Sequencing in Instructional Design

After chunking, sequencing is another instructional design term to add to your vocabulary.

What is sequencing?

Sequencing is the efficient ordering of the content to improve the learners’ understanding, and help them achieve the objectives (Morrison, Ross & Kemp, 2007).

Sequencing is usually the next step after chunking your content. After you’ve decided on the chunks of content, the pieces that are easy to digest for the learner, you need to find an order to present the information or to teach the skills. What that order is, depends on your content, your audience and, for example, how the content will be delivered.

We’re not only sequencing content chunks, you also need to sequence the content within these chunks. And if your course includes more modules or lessons, they also need to be presented in a logical order to form a coherent learning journey.

What to consider?

When you’re sequencing, you need to find a logical order to present information or to teach new skills. Think about the following questions when you start sequencing:
  • What would make sense to the learner?
  • Can we build on existing knowledge or skills?
  • What information or skills does the learner need first before we can go into more detail?
  • Is the content part of a process? Does the content require a specific order?
  • Are all learners covering the same content?
  • Does the content need to be delivered in a linear way?

Types of sequencing

Here are a few logical ways to order your content, and an example for each type of sequencing.
Simple to complex
You start simple and add more complexity to the mix.
For example: Learn how to drive a car: Straight ahead first, braking, changing gears, then turning a corner. You’re slowly adding more skills to the mix, until the learner can comfortably drive through a busy city.
Known to unknown
You kick off with what learners already know before introducing more unknown elements.
For example: Excel training: Assess the learners’ Excel skills and what they’re comfortable with before introducing them to more difficult formulas, conditions, sparklines and pivot tables.
Unknown to known
You throw learners in at the deep end, so they realise what they need to learn more. Ensure it’s safe and the learners can handle this way of learning.
For example: Practise a negotiation in a difficult situation using an actor, to let the learner find out what they need to practise to get a good outcome.
Dependent relationship
You need to understand what skills or knowledge learners need to have before they can meet other learning objectives.
For example: The learner needs to be able to swim before you can train them how to rescue a person from a dangerous surf.
Cause to effect
You present the cause and then work your way to the effect.
For example: A medical course about snake bites: You start with the snake bite, how to recognise bites, the different venoms, before recognising symptoms and understanding health risks of snake bites.
General to specific
You start with the concept or the topic in general before get into the nitty-gritty of one or more specific elements.
For example: A communication skills course that starts off with the common elements of communication to lead up to conversations about grief and loss. This sequencing also works well for electives or branching: everyone does the core content before specialising.
Chronological sequencing
This works for any topic that follows a certain timeline or is a linear process.
For example: Training in a new accounts payable process.

Final tip

I mentioned using sticky notes for chunking of content in my previous blog. I also use sticky notes for sequencing. After deciding on the type of sequencing, I write a topic or chunk on each sticky note and then move them around until I’ve found the most logical flow. It works great with a large (virtual) whiteboard, especially when you’re branching. It gives you a visual overview and you can easily check the content flow.

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