Re: Intentional vs. Unintentional Learning & Technics

A response to Chapter 27, “E-Learning and Instructional Design,” in Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology


Assume you have been told to design a “Twenty-First Century Learning Course” that incorporates the full range of technics and technologies that are used today (social networking, collaboration, Facebook, etc.). What are the key characteristics for which you would design, and how would you design for intentional versus unintentional learning?


Instructional technics are “the activities or tactics that use technology designed or selected to attain specific learning activities” (Dempsey & Van Eck, 2017, pp. 232-233). For example, students might participate in class discussion by posting responses to the instructor’s question via Twitter, using the class or chapter hashtag. Or students might take photos of trees in their neighborhood—posting them to Instagram or Pinterest with text that identifies the family, genus, and species—in order to learn and share about plant taxonomy. Obviously, the use of technics can contribute tremendously to a rich learning experience for students. However, Quinn says designers should stay focused on “finding the right balance between what we have people do and what we have technology do” (Quinn, 2017, p. 248).

With that in mind, technics should be selected to meet the needs of the learner and in order to “create a rich, flexible [learning] environments that reflect elemental outcomes, support necessary synthetic outcomes, provide connections to the world outside the e-learning environment” (Dempsey & Van Eck, 2017, p. 234). Elemental outcomes are associated with the real-life outcomes, in terms of actual tasks, required by the learning environment or situation. Synthetic outcomes are the higher order, more internal outcomes such as “decontextualized procedures, concepts, and knowledge” (Dempsey & Litchfield, 2011, p. 26).

In designing learning experiences, it is important to determine if the desired learning outcomes require interaction, collaboration, and interaction with real-world environments. Synchronous web conferences and in-person presentations, which are re-corded and can be shared later “via Web, iPod, or cell phone playback,” support outcomes necessitating learner interactions (Dempsey & Van Eck, 2017, p. 234). On the other hand, collaboration outcomes are supported by other activities associated with group work, where group members can “self-select from a variety of tools such as instant messaging, texting, wikis, and conferencing technology” (p. 234). When interactions with real-world environments is necessary, “secure Web-conferencing tools and virtual worlds should be valuable for discussion, meetings where presences is desirable, or role-playing” (p. 234).

For the instructional designer, there are many systematic models available for designing intentional learning outcomes. Fink’s Significant learning model strikes me as the most intentional of models—targeting various aspects of the learning process such as foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn (Litchfield, 2017, pp. 186-190). Beginning with the significant learning objectives in mind, the designer can progress through Fink’s twelve steps of design. In steps four (select effective teaching and learning activities), five (make sure the primary components are integrated), seven (select or create a teaching strategy), and eight (integrate course structure and the instructional strategy to create an overall scheme of learning activities), the designer can incorporating the appropriate technics into the overall learning strategy to address the desired outcomes (p. 188).

“Pedagogical philosophies such as constructivism, connectionism, and situated learning address incidental learning” and use of e-learning environments such as the Internet allows for “serendipity in acquiring or expanding knowledge” (Dempsey & Van Eck, 2017, p. 231). Keeping these principles in mind, the designer works from the mindset of arranging the learning experience rather than the learning. It seems best to arrange for a combination of both intentional and unintentional by coordinating technics (learning activities using technologies to achieve desired change in the learner) with effective, systematic design, balancing both elemental and synthetic outcomes whenever possible.

Dempsey, J.V. & Litchfield, B. C. (2011). Elemental and synthetic e-learning. [PDF File] International Journal of Innovation, Management, and Technology, 2(1), pp. 25-30. Retrieved from:

Dempsey, J. V. & Van Eck, R. N. (2017). E-Learning and Instructional Design. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp.229-236). New York, NY: Pearson.

Litchfield, B. C. (2017). Instructional design in higher education. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 185-191). New York, NY: Pearson.

Quinn, C. (2017). Mobile Learning. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 244-249). New York, NY: Pearson.