Friday, September 4, 2009

Instructional Design and Religion

Instructional design means the science and art of preparing learning materials. These materials can include lesson plans for use by teachers, self study books for learners, videos, and so on. Given that the basic economic fact of this day and age is that labor is expensive, materials for self study are usually considered a lot better than materials that require instructors.

The are several domains of learning that instructional designer may seek to teach. A psychologist called Gagne identified five of them, of which four are actually useful.
  1. Verbal information. Basically, knowledge. "Stoves can be hot", for example.
  2. Intellectual skills. For example, the planning it takes a toddler to realize s/he can move the chair next to the stove to be able to reach it.
  3. Psychomotor skills. Physical skills. For example, the being able to push the chair next to the stove and then climb the chair.
  4. Attitudes. A tendency to select certain behaviors instead of others. For example, "I don't want an owie, so I won't touch the stove even though it looks inviting".
Out of these four, attitudes are the hardest to teach, especially to adults. Religion is, to a large extent, about teaching attitudes. Most religions teach that if you stole yesterday, worship God today, and rob somebody tomorrow you're a bad person and your worship is useless. The worship of God today is supposed to make you a better person so you won't rob anybody tomorrow.

My point yesterday was that teaching attitudes requires repetition. Road to Damascus conversions occur, but they are extremely rare. The common pattern is closer to the Israelites in the desert. You follow God, and then you panic when you get to the Red Sea. You get back to following God, and throw a temper tantrum at Marah. You repent again, and follow God, then you panic when Moses is missing and make a golden calf.

However, we are all masters at filtering information. We have to be, living in an age of over stimulation. And the easiest information to filter is information that is repeated. Nagging rarely works. If we try to repeat the same thing over and over again, we're likely to develop a mental immunity to it.

This means that we need to hear the same message repeatedly. But we need to hear it in different ways, or we will not listen. Silly ways, such as the Porpoise Driven Life, make sense if they make people listen and remember the real things to which they point.

I hope this is clearer.

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