Does Learner Variance warrant a “Learner-Designer” theory?

Learners are as unique as their fingerprints. So why isn’t their instruction just as unique? I believe it is because of curriculum-theory designs.


Curriculum-theory designs are description oriented in nature, which means that they focus on the results of any given learning event. They are also deterministic, which means that the attainment of the learning goals are assured with operant conditioning.  Thus, behaviorism is at the core of Curriculum-theory designs. In essence, Curriculum-theory designs ask “What to teach“. Furthermore, these designs are founded on standardization and conformity from the key markers of the Industrial Age.

On the other hand, Instructional-design theories are design-oriented in nature because they focus on the means to attain the given learning goals. They are probabilistic, which means that the prescribed method of instruction will increase the chances of attaining the learning goals byway of instructional conditions, desired outcomes, and the instructional components.  Thus, cognitivism combined with constructivism is at the core of  Instructional design-theories.  Fundamentally, Instructional-design theories ask “How to teach“. Moreover, these designs are founded on customization and diversity from the key markers of the Information Age. To make instruction as unique as the learner’s fingerprints, teachers will have to shift from curriculum-theory designs to instructional-design theories.

To customize instruction for our learners, teachers must first understand the role of learning profiles. Learning profiles provide an in-depth look at the learners’ abilities in various domains. Not all learners are average, and Todd Rose, the director of the Mind, Brain, & Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, highlighted that notion with his TED Talk on  the jagged learning profile. Hence, using the learning profiles of students will help teachers to shape a powerful personalized instructional-design prescription for diverse learners.

As teachers construct the learning profiles of their students, it is important that they include the student in this process. Reigeluth (1999), submitted that an instructional-design theory should allow for much greater use of the notion of “user-designers” (p. 25). User-designers are both the learners and the facilitators of learning. In other words, as students are interacting with their teacher, their peers, and the content, they are alternating between the role of a learner and that of a facilitator of learning for their peers.  As such, learners should play a major role in designing their own instruction, shifting to a “Learner-designer” theory.

Does learner variance warrant a “Learner-Designer” theory? I will let you decide the answer to that question. Nonetheless, to meet the needs of today’s learners in the conceptual age, instructional-design theories must utilize design-oriented methods that reflect the key markers of the Conceptual age, such as fostering self-regulated learning and self-directed learning, allowing shared decision making, focusing on real-world problems (holistic tasks), and building cooperative relationships through learning teams. To effectively design learning environments for the conceptual age, now more than ever, the voice of learners will have to be added to the design process.


Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Instructional-design theories and models: Volume II. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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