Thiagi on rapid instructional design

ThiagiWhile looking for something else, I came across a link to The Thiagi Group, a consultancy founded by the relentlessly energetic Sivasailam Thiagarajan.

For decades, Thiagi’s been a kind of performance trickster, playing with preconceptions (and with card tricks) while encouraging professionals to do more to encourage learning.

The link I found was to Thiagi’s 1999 article on rapid instructional design.  You get a sense of his style with one of the stated objectives:

Reduce self-doubt and guilt by positively associating cheaper and faster instructional design with better learning effects.

You could do a lot worse than read the article, with its ten strategies and twenty guidelines for rapid instructional design.  What stood out for me on this reading was his opening discussion of tradeoffs, intended “to prevent you from sacrificing the effectiveness of the product for the efficiency of the process.”

(Last year, an online course I worked on required sixty-five different documents before getting to actual content for an actual topic in an actual lesson.  Now that’s process.)

The first tradeoff  is between design and delivery. As Thiagi points out, if you have lots of resources for delivery, you can skimp on design.  If you have limited resources for delivery (few instructors, tight schedules0, you can’t.

“The basic idea here is that you pay now or pay later.”

No, that’s not a new idea.  On the other hand, we get snow pretty much every winter here in the Washington DC area, yet each year, when the first flakes arrive, thousands of people (including TV weather reporters) react as if bowls of petunias were dropping from the sky.

“Not new” isn’t the same as “understood.”

Thiagi’s second trade-off involves the three elements of effetive instruction:

  • Presentation of new information to learners.
  • Activities through which learners process the information and produce a response.
  • Feedback to learners to reinforce or remediate.

You could argue that people learn without someone helping with that presentation, and I’d agree.  Most of the time, though, especially in job-related learning, something deliberate is going on.  I think Sachi and Lee LeFever are terrific, but you don’t learn to use social bookmarks just by watching a Common Craft video.  Sooner or later, you’ve got to try bookmarking–and figuring out what went wrong when something does.

Back to Thiagi and that second set of tradeoffs:

Whether these three components are applied at a micro level (as in the case of step-by-step directions on how to tie a shoe string) or at a macro level (as in the case of a global case study on cross-cultural sensitivity), they are essential in all instructional packages. When instructional designers falsely assume that any one of these three components is sufficient, the result is false economy and faulty instruction.

To provide a few stereotypical (and nongeneralizable) examples, college professors primarily present information; self actualization gurus focus exclusively on processing by learners; and significant others typically concentrate on giving feedback. The result in all these cases is incomplete learning. is crammed with free resources.  By design.

2 thoughts on “Thiagi on rapid instructional design

  1. Your readers may also like this video:

    Thiagi- Rapid Instructional Design – from 2008 from UMBC University of Maryland Baltimore Campus. 1:47 (hour:minutes). Excellent! See it at:

  2. Thanks, Guy; I appreciate the link.

    An hour and forty-five minutes can be on the long side, but Thiagi combines an engaging approach (like a slightly subversive Dieter Zetsche whose accent has moved from Germany to Tamil Nadu) with a constant focus on achieving worthwhile results.

    (If you want to get right to Thiagi, you can fast-forward the video to the 8:30 mark. I’ll never tell UMBC.)

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