Looking beyond style – Separating good instructional design from bad instructional design


Last morning, I was waiting by the sidelines as my 5-year old daughter was at her Bear Cub Gymnastics class at the Golden Bears Recreation Center. At this gym you can see some future star gymnasts hard at work perfecting their skills and routines. About half hour into my daughter’s class, they cleared the center of the gym and a few girls between the age of 9 and 13 started their warm-ups. One of the things they did was the standing backflip or back tuck. And watching them I looked towards another parent and before I could say it – she said: “I wish I could do that.”

Later in the evening back in the comfort of my couch and wanting to kill some time, I was surfing YouTube and searched for “How to do a backflip.” Among the top search results was this video:

The video was pretty well made by YouTube vlogging standards, and the guy in the video clearly knew what he was doing. He used a few devices that would help a person learn this move – repetition, breakdowns of steps, slow-motion etc. In spite of this, I felt he made it look too easy and consequently too hard for a novice like me to even conceive trying to learn how to do one.  

Due to YouTube’s brilliant autoplay feature, I kept viewing other backflip tutorials done by other YouTube users including Howcast. And then I came across this video from UrbanNinja Fitness&Sports by “Kai.”

I loved how Kai breaks down all the drills that would prepare you for doing a back flip. In fact, right at the beginning he says this: ” …if you can’t do this one… you should go home and do some push-ups and sit-ups..” – nicely done, Kai – way to clearly explain the pre-requisites for this tutorial (I need to start here :-0) . He then goes on to show a progression of drills that would help you prepare yourself to do a standing backflip – a seemingly impossible feat for a novice. While a number of videos I saw were slicker, shorter or more entertaining, this one really took me step by step to a point where having perfected all the drills, one could possibly think of attempting a standing backflip.

And this is what good instructional design is – helping learners understand what steps they need to do to gain proficiency or mastery in performing a skill or task. Breaking down how a pro does something is often NOT a good way to help a novice learn. One has to go back to what pre-requisite knowledge, skills or abilities does one need to possess in order to perform the task.

OK- Gotta go know – time to do some push-ups and sit-ups….

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