Non-Linear Delivery of Instruction

Brief Description

Traditional approaches to instruction involve the delivery of the subject matter in steps of increasing difficulty and complexity. This approach is ideal for science, math and language courses where prerequisite knowledge is required for advancement into new knowledge. The approach presented has been applied successfully so far to courses like MIS, E-Business, E-Commerce, Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. It will not be ideal for courses like Programming Languages.

Traditional view of instruction from the student's point of view

Following an incremental approach would mean introducing technology concepts, evaluate student understanding and progressively move to the next level. Due to the time limitations assigned for courses and the varying student backgrounds, a linear/progressive introduction of the concepts would deem it impossible for the students to work on the required assignments before the end of the course. So the solution adopted would be to select material from the required courses so as to reduce the delivery time of the various topics in order to meet the available course time.

Shortening subject mater to cover topics in the available time for the course

To counter the limitations imposed on the course a non-linear approach to the delivery of the subject matter might be adopted. The process resembled the discovery or the solution to a puzzle, where enlightenment happened explosively after students spend time on what appeared to be a chaotic search for knowledge on the course subject. The suggested approach is a breadth first coverage of the material instead of a depth first approach.

From the point of view if the student its like giving her some kind of a panoramic view of the course.

Panoramic view of subject matter

Given that the student can't at that time process the whole picture we selectively present material from each topic before progressing to an in depth coverage of each topic.


By having this "abstract" coverage of the whole course material at the begining the instructor can easily pinpoint the areas where he can accelerate and the areas that will need more attention based of course on the audience at hand. So from the delivery of instruction point of view instruction becomes like:

While from the student point of view it looks like:

What the instructor might experience at the beginning is that student "stress" level might hit the roof at the beginning following a downhill path later. The reason is very simple. At the begining all looks new/unfamiliar while after the initial shock everything looks familiar. The traditional approach works the other way round. Students don't have a view of the whole subject matter so each session is a trip into something new. There we observer an continues increase of "stress' the closer we get to the end of the course (finals).

With the traditional approach students have no time to absorb the extent of the subject matter while with a nonlinear approach they can see the whole picture from the begining.

Student stress level during the non-linear delivering of instruction.



Harkiolakis, N., A Non-linear Delivery of Instruction as Applied to the Evolution of Learning in a MBA Information Technology Course: A Case Study , 16th Annual International Conference SCTPLS, Johns Hopkins University, USA, August 4-6, 2006

The presentation can be accessed here.

For more information please contact me