The importance of contextual analysis

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” —Twain/Maslow/Kaplan/Baruch/Buddha/Unknown (O’Toole, 2019)

As an instructional designer, we must consider the context for which we are designing.  Education, military, corporate and health care all present unique design challenges.  The one size fits all approach just does not work.  An instructional designer must be prepared with multiple tools to deliver for their client.

Context is important in any learning event, yet most instructional design models contain little guidance about how to account for contextual elements (Tessmer & Richey, 1997).

Malamed et al., summarize Tessmer and Richey’s thesis by breaking down contextual analysis into the categories represented in the infographic below.  Each situation the ID enters will have a unique combination of environment, mental-emotional motivators, technological resources, social, and cultural identities. Failure to consider even one of these factors can result in ineffective design.

Take for example the technological constraints of an organization.  The most comprehensive e-learning design will not be successful if the client does not have the infrastructure to support it.  In a company built on team problem solving and collaboration, self study is probably not the way to go.

If the ID fails to do contextual research, they are not getting a complete picture of the target audience’s work life. Failing to understand the learners work life results in failing to deliver a product that has maximum impact or worse is completely ineffective.


Malamed, C., says, C. M., says, C. P., Pendrich, C., says, S. S., & Sridharan, S. (2018, February 9). The Importance of Context In Learning Design. The eLearning Coach.

O’Toole, G. (2019, January 11). If Your Only Tool Is a Hammer Then Every Problem Looks Like a Nail.

Tessmer, M., & Richey, R. C. (1997). The role of context in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(2), 85–115. 6;\lsdpriority

One thought on “Designing for Different Contexts

  1. I really like this point: “In a company built on team problem solving and collaboration, self study is probably not the way to go.” It captures that the mode of training should enhance not just the knowledge skills, but the problem solving skills that an organization wants to emphasize.


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