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Incorporating Social Factors into Instructional Design Theory

Daniel W. Surry
dsurry@netdoor.com
University of Southern Mississippi

John D. Farquhar
NovaNet


NOTE: The following article was orignally printed in a Conference Proceedings. The authors grant permission to copy this article for educational purposes but retain copyright and other applicable rights. The citation for the original article is:

 Surry, D.W. & Farquhar, J. D. (1996). Incorporating social factors into instructional design theory. In M. Bailey, & M. Jones, (Eds.) Work, Education, and Technology (pp. 6.1-6.8). DeKalb, IL: LEPS Press.


Abstract

Instructional developers commonly use the Research Development Diffusion model when developing products. A major problem is that products developed with this model have failed to be widely adopted in practical settings. The authors believe the model is flawed because it fails to account for the social factors present at the adopting sites that influence adoption. The authors conclude that social factors must be incorporated into the instructional development process in order to increase adoption.


Incorporating Social Factors into
Instructional Design Theory

Technology and society are inseparable. The design, development, adoption, utilization, and diffusion of technology are inherently social processes. As Howard Segal writes in his book Future Imperfect (1994), "all structures and machines, primitive or sophisticated, exist in a social context and, unless designed for the sake of design itself, serve a social function" (p. 2). Technology and society interact and influence each other, sometimes benignly, other times violently. Technology impacts, shapes, and àredefines society and, in turn, a variety of social factors affect the development, implementation, and spread of technology.

As with all other technologies, society and the technology of instruction are irrevocably intertwined. Many instructional design theories, however, neglect or ignore the social context in which instructional products are intended to be used. The primary purpose of this paper is to provide a basic understanding of the important role that society plays in the adoption of technology and to suggest methods for incorporating societal factors into the instructional development process.

Before discussing social factors specifically, it is important to have a general understanding of why social factors are important and relevant to the field of instructional design . Social factors are important to ID because instructional products have not been widely utilized in educational and training settings (Burkman, 1987). The Research Development Diffusion (RDD) paradigm that predominates in the field of instructional development has proven to be inadequate to the task of producing instructional pàroducts that people want to use.

The RDD paradigm seems capable of producing effective instruction but is flawed by its over reliance in "Technology Push" -- a belief in the inevitable forward advance of society powered by ever improving and more powerful technology. Technology Push assumes that products which are technologically sophisticated and technically sound will be, as a direct result, widely adopted and correctly utilized. The overall failure of many large-scale curriculum development projects in the 1960s (Hall and Hord, 1987) iàs a notable example of the fallacy of Technology Push and highlights the limitations of the RDD paradigm

The current development paradigm's lack of attention to social factors and over reliance on Technology Push often result in the development of instructional products that are not widely adopted even though the products may be technically sophisticated and instructionally sound. In order to increase the utilization of instructional technologies, it will be necessary to expand the RDD paradigm and account for the many factors which impede or facilitate the adoption of instructional products. As will be discuàssed in this paper, societal factors play a vital role in the process of technology adoption. Incorporating social factors into the process of instructional development is essential to creating instructional products that are both instructionally sound and desirable to potential adopters.

Social Factors and the Adoption of Innovations

All technologies impact the society in which they are used. Toffler (1970) succinctly describes technology's impact when he writes that "new machines do more than suggest or compel changes in other machines -- they suggest novel solutions to social, philosophical, even personal problems ... they alter man's total intellectual environment -- the way he thinks an looks at the world" (p. 29). Segal (1994) adds an important point when he writes that "if, as in the significant case of the auto, modern technologày solved a number of problems, social as well as technical, from the outset it simultaneously bred or helped to breed several others, social and technical alike" (p. 30).

The literature related to the adoption of innovations is replete with discussions of the importance of societal factors. One of the most comprehensive theories of diffusion is described in E.M. Rogers' (1987) book Diffusion of Innovations. Figure 1 summarizes a number of variables identified by Rogers that influence the rate of adoption.

Figure 1. The variables which influence an innovation's rate of adoption (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971).

As shown in Figure 1, a number of factors play a role in determining the rate at which an innovation will be adopted. What is most notable about Rogers' model is that the technological superiority of an innovation plays a relatively minor role in determining rate of adoption. Many other factors, most of them relating to the social factors present at the adopting site, play just as large a role as technological superiority in influencing rate of adoption. Among the factors identified by Rogers are: the way àthe innovation is perceived by potential adopters; the type of decision making processes at the adopting site, and; the social system (the values and norms) in place at the adopting site.

Another model of innovation diffusion that stresses the importance of social factors is the Stockdill and Morehouse Model. Stockdill and Morehouse's (1992) model is a synthesis of many diffusion theories and provides a thorough overview of the many factors that affect the adoption of an innovation. The factors are grouped into five categories: 1) educational need, 2) user characteristics, 3) content characteristics, 4) technology considerations, and 5) organizational capacity. The authors recommend that thàe change agent hoping to introduce a new technology analyze the factors included in each category. Based upon the analysis of each category, the change agent must decide whether to stop the adoption effort, reconsider the effort, or to proceed to the next category for analysis. As with Rogers, Stockdill and Morehouse emphasize that a number of factors, not only technological considerations, play a vital role in the adoption of innovative technologies.

The Rogers and Stockdill and Morehouse models point out the central theme that social factors play in the diffusion of innovations literature. Current diffusion literature is, in many ways, antithetical to the RDD paradigm's reliance on Technology Push. In spite of this, instructional developers continue to believe that instructional effectiveness and technological superiority alone will guarantee the adoption and diffusion of their products.

Limitations of Existing Instructional Development Models

Despite the central theme societal factors have in the adoption and diffusion literature, instructional products are often designed without regard to the social factors that influence adoption and utilization. One likely reason for this neglect can be found by examining the theoretical models commonly used in the field of instructional technology. These models are used by instructional designers and systems developers to manage and organize instructional development activities and to communicate the overalàl process to clients (Gustafson, 1991). Instructional development models provide the procedural framework by which instructional products are produced.

There are numerous models of instructional development. Gustafson (1991) skillfully organizes many of the most widely-used instructional development models into a logically organized taxonomy. Gustafson classifies the models into Classroom ID Models, Product Development Models, and Systems Development Models. For the purpose of this paper, we will primarily discuss the product development models.

Perhaps the most widely used instructional development model is the Dick and Carey Model (1990). While Gustafson classifies this as a Systems Development Model, it is also commonly used by instructional product developers. The Dick and Carey Model describes a development process that begins with the identification of goals and proceeds through formative evaluation, revision and summative evaluation. There is little doubt that the model provides a valuable description of all of the key ID activities and plaàces them in a logical sequence. Notably lacking from this model, however, is any mention of the social context in which the product will be implemented.

As with the Dick and Carey Model, other widely used product development models also fail to account for social context. Gustafson (1991) writes that the goal of product development models is "to prepare an effective and efficient product as quickly as possible" (p.7). While all three of the product development models reviewed by Gustafson describe a logical process for developing "an effective and efficient product", none of them contains a thorough discussion of the need to analyze the social context in wàhich the product will be used. In fact, only one of the three, The Van Patten Model (1989), even mentions the need to consider the implementation or continuing maintenance of an instructional product.

In reviewing Systems Development Models, Gustafson writes that such models usually call for an extensive analysis of the use environment before instructional development even begins. Of the five systems models reviewed by Gustafson, two -- The IDI Model and The Diamond Model -- do discuss in some detail the need for an analysis of the social context. The IDI Model (Twelker, 1972) calls for an analysis of the audience, organizational personnel, and organizational resources before development begins. The Diamond Model (1989) goes even further than the IDI Model and calls for an analysis of societal and organizational needs and for an examination of human and organizational resources before development.

The examination of the preceding instructional development models leads to three important conclusions. First, none of the most widely used product development models include an analysis of the social context as an important part of the development process. Second, product development models do not always mention adoption and diffusion, and when they do, adoption and diffusion are typically considered near the end of the development process, usually after the product has been developed. Third, while some systems development models do tend to call for a thorough analysis of social context, these models are not often used to guide the production of specific instructional products but, rather, are reserved primarily for the development or repair of broader instructional systems.

Tools for Incorporating Social Factors into the ID Process

We have seen in the previous section that most ID models don't adequately account for the social factors that influence an innovation's rate of adoption. There are, however, a number of tools that can be incorporated into existing practices to increase the attention to social factors. Incorporating these tools into existing models will create is a logical and necessary step in the evolution of instructional development theory and result in a powerful synthesis of diffusion theory and instructional developmàent theory.

Beginning with the initial research phase of instructional development, the diffusion literature tells us that key consideration should be given to the physical and social attributes of the implementation environment. Critical factors can be discovered through an Environmental Analysis (Tessmer, 1991) and an Adoption Analysis (Farquhar & Surry, 1994). Each procedure identifies key social characteristics that have profound impact on the design of instructional products.

Adoption Analysis is a process, performed during the analysis phase, by which instructional developers identify key factors that will likely influence the adoption of their product. The analysis will allow developers to account for the most vital adoption factors during the development process. An adoption analysis focuses on both individual and organizational factors. Developers look at the user characteriscs and perceptions of the potential adopters in order to determine the type of product potential adoàpters are looking for. Also, the physical environment and support systems in place at the adopting site are analyzed to determine the technical specifications that will make the product more likely to be adopted and maintained. Based upon the adoption analysis, modifications are made to the product's design in order to create a product that is desirable and practical to the adopters.

Product evaluation, both summative and formative, has long been an essential part of the instructional development process. Formative-evaluation methodologies commonly practiced in the field of software development include rapid prototyping, usability testing, implementation evaluation and field testing (Flagg, 1990; Skelton, 1992; Tripp & Bichelmeyer, 1990). Each of these methods incorporate a cycle of feedback from selected individuals within the target population. This information is used to modify desiàgn and implementation strategies thus improving the product's chances for successful adoption and utilization. We contend that the most successful formative-evaluation methods are those that are conducted in social environments most reflective of the planned implementation sites.

Ernest Burkman (1987) was one of the first authors in the field of instructional technology to provide specific suggestions for incorporating social factors into the RDD paradigm. Burkman writes that, in order to increase the utilization of instructional products, instructional development models should be more user-oriented. Burkman's User-Oriented Instructional Development (UOID) Model is a five step process, based in part upon Rogers' (1983) theory of perceived attributes, for incorporating important social factors into the development process. The five steps of the UOID Model are:

  1. Identify the Potential Adopter
  2. Measure Relevant Potential Adopter Perceptions
  3. Design and Develop a User-Friendly Product
  4. Inform the Potential Adopter (of the user-friendly attributes)
  5. Provide Post-Adoption Support
The Concern Based Adoption Model (CBAM) (Hall & Hord, 1987) is another excellent tool for incorporating social factors into the instructional development process. In their book Change in Schools, Hall and Hord (1987) describe a process change facilitators can use to bring about change in a school setting. The CBAM model stresses the need for change facilitators to understand change from the point of view of the people who will be affected by the change. While CBAM deals with change in school settings, the àtechniques described by the authors and the model's emphasis on seeing innovations from the point of view of the potential adopters are transferable to other settings.

There are several components to the CBAM Model. One of the most useful components to instructional developers is Probing.. According to the authors, the change facilitator must probe to determine how the change clients experience a proposed innovation. The authors write that change clients experience an innovation through three dimensions: Stages of Concern, Levels of Use, and Innovation Configurations. The authors also stress the importance of considering the context in which an innovation will be used. Hàall and Hord recommend that the change facilitator make an intervention based upon the analysis of the three dimensions and the context of the innovation.

The final tool that can help integrate social factors into the instructional development process is Systems Theory. Systems Theory attempts to create a holistic view of a given process by identifying all of the inputs and outputs of a system. Systems Theory is not a new concept nor is it completely foreign to the ID filed. The systems engineering approach gained popularity in the 1950s, partly as a response the prevailing view that hardware was the most important component of a successful system (Saettler,à 1990) The 1950s notion that hardware is the most important component of a system is very analogous to the prevailing notion in instructional development today -- that an effective and technologically superior instructional product is the most important factor in adoption.

Schiffman (1991) describes five views of instructional development ranging from the most narrow media-only view to a highly synthesized systems view. The systems view sees an instructional product not as a separate, isolated entity, but as an entity that will exist in a highly complex, integrated and interconnected system. The systems view represents a modern and sophisticated way of looking at an instructional product and can be a valuable tool for developers looking to increase the adoption of their products.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A complex variety of social factors influence the adoption of new technologies. The RDD paradigm, and the myriad of instructional design models based on that paradigm, do not adequately account for the importance of social factors in product adoption. As a result, instructional technologies have experienced a lack of utilization, not only in traditional educational settings, but in military and industrial settings (Burkman 1987) In order to address the inadequacy of existing models and to facilitate the adàoption of instructional products, social factors should be incorporated into instructional development models. The following recommendations are provided in the hope that they will contribute to the evolution of instructional development theory

Instructional developers should consider adoption and diffusion as strongly as they consider instructional effectiveness.

Developing effective and efficient instructional products does not necessarily mean that the products are desirable or useful to potential adopters. The field of instructional development has made great breakthroughs in designing and developing effective instruction. Few breakthroughs have been made, however, in developing products that people want to use. One of the basic tenets of instructional technology is "if the objectives were not met, it means the instruction was not adequate." It seems odd, therefàore, that when an instructional product is not adopted, instructional developers often blame the potential adopters. Another basic tenet of the field should be "if the product was not adopted, it means the design of the product did not adequately plan for adoption."

Instructional developers should understand that adoption is the result of purposeful planning and does not automatically follow the development of instructionally or technically superior products.

The adoption theories of E. M. Rogers and Stockdill and Morehouse discussed in this paper describe innovation adoption as a complex process that is influenced by many factors. Technological superiority is only one of a number of factors that influence a person's decision about whether or not to adopt an innovation. The complex process outlined in the adoption literature reveals Technology Push to be an overly simplistic concept and shows that instructional developers must to more than create effective products if they want to increase utilization. In order to increase utilization, developers must understand the complexity of the adoption process and develop a systematic plan that determines and accounts for the most important factors..

Instructional designers should modify their design and development models to incorporate the various tools discussed in this paper.

If instructional developers are to plan for adoption as carefully as they plan for instructional effectiveness, then current models of instructional development will be insufficient for the task. Planning for adoption requires an evolutionary advance in the models instructional developers use. Emerging theories that place an emphasis on the user and on the social context in which a product will be used can be incorporated into existing product development models. Adoption Analysis, User-Oriented Instructioànal Development, Rapid Prototyping, and Field Testing are only a few of the tools that developers can use to determine and account for adoption factors.

Research should be undertaken to determine the best method for incorporating the tools into the ID process and to determine if the tools have any affect on product adoption.

The tools described above have not been examined in practical settings. There is no published evidence to suggest that employing any of the tools will result in the increased adoption or facilitated implementation of an instructional product. Research into the effects of these tools is non-existent and urgently needed. Large-scale longitudinal studies that examine the impact and effectiveness of these tools on the adoption and continuation of instructional products would be laborious and costly, but very uàseful. In addition, applied research is needed into how to use the tools during the development process. How, for example, should a development team actually conduct an adoption analysis? What are the best techniques for testing the usability of a product? How can rapid prototyping assist developers in determining the perceptions of potential adopters? These are only a few of the important and unanswered questions related to social factors and instructional development.

In conclusion, it is not the intention of this paper to put forth a new model of instructional development. We agree with Gustafson's (1991) conclusions that "the literature is replete with models, each claiming to be unique and deserving of attention" (p.47) and "it appears that well over half of the ID models have never actually applied, never mind rigorously evaluated" (p. 47). The last thing the ID field needs is another untested design model claiming to be unique and valuable.

Much more importantly than putting forth a new ID model, what is really needed is a new way of thinking. Instructional developers should consider the potential adoption and implementation of their products as carefully as they consider the instructional outcomes. Put another way, the value of an instructional product should be measured by the degree of adoption and the success of implementation just as much as it is now measured by cognitive and affective outcomes. In order for this to happen, instructionaàl developers will have to analyze and account for the social context in which their products will be used. Also, developers will have to make adoption an important consideration of their design models throughout the entire ID process.

Like it or not, instructional products do more than help learners in attaining certain instructional objectives. To borrow from Toffler and Segal, instructional products suggest novel solutions, alter the way people look at the world, and simultaneously solve and breed a number of problems. Instructional products will never be widely utilized until instructional developers understand the powerful role that social factors play in adoption. Instructional developers who don't realize the impact their productsà have on society, on real people in real places, are viewing their products too narrowly and ignoring the biggest obstacle, and greatest potential, of their field.

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Cite this document as:
Surry, Daniel W., & Farquhar, John D. Incorporating Social Factors into Instructional Design Theory. [Online] Available http://www.hbg.psu.edu/bsed/intro/docs/social/, August 1, 1996. 


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