We’ve got good news and bad news.
Good news: we’ve got SO MUCH research about learning that can guide and inform our teaching!
Bad news: we’ve got SO MUCH research about learning that…well, it can honestly overwhelm us.
I mean: should we focus on retrieval practice or stress or working memory limitations or handshakes at the door? How do we put all these research findings together?
Recently, I’ve come across a system called 4C/ID — a catchy acronym for “four component instructional design.” (It might also be R2D2’s distant cousin.)
First proposed by van Merriënboer, and more recently detailed by van Merriënboer and Kirschner, 4C/ID initially strikes me as compelling for two reasons.
Reason #1: Meta-analysis
Here at Learning and the Brain, we always look at research to inform our decisions. Often we look at one study — or a handful of studies — for interesting findings and patterns.
Scholars often take another approach, called “meta-analysis.” When undertaking a meta-analysis, researchers gather ALL the studies that fit certain criteria, and aggregate their findings. For this reason, some folks think of meta-analytic conclusions as very meaningful. *
A recent meta-analysis looked at studies of 4C/ID, and found … well … found that it REALLY HELPS. In stats language, it found a Cohen’s d of 0.79.
For any one intervention, that’s a remarkably high number. For a curriculum and instruction planning system, that’s HUGE. I can’t think of any other instructional design program with such a substantial effect.
In fact, it was this meta-analysis, and that Cohen’s d, that prompted me to investigate 4C/ID.
Reason #2: Experience
Any substantial instructional planning concept resists easy summary. So, I’m still making my way through the descriptions and diagrams and examples.
As I do so, I think: well, it all just makes a lot of sense.
As you can see from this graphic, the details get complex quickly. But (I think) the headlines are:
… ensure students know relevant procedures fluently before beginning instruction
… organize problems from simple to complex, aiming to finish with “real-life” tasks
… create varied practice
… insist on repetition
And many others. (Some summaries encapsulate 4C/ID in 10 steps.)
None of that guidance sounds shocking or novel. But, if van Merriënboer and Kirschner have put it together into a coherent program — one that works across grades and disciplines and even cultures — that could be a mighty enhancement to our practice.
In fact, as I review the curriculum planning I’m doing for the upcoming school year, I think: “I’m trying to do something like this, but without an explicit structure to guide me.”
In brief: I’m intrigued.
The Water’s Warm
Have you had experience with 4C/ID? Has it proved effective, easy to implement, and clear? The opposite?
I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.
* Others, however, remain deeply skeptical of meta-analysis. The short version of the argument: “garbage in, garbage out.” In this well-known post, for instance, Robert Slavin has his say about meta-analysis.