Design considerations for experiential web-based instruction

David M Peter
Instructional Design Specialist
Center for Teaching and Learning, Indiana State University


The use of the World Wide Web as an educational delivery medium has pushed the limits of instructional design. The issues most important to the students are "Is this good instruction?" and "Will I learn from this online experience?" Faculty and administrator issues center around educational quality, student development, student achievement, and student engagement with the content. While these may appear to be addressed by following many of the traditional instructional design models, they are not sufficiently addressed. This paper will address some of the primary issues that should be included in the design process to result in the development of a learning experience that truly engages the students from a cognitive perspective, while encouraging or fostering a greater accomplishment in the student's learning development.


Many of the traditional instructional design models are process-oriented. Entering at a stage usually associated with the learner analysis, then completing the steps from task analysis to developing instructional materials (in a sequential manner), and developing or ending with the outcome, an educational model. In reviewing the primary models (Dick and Carey, 1996; Gagne, Briggs and Wager, 1988), the focus is on a pattern that normally includes, identifying goals, performing learner analysis, completing a task analysis, developing objectives, identifying instructional strategy, selecting instructional media, designing and evaluating the module. While these models have been extremely successful and systematic, they are somewhat limiting. (For a review and comparative analysis of instructional design models, refer to Gustafson and Branch, 1997.)

If one accepts the notion that the process of designing instruction is a systematic one (as defined in Dick and Carey, 1996), then one must accept that the parts are inter-related and should be performed or executed in a sequential fashion (Reigeluth and Curtis, 1987). Many of these instructional design models were developed in response to the fledgling War Department and the early stages of the Department of the Army, with a need to design, develop, and deliver standardized performance-based or competency-based training. As a note, many of the models are grounded in the behavioral sciences, making them appear more prescriptive than flexible.

The use of the World Wide Web as a medium to deliver training has, to some extent, pushed the applicability of the models to their outer limits (Duchastel, 1996-1997). Many of the current proponents of instructional design have developed adaptations of these basic models, with the intent of accommodating the new technologies (Piskurich, 2000 and Rapid Instructional Design). And, yet it is these adaptations that are still, in the pure sense, promoting a linear development process.

Rationale for Experiential Web-Based Learning

With the current bodies of research and knowledge on development both of the learner, and the instructor, there is a need now more than ever to re-examine and develop a new model for instructional design. It may be necessary then, to abandon, or perhaps significantly modify, the traditional instructional design models that were grounded in behavioral terms in favor of a model that is more experiential (Kolb, 1984).

The end-goal of learning (from the behavioral perspective) is to cause a new or modified behavior in the learner. From the experiential perspective, the goal is to provide an opportunity or event that will engage or involve the learner in the active process of learning. To create this opportunity or event, the learning should occur in the context that is directly related to the content (Svinicki and Dixon, 1987). Learning then depends on the learning event and the type of knowledge the learner should gain, develop or explore.

Types of Knowledge

Many from the instructional design perspective have long accepted the ideas that there are unique forms of knowledge, being specifically declarative (Anderson, 1993; Enns, 1993; Gagne, Briggs, and Wager, 1988; Paris, Lipson and Wixson, 1983) and procedural (Anderson, 1993; Enns, 1993; Paris, Lipson and Wixson, 1983; Smith and Ragan, 1999). The inclusion of a third form of knowledge, conditional or contextual, has perhaps broadened the spectrum of knowledge (Enns, 1993; Paris, Lipson and Wixson, 1983).

After examining the types or forms of knowledge (declarative, procedural, conditional or contextual), in context of the stages of development (Baxter-Magolda, 1992; Enns, 1993), there seems to be a natural connection between them. If one accepts the developmental models of Piaget and Dewey, and that the knowledge types are hierarchical, then one could naturally relate the stages of development to the acquisition of knowledge. With these "types of knowledge" there is an implied sense that the learning event is active, and produces a unique experience for the learner (Enns, 1993; Kolb, 1984; Kreber, 2001). Yet, before examining these, let's look at a new methodology to design instruction.

It may be safe to assume that now, learning is to be primarily learner or learning centered (this does not discount the previous models that were such, but perhaps refocuses effort and energy on the event, rather than the participants), outcome based, and, where possible, experiential in nature and design (Kolb, 1984). While this discussion will focus on the development of the micro-level, or module, or lesson, it could potentially be extended to the macro-level or course design process.

Instructional Design Processes and Types of Knowledge

By careful examination of the learning module, or even smaller portion of instruction like an individual lesson, the intent of the module should become evident. It is either declarative (what), procedural (how) or conditional/contextual (why) (Kreber, 2001; Paris, Cross, and Lipson, 1984). One could identify the type of knowledge by looking at the intended outcomes (student) for the module (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl, 1956; Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia, 1964; Kreber, 2001; Vince, 1998).

If the module wants students to know something that they did not previously know, if would be declarative. If the module wants students to be able to perform a procedure or process it would be procedural. If the module wanted students to examine something in a reflective or critical fashion, and apply their previously acquired knowledge in a situational fashion, it would be conditional or contextual.

The Learner

Rather than perform a detailed learner analysis that will focus on entry level knowledge, skills, and abilities and identify pre-requisites (Hardy and Boaz, 1997), the learner should be identified in terms of development (Chickering and Gamson, 1999). Using Baxter-Magolda's epistemological model (Baxter-Magolda, 1992, p. 30), the absolute and transitional knowers can be said to be seeking declarative knowledge; transitional and independent knowers, procedural; and finally independent and contextual knowers, conditional/contextual. This grouping pairs the types of knowledge, the intended nature of learning outcomes with an appropriate type of learner (see also Enns, 1993 for a discussion on the types of learners, from the perspective of both Kolb, 1984 and Baxter-Magolda, 1992).

It is conceivable that any learning developed would be more appropriate for the learner (Chickering and Gamson, 1987; Chickering and Gamson, 1999), due to the fact that the learning is matched to the learner, rather than the learner matched to the learning (Egan and Gibb, 1997). This now focuses on matching the knowledge to outcomes to learner development — rather than make the brash assumption that all learners are the same and that it isn't the training that is problematic, but the learners (Kreber, 2001). Also, the learning (if associated with a higher level from either the cognitive or affective domain) can be much more experiential by design.

Evaluation or Assessment of Learning

Extending this model further, the types of assessment or evaluation would be grounded both in the type of knowledge, and the appropriate level of student development (Paris, Cross, and Lipson, 1984; Vince, 1998). Declarative knowledge models would be evaluated using a non-performance methodology, simply because this is at the lower end of Bloom's cognitive taxonomy (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl, 1956) (Knowledge, Comprehension, and possibly Application) Procedural would be evaluated using a performance-based methodology, relating to the upper end of Bloom's taxonomy (Application, and perhaps Synthesis and/or Evaluation). And finally, conditional or contextual would be evaluated using a simulation, and this would fall in line with Krathwohl's affective domain taxonomy (Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia, 1964) (Organization).

What makes this methodology appropriate is the focus is returned to the student (Chickering and Gamson, 1987; Chickering and Gamson, 1999; Egan and Gibb, 1997), and it is centered on the nature of knowledge, the developmental stages of the learner (Baxter-Magolda, 1992), and learning outcomes (Vince, 1998). This model moves these elements to a primary place in the instructional design process. And, while this may appear to also be somewhat linear, it is branched, including many of the variables (instructional strategies, learner analysis, evaluation methods) into a singular unit, where each has a direct effect on the other.


Experiential web-based learning can occur when the following conditions are met during the design phase: first, the appropriate level of cognitive and/or affective domain is reached, causing the learner to do much more than simply receive the learning or knowledge; second, the relationship between the type of knowledge (declarative, procedural, conditional or contextual) establishes an implied level of learner involvement — the greater the learner involvement, potentially the greater emphasis on procedural or conditional or contextual knowledge acquisition; and third, the outcomes are evaluated with respect to the domain (cognitive and/or affective) in terms of the type of knowledge. Once these steps are included during the design process, rather than as an afterthought, web based learning will become richer, and provide the learner an authentic learning event.

The following table is provided to indicate the relationship between cognitive domain, affective domain, type of evaluation, type of knowledge for the learner to obtain, and the component of experiential learning associated.

Table: Experiential Web Based Training Developmental Matrix
Cognitive Domain Affective Domain Type of Evaluation Type of Knowledge Experiential Learning Component
(Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl, 1956) (Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia, 1964) (Alessi and Trollip, 1991) (Paris, Lipson, and Wixson, 1983) (Kolb, 1984)
Evaluation Characterization Simulations / Practice     Conditional or Contextual Knowledge Reflection
Analysis Organization Performance evaluations / Simulations Procedural Knowledge Application
Application Valuing
Comprehension Responding Non performance evaluations Declarative Knowledge Knowledge
Knowledge Receiving

As the learning event becomes more cognitive, or affective there should be a change in the method of evaluation. At the same time, the type of knowledge that the learner is either acquiring or demonstrating proficiency or competency with increases, as does the component of experiential learning. It is only when web based instruction reaches the upper levels of this matrix that it becomes much more experiential, and engages the learner at a higher level.


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