact on performance. Instead, instructional designers should ask about challenges that workers face, common situations where they need to use the skills being targeted, as well as the variety of situations that are faced by the learners. The “Problem” step of PiP culminates with a plan for a situation that demonstrates the problem to the learner and a situation in which the learner must apply skills and make decisions to solve the problem.


The second PiP step is to create a simple to complex progression of problems. Like the instructional technique of scaffolding, learners are presented with less complex problems and apply less complex skills to begin. Then the learner practices skills throughout the learning solution with ever increasing problem difficulty and skill complexity (either in skill depth or breadth). As in step 1, a demonstration and application is created for each problem in the progression.

Component Skills

Component skills can be identified in analysis and refined in steps 1 and 2 of PiP. Then, in the third step of PiP, the component skills are distributed across the problem progression. So, for example, problem 1 of the progression might provide demonstration and/or practice for 3 component skills. Problem 2 might then provide demonstration and/or practice for 1 of the component skills in problem 1 and 3 new component skills. The distribution of demonstration and/or practice of component skills continue across the problem progression. The component skills are what the learners are practicing within the context of the problems.

Enhance Strategies

The fourth PiP step focuses on creating metaphors and frameworks that will assist learners in making connections as they practice component skills across the problem progression. Peer sharing, discussion, collaboration, and critique are also enhancing strategies that should be considered at this stage of design.

Finalize Design

The fifth step in the PiP model emphasizes usability and navigation. This is also the time at which supplemental materials can be identified and designed into the experience for the learner, including how they will be accessed through the interface.


The sixth and final PiP step focuses on formative evaluation of the learning solution. Like in a macro design model, evaluation and iteration are important to the success of a project.

Game-Based Learning

When you create a problem-based learning solution, you’re 50% of the way to creating a serious game. What do we do in games? We solve problems. So, games can be a natural progression from problem-based learning. However, it’s not as easy as slapping a score on the screen. There are a lot of considerations for making a game that is balanced and has the right mix of game mechanics to meet the learning goals and still be a fun experience for the learner.

The Game On: The ABCs You Need to Get Started in Gamification webinar in September 2014, the First Principles of Instruction webinar in January 2015, and this webinar, Micro Instructional Design, all focus on moving instruction from the primary method of information presentation and knowledge checks to contextual problem-solving with practice.


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