Instructional Engineering versus Sociocultural Instruction Design

Educational researchers Scott Garbiner, Cary Aplin, and Gitanjali Ponnappa-Brenner (2007) contrast engineering instruction for well-defined and measurable outcomes with designing instruction for sociocultural environments. Those who engineer instruction seek plans that lead students to meet goals (alternatively they select prescribed instruction plans that are intended to produce the desired outcome), and if the goal is not achieved (and both the time is available, and the educator is so inclined) the instructional plan can be repeated or revised and repeated until the desired goal is achieved. Sociocultural instruction design, on the other hand, proceeds from the assumption that knowledge is built as the result of the interaction of learners with ideas and procedures in complex and ill-defined settings. Rather than learning as the result of highly controlled settings, sociocultural instruction design posits learning results from authentic situations.

In engineered instruction, individuals are all presumed to need the same information and generally it is delivered from a centralized point (the teacher or perhaps a database) to the students. In that case, ICT is designed to deliver information. In sociocultural instruction, ICT is designed to facilitate discourse and interaction among the students (and the teacher). Whereas engineered instruction is generally amenable to automated evaluation (which is easily accomplished via ICT), sociocultural learning includes performance-based demonstrations of learning (which can be created and shared via ICT but must be experienced to be evaluated). In sociocultural learning, the tools are embedded in what and how students learn and in how they demonstrate their learning rather than as tools for supporting delivery of information.

When engaged in sociocultural designs for learning, planners (most likely the educator who is responsible for the classroom) must adopt an unfamiliar set of procedures. As opposed to the traditional instruction engineer could follow a series of steps when planning instruction and it is clear when each step has been completed (or at least judge sufficient), designers for learning follow general principles. Although principles guide designers as they plan curriculum and instruction, those designs are not accomplished with finality as they can always be improved. When designing curriculum and instruction following principles, planning becomes collaborative endeavor for both technicians and educators. Technologists recommend and install ICT that is easy to use and both meets existing needs of educators and extents the potential for ICT in their classrooms. Educators adopt and adapt their curriculum and instruction to the ICT so as to manage cognitive load and otherwise leverage the capacity of ICT.


Garbiner, Scott, Cary Aplin, and Gitanjali Ponnappa-Brenner. 2007. “Instructional Design for Sociocultural Learning Environments.” e-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology 10(1).