Henry Mintzberg sees management as a balancing act between science, art and craft. His argument is that effective management requires all three and an overemphasis on any one results in dysfunction.
This offers some insight for Instructional Design. The debate about ADDIE (see my own view here) seem to revolve around the prescriptive, process based models of ADDIE versus more open approaches, more relevant for our networked and collaborative work environments. These arguments get unnecessarily polarized. The following table is adapted from a similar one Mintzberg created for management styles. I think it works well for for Instructional Design practice too.
Most graduate programs in Instructional Design are squarely in the science column. Students emerge with a scientific bent seeking order, precise applications and and predictable results from their models from the scientific tradition. But they quickly learn from experience (craft) what works and what doesn’t in an organizational context and also that sometimes unexpected creative insights improves our solutions (art). Designing great learning experiences requires all three.
The diagram below, adapted from Mintzberg, shows how these three approaches to learning design might interact and the potential consequences of relying on any one dominant approach. We have all seen examples at the extreme end of each approach. Bringing only an artistic design style to a project usually results in a creative program that wows but doesn’t teach much. Relying only on principles from learning science often results in dry, uninspired instruction that may teach, but is ferociously mind-numbing. Taking a Craft approach uninformed by art or science, rarely ventures beyond personal experience, with accidental results at best.
Combinations of the approaches can also be limiting. Art and craft together without the systematic analysis of science can lead to disorganized, ineffective learning designs. Craft and science without the creative vision of art can lead to dispirited design, careful and connected but lacking flare. Learning designs based on art and science is creative and systematic, but without the experience of craft can produce, impersonal and disconnected learning.
Effective learning designs happen most when that elusive combination of art, science and craft come together. Where the three approaches coexist, through a skillfully assembled learning team the result is usually effective, motivational learning grounded in the realities of the organization.