Organisation : Effective Instruction: Aligning Needs, Goals, and Purpose

bettinaBettina is an educational administrator, a curriculum and instructional specialist, artist/illustrator, webdesigner, author, entrepreneur, member of NC State Superintendent's Principals' Advisory Committee (2000-2002), an advisor to, a member of the Ivy Sea, Inc. Collaborative Network Family, a working partner with The CEO Refresher, and has received numerous educational awards.

She is also recipient of a Fulbright Administrator Exchange Award for the year 2003-2004.

From birth on, learning is what we do as we encounter new situations.

It is what we apply to situations already encountered. It is how we explore, how we discover, and how we unravel. It is what we use to progress through our lives, our jobs, and our relationships. Learning is natural, accomplishable through quiet moments of reflection or intentionally designed instruction. 

For each of us, the learning process is a unique experience. And as we approach a given event, we will never know at what point learning will occur. We will never know what particular mechanism or condition may trigger learning, as each event is unique, as is each of our requirements for learning. Regardless of age, we all learn differently, at different rates, in different ways, and for different purposes, but we all learn. For these reasons, and many others, we often say that learning occurs haphazardly.

Though learning may occur haphazardly, instruction should not. The point of delivering instruction is to provide opportunities for learning. Regardless of the learner's age, instruction designed without a serious care and concern for the needs of the learner is haphazard. There is no effective one-size-fits-all approach to instruction. And no matter how well designed or how "current" the mode of instruction is, applied inappropriately, it may yield little or no growth in the learner. 

We instruct for various reasons. While the learning needs of children may differ from those of the adult, there are times for both when social skill development is needed, when lack of motivation hinders performance, when knowledge is weak, or when fine-tuning of personal or professional skill is desired. Fortunately, there are conditions and instructional strategies that instructors and Training and Development companies can hone in on to increase the potential for learning in their students if they know which strategy to use for a given learning need. 

Families of Instruction

From Models of Teaching, Bruce Joyce and Marsha Weils provide the following four categories or families of instruction: Social, Behavioral, Informational Processing, and Personal. 

The Social Family 

The Social Family of instruction provides opportunities for increased socialization among learners. 

When teaming and collaborative efforts among a group of individuals or co-workers is weak, instruction is needed in the area of social skill development. Design instruction that address both the objectives of the organization while also working to improve social skills needed for effective teaming and collaborative work relations.

Examples: Dialogue, Socratic Method, Collaborative/Team Learning

The Behavioral Family

The Behavioral Family of instructional strategies develops and fine-tunes pre-determined behaviors and skill sets in the learner.

There are times when learning is an independent, individual endeavor. This is the time to implement instruction that specifically addresses methods to change learner behaviors and skills. Instruction of this type is often one-way in that information flows from the deliverer to the learner. 

Examples: eLearning, Modules, Computer Simulations

The Informational Processing Family

The Informational Processing family provides opportunities for developing logical and critical thinking, higher order thinking skills, and creativity. 

Sometimes the amount of content and knowledge needs to be delivered quickly and in an organized manner to a large group of individuals, while dually providing opportunities to increase critical, logical, or creative thinking skills in learners. Each of the strategies hones in on a particular mental process -- logic, critical thinking, creativity -- so select purposefully from strategies in the IP family. 

Examples: Case-based Instruction, Evaluation, Synectics, Demonstrations

The Personal Family

The Personal Family of instruction uses individual learning preferences and needs to set the stage for the instructional design. 

When lack of motivation is a factor in the performance of an individual, team, or organization, selecting from the Personal Family of  instructional strategies can raise interest in learning and performance. These strategies provide an avenue for the development of greater curiosity, personal insight, self-esteem, interest, and commitment to the learning process.

Examples:  Internships, Apprenticeships, Coaching, Problem-based Instruction

Pathways to Learning

Neuroscience is giving us a greater understanding of how we learn and under what conditions optimal learning occurs. The following four conditions or learning pathways can be strategically used to increase the potential for learning.


Interactions with people, places, or things actively engages the learner in his or her Environment.

When learners need hands-on experiences, experiences that directly transfers learning to professions or work, or have a learning style preference (Dunn & Dunn) or strength in a particular intelligence (Howard Gardner), this is the category to select from. These strategies are activity based and place the learner in direct contact with his or her learning environment.

Examples:  Presentations, Learning Modalities, Internships/Apprenticeships


Providing Repetition during the instructional period increases the opportunity for developing and/or fine-tuning skills and processes.

There are times when the goal of learning is to increase one's  finesse and skill of a certain technique or when memorization of content and knowledge is a necessity for job performance. Strategies which provide for such fine-tuning and memorization fall under this category.

Examples: Computer Drill, Review Games, Direct Instruction


The category of Emotions involves student feelings in the learning process.

It is now well known that the opportunity for learning is enhanced when instructors selectively engage the emotions of students during instruction. This involves the brain's amygdala during learning and greatly increases the likelihood of enjoyment and the development of long-term memory during the instructional period. It is also the place to start when lack of motivation is a problem. Coupled with strategies from the Personal Family, the chances of raising motivation are even higher.

Examples:  Socratic Method, Games, Role Playing


Patterning helps build meaning and connections into the larger experience of learning or work.

When the goal of instruction is to build on prior knowledge and content, making connections between systems, and make meaning of new information, Patterning strategies are the ones to consider. For example, at the organizational level they can provide avenues for understanding how systems are linked, how new strategies support existing structures, or how units support and interact with one another.

Examples:  Case studies, Problem-based Instruction, eLearning

Merging of Families and Conditions for Optimal Learning

We know that instructional design involves answering many questions. Who are the learners? What are their needs? What are the needs of the organization? And we know that there needs to be an alignment of the needs of the learner with the goals and objectives of the organization, but even more important -- there needs to be an alignment between the needs of the learner(s), the organizational goals, and the goals of the instructional strategy. Knowing the needs of the learner is not enough. Knowing the needs of the organization is not enough. You must also know the underlying goal or purpose of the instructional strategy you are using. Throw a randomly selected, or a one-size-fits-all strategy, at the learner and the organization and what you end up with is loss -- loss in cost, time, and effort. The point? Be sure to select the right strategy to meet the goals of both the learner and the organization. Instructional design follows purpose. 

Learning Pathways and Instructional Strategies: A Classification Chart


While strategies may overlap under certain families or conditions of learning, each has overriding learning goals and objectives and are thus placed within the category or condition which best addresses the intent of the instructional experience.



Learning Pathways




Active learning: involving people, places, or things



Learning through practice



Involving emotions in learning



Building connections and meaning


To teach and encourage social skill development

Group Projects

Cooperative Learning

Collaborative Learning


Peer Instruction

 Review Games

Role Playing

Jurisprudential Inquiry

(Socratic Method)

Group Investigation




Group Brainstorming

Four Corners




To change the learning behavior



Learning Modules

Direct Instruction

Programmed Instruction

Mastery Learning

Computer Drill






To encourage logical and critical thinking processes

Scientific Inquiry

Inquiry Training



Decision Making



Case-based Teaching

Thinking Inductively

Attaining Concepts

Memorization Model


Advance Organizers

(Thinking Maps)



To involve  personal insight and individual learning preferences








Discovery Learning

 Learning Modalities

Multiple Intelligences 

Individual Skill Training

Nondirective Teaching

Individual Projects






Individual Brainstorming



Case Studies



The best of instructors have a repertoire of instructional strategies to draw from, understand learning preferences, and understand the cognitive levels of their learners. They understand that the instructional strategies themselves have goals and when and why to use them. They also understand when not to use a strategy. For example, inserting role playing (Emotion and Social) repeatedly into periods of instruction (just to create fun or interest) can defeat the goal of instruction if the needs of the learners and the particular content and goal of instruction has nothing to do with emotional and social developmental. 

Sometimes instruction needs to be serious, sometimes experiential, sometimes individual, and sometimes social. Sometimes content is the issue, sometimes it's motivation, and sometimes learner preference. It all depends. Understand the primary goals of each instructional strategy, and get to know them well. Effective instruction and high performance in the classroom is about fit -- fit between the learner(s) needs, the organizational goals, and the goals of the instructional strategy.

Bettina Ann Grahek is an educational administrator with a passion for teaching and leading new thinking, new beliefs, and new practices for leadership in education. Her award winning web site is an outstanding resource for educators and all leaders.

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