Course Papers

Learning Effectiveness in the Workplace

Workplace Instructional Designers (IDs) have the ability to assist with professional development, problem solve organizational challenges, and contribute to revenue generation.  Learning materials can prepare teams of all business units for the changing market.  ID processes can be used to address organizational problems, change management, and common issues like motivation.  ID processes commonly apply models that can be used as guides to analyze and develop effective learning materials that address the needs of the organization and reach the audience.  ID models like ADDIE are iterative processes that continue evaluation after learning materials are complete. The evaluation determines any need for improvement in the learning materials and serves as a measurement to determine if learning goals are being met.  The benefits of supporting ID processes, especially evaluation of completed learning materials, outweigh the costs.  Yet organizations lack in gathering and communicating feedback needed to determine if learning is effective and improve the materials.   This paper serves to evaluate the systemic influences of the organization on the design of learning materials to identify a way to answer the question; does anyone learn from instructional design in the workplace?   


Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) can be used to first understand unstructured problems, and then identify action.  Checkland’s initial work in SSM organizes the mental processes with the first 2 stages as perceiving, third and fourth stages as predicting, stage 5 of comparing, and finally stages 6 and 7 of determining changes and actions (Khisty,1995). SSM output is structured by CATWOE or customers, actors, transformation process, Waltanschauung (or meaningful image of system), owner and environment constraints (Khisty, 1995). 

Over time SSM has evolved into more modern approaches. The Boardman methodology includes steps for expressing the unstructured problem or situation, defining the expressed problem, structured text, systemigram, dramatization and dialog, feasible and desirable changes, action to improve situation (Sauser & Boardman, 2015).  This paper will follow the Boardman SSM approach with the final step outputting actions using CATWOE.

Express the unstructured problem

Individuals in the workplace depend on training to enhance or develop skills to move ahead or even maintain abilities. Larson & Lockee (2020) describe the need to learn throughout an individual’s lifetime as crucial to survival.  The learning experience should create some changes in individual perspective, attitude, and abilities. Although professional development is valuable to an individual and organization it is common for companies to publish learning and make no additional effort to evaluate or improve upon that learning.

As learning professionals, Instructional designers strive to provide an experience that can fulfill the learning needs of the audience.  To do this they use a systematic process where learning theory is applied to instructional materials, activities, and assessments (Larson & Lockee, 2020).  A model can be chosen based on the goals of the learning.  Although there is a pleather of models ADDIE is very common in the workplace, which includes analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. ADDIE is designed to be an iterative process of developing and improving the learning experience (Larson & Lockee, 2020; Stefaniak, 2020).  The final stage of evaluate is used to gather feedback about the learning, which would result in going back through the process to improve the learning.  The challenge is this stage is commonly not addressed in the workplace.  Feedback might be provided by the audience or not elicited at all.  Regardless it is not provided to the instructional designer to iteratively improve the training experience.  Even worse workplace training does not typically assess if learning actually happens, which is the point of developing the learning materials. Evaluation is needed to determine if learning goals have been met (DeVaughn & Stefaniak, 2020). The system for workplace learning does not prioritize measurement, evaluation, and improvement of learning materials as important. Instead, it is looked upon as a cost or detriment to the ROI.

This paper aims to understand the unstructured problem commonly found in the workplace educational system, due to the lack of iteration in organizational processes.  Does anyone learn from instructional design in the workplace? 

The problem expressed

Before we can take a deep dive into the system, we need to look at all of the systems involved.  The micro, meso and macro systems, along with connections, are shown in diagram 1.

Diagram 1  

The micro system is closest to the instructional designer’s perspective.  This includes the processes related to the development of learning materials and understanding the audience.  Once learning goals are determined and the needs or learning gaps of the audience are identified a model is chosen, like ADDIE, and steps are followed to develop and implement learning materials. The meso system holds variables that connect to both micro and macro systems.  In this case it is processes and priorities which vary between the instructional designer and the organization.  One common valued variable is the customer or audience of the training.

Macro systems contain the larger or whole system of the organization.  This includes organizational structures like finance, sustaining the business, and the compiling of departments or business units. The organization is concerned with getting large amounts of work done with a low headcount.  This keeps cost down and profit margins up.  Departments are tasked with executing this workload demand set by the organization.  Leading to organizational and business unit priorities and differing from instructional designer priorities. This equates to quickly developing learning materials, outputting, and moving on to the next project.  A variance from the instructional designer priorities, which requires the iterative feedback for constant improvement of learning materials. 

Structured Text

A high-level overview of the system (diagram 1) identifies the first problem as the organizational system of profit as a priority, which does not support the ID priority of developing effective learning materials. This challenge in priorities results in a lack of interaction, evaluation, and feedback for the ID.  It is imperative the ID interacts with individuals and the system as a whole to effectively identify learning needs and develop materials that address those business problems (Stefaniak, 2020). Although IDs recognize the value of evaluation, the organizational participants do not (DeVaughn, P. & Stefaniak, J., 2020).

The second problem is how the ID is being used within the system. Administrators, managers, and those without an expertise in learning are not equipped to sort and evaluate information to determine an approach for learning.  Thus, not addressing elements pertinent to filling gaps in learning. The true impact an ID has on the overall system is not understood by decision makers.  Organizational processes are focused on short term solutions, since they appear to be the least expensive to execute. 


The ID has the ability to address organizational challenges, however the structure of the system does not support action.  This is more apparent in the systemigram (diagram 2), seen below.

Diagram 2  

Initial efforts resulted in numerous crossover links however Stauser & Boardman (2015) suggests there should be no crossovers in a systemigram for the purpose of clarity.  As the crossovers were worked out the systemigram more clearly highlighted the problem with where IDs fit into the system.

This systemigram shows common organizational components of finance, human resources, and functional business units. As identified in the overall system, the goal between all components is generating profit.  This systemigram shows how this common goal can be fostered by professional development of the individuals that make up the organization.  The success of this development relies on the effectiveness of the learning materials, which is solely based on interaction with the ID.

Dramatization & Dialog

Instructional Design process is applied using a model as a guide.  A large pleather of models are available. For this example, ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate) will be used since it is commonly applied in the workplace. The actual problem that the learning will solve is determined in the analyze stage.  This includes determining any challenges, goal setting, setting the context and determining any prerequisites. Planning takes place in the design phase the learning outcomes are established, the message is determined, and delivery methods are determined. This is aligned with learning materials like text, activities, and assessments (Larson & Lockee, 2020).  In the development phase everything that was planned is produced.  This may include storyboarding, as well as final development like multimedia components, and testing of all materials (Larson & Lockee, 2020).  Implementation is the collection of any feedback from project stakeholders for any improvements, and ultimately publishing learning materials for individual consumption (Larson & Lockee, 2020).  At this point the audience has full access to the learning experience.  Questions may arise from the audience during the training process.  Some of the elements might not express the message as expected, perhaps some elements are out of context or not as relevant as initially expected.  Assessments within the learning materials could indicate common mistakes made in certain areas, which indicate the training is not effective.  In addition, there could be technical challenges like latency with videos, or links not working.  This feedback is gathered and learning outcomes are assessed in the last phase which is evaluation.  This information is used to repeat the process and fix or improve upon the learning materials, ultimately achieving the desired level of learning from the audience (Larson & Lockee, 2020). 

Feasible & Desirable Changes

One possible reason for the systemic disconnect between organization and instructional designer is a lack of understanding of the power ID processes can have on organizational improvement.  IDs could impact the system as a whole by interacting with more than the project stakeholders and engage with the system as a whole (Stefaniak, 2020).  DeVaughn, P. & Stefaniak, J. (2020) found a lack of consistency in evaluation processes, however this may be due to a lack of time allocated to evaluation.  This stemmed from low participation in the design process from non-design stakeholders.

In reviewing the systemigram, placement of ID engagement is in a reactive state.  This influences initial learning development as well as improvements.  Initial learning development is determined by other business units and handed off to the ID to fulfill.  The actual problem the learning needs to solve is easily lost in translation when a learning expert is not involved in the ideation stage.  Once learning materials are developed and released the necessary feedback for improvement is either accepted by the business unit or not collected at all. Regardless, the placement of ID engagement is out of range for any interaction with feedback, making it impossible to improve and elevate the learning experience.

Action to Improve Situation

As stated previously improvement is categorized by CATWOE.  In this discussion the customer category includes the organization, which encompasses internal and external individuals that consumer professional development.  More direct communication with the actor or ID in identifying, addressing, and improving learning materials is needed.  The transformation process includes reprioritizing the role the ID takes.  Waltanschauung or meaningful image includes more engagement or earlier access to ID processes.  IDs need to be more engaged in all facets of business processes to identify business challenges that can be addressed by learning objectives.  Owner of the current processes is the organization; they must evaluate how business problems are transitioning into opportunities for development. The current environment considers ID processes as cost prohibitive, when the reality is sound ID decisions can contribute to directly to organizational goals.


Boardman, J. & Sauser, B. (2008) Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems (Systems Innovation Book Series) CRC Press. Kindle Edition.

DeVaughn, P. & Stefaniak, J. (2020) An exploration of the challenges Instructional Designers encounter while conducting evaluations. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 33(4), 443-470. DOI: 10.1002/piq.21332

Khisty, C. J. (1995) Soft-systems methodology as a learning and management tool. Journal of Urban Planning and Development.

Larson, M. & Lockee, B. (2020) Streamlined ID. Taylor & Francis

Sauser, B. & Boardman, J. (2015) Systemigram modeling for contextualizing complexity in systems of systems. Modeling of Simulation Support for Systems Engineering Applications, First Edition. John Wiley & Sons.

Stefaniak, J. (2020) The utility of design thinking to promote systemic Instructional Design practices in the workplace. TechTrends, 64, 202-210.