Hear From Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew

Applying Visual Thinking to Instructional Design

By Shalin Hai-Jew on Jul 16, 2020

Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew’s recent publication is Visual Approaches to Instructional Design, Development, and Deployment, a collection of innovative research on visual-forward approaches to instructional design and applications of visual planning methods in creating effective learning environments. It focuses on the advancement of online learning techniques using visual design technologies and highlights extremely relevant and timely topics including image curation, visual planning, and textual thinking. Dr. Hai-Jew shares how her research further advances her field of expertise in the IGI Global interview below.


What is instructional design (ID), and what are some ways it is approached in general? 

Generically, “instructional design” refers to systematic ways to analyze a teaching and learning situation, study the learning contents, and design a learning experience through a learning sequence using learning contents, assignments, groupwork, activities, assessments, learner feedback, and various combinations of technologies.  Often, the designs are informed by research into human learning, and they are informed by knowledge of the target learners.  There may be lead-up and lead-away learning experiences, too, to help segue between various learning experiences. There may be optional learning experiences to refresh learners before they start a formal learning sequence.  Likewise, after a formal learning sequence, there may be digital leave-behinds to enable learners to refresh on the learning later and/or better apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities/attitudes (KSAs) that they have acquired. 

In this work, ID is conceptualized as three recursive steps: design, development, and deployment.  Generally, the design points to conceptualizing the designs and creating early mockups for testing. The development is the stage when the ID “commits” to particular designs by building out the various objects and contents in full and to the point of refinement. Testing is also part of this stage. A simple approach is an “alpha” test to make sure that the technologies are working, the language is correct, the branching logic works, and that all legal requirements are met. Then, there is the deployment phase, when the learning resources are launched to the respective learners in their respective contexts. This may involve various forms of outreach and publicity. 

The basic idea is to fit the teaching and learning to the learners, to best enable their success. While “intrinsic cognitive load” refers to the inherent difficulty of the learning contents, and “germane cognitive load” refers to the work of creating mental models of schemas, “extraneous cognitive load” refers to how the learning materials are presented (such as in a way unaligned to how learners may optimally understand the concept). This extra load puts a burden on learners because they have to process the information using more resources.  The instructional designer should not be building barriers to the learning. 

Why is using visual thinking for instructional design something “new”? 

So visual thinking is not wholly unheard of in instructional design. Rather, this work suggests that visual thinking and using diagrams to help plan out, develop, and deploy various learning resources can be a powerful approach. This work suggests that one can “forefront” the visuals in these steps of instructional design. 

What was the inspiration behind this authored text? 

So I’ve worked as an ID at Kansas State University, USA, since January 2006, and before that, as a college faculty member, I’ve built various courses (for myself and others). In private industry, I’ve consulted on distance learning/online learning. 

I’ve used a variety of methods to actualize instructional learning designs—sometimes as an individual, sometimes as part of a team. 

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of ID methods, and I’ve also used a variety of diagrams and drawings and visuals to actualize the work. There has never not been a time when I have used visuals in ID work, but it had always been something in the background. I realized that it might benefit others to see this foregrounded. I realized that doodling ideas out on a pad or drawing a diagram with clear labels or expressing a user interface design could really help me see the strengths and the weaknesses of a design. I could go into the principal investigators (PIs) and co-PIs on a grant and faculty members and see what they thought. Now that I’ve used these doodles and diagrams sufficiently, I have built up sufficient confidence in these approaches to structure and organize ideas (with shapes as interactive elements, various forms of sequences, and so on). 

Are there particular types of learning that this is good for? If so, why?

I think visual instructional design, in combination with other ID methods, would do well for any of the following: 

  • complex learning,
  • anything with branching logic,
  • learning across modules,
  • different learning sequences,
  • any high-value learning project (with multifaceted requirements),
  • anticipated versioning to different learner groups (by age, by culture, by regions, by languages, and other demographic details)/different technologies
  • any learning that is part of a sequence or set
  • anything with high development costs
  • anything requiring complex technologies, and so on.

What visuals enable is a sufficient amount of time to explore ideas in depth…and to approach ID challenges in fresh ways. 

I like using the analogy of the sketchbook for artists and drafts-people. The creation of the related visuals helps one work out ideas, to pause and think, and to see what gaps or shortcomings there might be. Visuals that are clearly labeled help with being more disciplined and more thorough and to use language that is more grammatically structured.  And, maybe surprisingly, most of the basic conventional forms are simple and very easy-to-use.   

It is fairly costless to brainstorm various designs and ideas and fairly invaluable to have alternate paths that may be taken. Thinking visually changes up the parts of the brain that may be harnessed for the work; it affects how the brain thinks and processes particular concepts.  And visuals feel very intuitive.  They speak to order; they speak to sequence. They are often quite easily received and understood by others. 

Please offer some examples of the use of visual thinking for instructional design. Additionally, please explain how this would result in something different than it would have been otherwise. 

So, let’s think of the design of a simple slideshow (slide deck) sequence. A simple doodle of the general trajectory of the slideshow can indicate general parts and help one emplace content. A draft slideshow with a look-and-feel plan can clarify the aesthetics and visual styles. It can inform artwork and learning character designs. So much of design is about discovery…and surfacing what one thinks and knows. 

Beyond that example, there are ways to use reverse-mapping sort of analysis. Find a learning object.   Map it out visually. What does it cover? In what sequence? What are the aesthetics? What I’ve found in doing this light exercise is that I realize that there are many gaps in many learning objects. Too often, if people are not systematic, they will present what is top-of-mind, and they will assume learners know what they (the experts) know, and many gaps remain. Stepping back from what is known and just abstractly writing out the visual enables an analytical objectivity that might not exist otherwise. Doing the work in a structured way is like outlining an article or diagramming a sentence, visually.  It provides an overstructure of what is there…and what is not there. (In a design context, you want to know early on what you need to include, so you do not have developed contents that have to be disaggregated and reconstituted or retrofitted.) 

What are some of the limits to visual thinking applied to instructional design? 

One is if you’re working on a distributed team (across multiple states, multiple countries), it helps to get everyone on the same page about what visual diagrams will be used and what they mean and how they will be interpreted and used. However, this is a rare context because of how limited funding is for such designs. 

More local teams can be trained and read into this work and come out with very positive outcomes for ID work in all three phases (design, development, and deployment). 

Can these approaches be used by any instructional designers? 

I don’t see why not. Visuals can be seen in various ways, such as through textual description. This is more about the discipline of seeing designs in very structured ways. The mind’s eye can see all sorts of things which are in the imagination and the theoretical and the conceptual. 

IGI Global would like to thank Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew for sharing her research. For more information about this research, view her publication here.

Available in print and electronic format, Visual Approaches to Instructional Design, Development, and Deployment can be ordered with an automatic 50% discount* off the list price of the electronic format when purchasing the publication directly through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore. Additionally, all of IGI Global's publications are available on the article and chapter level through our OnDemand feature for as low as US$ 30. This publication is also available across preferred providers such as GOBI Library Solutions, EBSCOHost, Oasis, and Ebook Central (discounts may vary), as well as IGI Global’s InfoSci-Books (5,900+ e-books) database.

Visit the publication’s webpage to order, or contact Customer Service at cust@igi-global.com or 717-533-8845 ext. 100 with questions. For researchers, be sure to recommend this publication or the InfoSci-Books database to your library to have access to this critical content.

About Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew: Dr. Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University (K-State). She has taught at the university and college levels for many years (including four years in the People’s Republic of China) and was tenured at Shoreline Community College but left tenure to pursue instructional design work. She has Bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology, a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Washington (where she was a Hugh Paradise Scholar), and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership with a focus on public administration from Seattle University (where she was a Morford Scholar). She reviews for a number of academic publications and publishers and is the editor of several IGI Global titles. Dr. Hai-Jew was born in Huntsville, Alabama, in the USA.

For your reference, find below a sample of related titles from this prominent IGI Global editor and author, which are also featured in IGI Global’s InfoSci-Books database and are available for purchase in print and electronic format. Be sure to recommend these titles to your librarian, to ensure your institution can acquire the most emerging research.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.

About IGI Global: Founded in 1988, IGI Global, an international academic publisher, is committed to producing the highest quality research (as an active full member of the Committee on Publication Ethics “COPE”) and ensuring the timely dissemination of innovative research findings through an expeditious and technologically advanced publishing processes. Through their commitment to supporting the research community ahead of profitability, and taking a chance on virtually untapped topic coverage, IGI Global has been able to collaborate with over 100,000+ researchers from some of the most prominent research institutions around the world to publish the most emerging, peer-reviewed research across 350+ topics in 11 subject areas including business, computer science, education, engineering, social sciences, and more. To learn more about IGI Global, click here.

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