Functional Relevance and Online Instructional Design

Functional Relevance and Online Instructional Design

Glenn E. Snelbecker (Temple Universtiy, USA), Susan M. Miller (Kent State Universtiy, USA) and Robert Z. Zheng (University of Utah, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-503-2.ch210
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Online instruction will more likely be effective if it fits with, and is perceived by, students as being functionally relevant for their education, work, or other personal contexts. Existing practice may emphasize an ad hoc approach to online design by being pragmatic and somewhat unsystematic. It is proposed that using a functional relevance perspective, as described in this chapter, is more likely to have designers and online learners attain a greater advantage in using the capacity of the Internet to support teaching and learning. This chapter introduces the concept of functional relevance and identifies some of the underlying theories. Discussions are made on how the concept of functional relevance can be used as a conceptual framework to identify and to drive decision-making processes that occur during the design and development of instruction.
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Chapter Objectives

The reader will be able to:

  • 1.

    Understand the meaning of—and conceptual foundation for—functional relevance

  • 2.

    Apply functional relevance as a conceptual framework to clarify and drive decision-making processes during the design and development of online instruction

  • 3.

    Recognize how general guidelines from this chapter may be applied to the design of online instruction

  • 4.

    Understand how a functional relevance perspective can aid designers to:

    • Decide whether particular theories or research findings might improve some aspects of their instruction

    • Identify those situations where social presence might constitute an area that merits careful study and possible important modifications in the online instruction, and

    • Consider which learner attributes may be most relevant for the instruction being designed and to discern how those particular attributes may warrant additional instructions of modification of the online instruction



The proliferation of Internet use in general and online learning in particular has dramatically changed the landscape in K-16 education (DuCharme-Hansen & Dupin-Bryant, 2005; Salpeter, 2003). Fernback (2003) pointed out that Web-based instructional delivery has allowed educators to experiment with flexible, innovative, and progressive learning techniques that “permit students to contribute the learning process in new and active way” (p. 28). Although the idea of delivering instruction online has been heralded by teachers, administrators, parents, and students, doing so effectively takes more than a mere shift in modalities (DuCharme-Hansen & Dupin-Bryant, 2005). Recently, there has been a concerted effort among educators to create a successful online learning environment through design (Lim, Plucker, & Nowak, 2001). For example, DuCharme-Hansen and Dupin-Bryant’s model of distance education planning and Jones, Harmon and Lowther’s (2002) framework for online instructional implementation reflect the efforts in that direction.

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