Defining Salient Features of “Boutique” Instructional Designs and Implications for Design, Development, and Deployment

Defining Salient Features of “Boutique” Instructional Designs and Implications for Design, Development, and Deployment

Shalin Hai-Jew (Kansas State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9833-6.ch008
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“Boutique” instructional design (ID) projects are fairly common across verticals, especially in higher education, open shared learning, government, and some commercial enterprises. In general, boutique-designed learning is small-scale, with narrowly targeted learners, limited development funding/access to information/development and deployment technology/human resources, and other aspects. The strategies and tactics for successful boutique projects differ in some ways than those used for mid-scale and full-scale/general ID projects. This work explores some of the dimensions of boutique ID projects and the implications of those dimensions on design, development, and deployment strategies and tactics. This work is informed by decades in the profession, a review of the literature, and analyses of related open-source and closed-source online learning objects.
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Boutique instructional design projects are of a particular but fairly common kind. To understand the background meanings of this term, it may help to first explore what a “boutique” is without any tie to instructional design.

Boutiques, in the real physical and online, are specialty shops that are organized around particular themes, brands, shopper experiences, services, and select products. Here, the personality of the shopkeeper or the brand (corporate or local) is important. A major selling point is that the shopping experience is one-of-a-kind and unavailable elsewhere. Boutique collections are tailored, selected, and curated, for particular aesthetics or other purposes, by a masterful hand. In general parlance, a “boutique” refers to a specialty store dealing in stylish luxury goods, with elite patronage; boutiques traffic in high cost products, typically clothing (“Boutique,” June 13, 2019). A direct one-degree article-article network on Wikipedia, based on the “boutique” article page, the crowd-sourced encyclopedia, shows a variety of evocations at present, with fine art, clothing brands, shop brands, services, and other references (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

“Boutique” article-article network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)


In a direct one-degree related tags network on the Flickr social image-sharing site, based around “boutique,” there are references to “handmade” products and social crowd-sale sales sites like Etsy (Figure 2). The global city references show something of the penetration of these practices in the world. Beyond clothes, there are references to art, gifts, baby products, and makeup.

Figure 2.

“Boutique” related tags network on Flickr (1 deg.)


This all begs the question of what “boutique” instructional design projects refer to, both formally and informally. Are boutique projects more or less expensive than non-boutique “big box” projects? Are boutique projects more stylish and stylized? Do they show a unique hand in the styling? Where are boutique projects most common (In terms of verticals? In terms of organizations?)? What are the implications of boutique-ness on instructional design, development, and deployment? This work explores these questions based on a review of the literature and decades in the instructional design field, in both public and private sectors.


Review Of The Literature

One of the earliest references to “boutique” in relation to distance education is of a business strategy, among several: 1) the distance education superstore; 2) the distance education chain store; 3) the distance education boutique; 4) the distance education cooperative; 5) corporate alliances; and 6) the distance education consultancy. (Moore, 1999, p. 1) The author elaborates:

In the distance learning boutique, teachers have to work on a wide range of tasks, tasks that in superstores and specialty stores are the work of specialists. These teachers must learn the many skills needed to design and produce distance learning materials, as well as manage interaction with learners as they work with those materials. This is more and different work than in conventional class teaching. At best, teachers have to be trained, paid, and administered differently than in their traditional teaching roles. At worst, in an effort to compete, institutions may put pressure on their labor—the faculty—to work longer hours and accept lower compensation. In other words, in time, boutiques may turn into sweatshops! (Moore, 1999, p. 3)

In higher education boutiques contexts, the subject matter experts (SMEs) or content experts do their own design, development, and deployment, potentially with some one-on-one support (Madden, 2016, p. 270) from instructional designers and digital content developers. Bates (2004) explains:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Boutique: A specialty shop or establishment.

Instructional Design: The purposeful design and creation of learning experiences and related resources.

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