Interview of the Week: Dr. Barbara Martin, Curriculum Specialist

Mention renewable energy instructional design or educational technology in any circle and it’s likely Dr. Barbara Martin’s name will be mentioned frequently. Barbara’s taught courses in instructional design, instructional theory, research in educational technology, and change strategies. As education and training in the renewable energy industries has evolved, Barbara has been an essential player and knowledgeable voice in the process. She’s a good friend of IREC, and always a joy to work with. We caught up recently to talk about her work. Here’s our conversation.

IREC: Barbara, how do you work with organizations that want to create a renewable energy (RE) curriculum? It must be different from designing an individual course.

BM: Designing a curriculum is very different from designing an individual course. One procedure for developing a curriculum is to conduct a DACUM (Developing a Curriculum), an occupational analysis method that may be immediately applied to the development of training curricula. It is intended to be a quick method to carry out occupational analysis at a low cost. It uses the technique of team work, with teams formed by workers who have experience in the occupation under analysis. During a DACUM, groups of five to twelve knowledgeable people are guided by a facilitator to describe in a clear and precise way the knowledge, skills, and tasks, i.e., the “know how,” involved in the job position.

In the case of a RE curriculum, these experts would determine what the job focus of the curriculum would be. For example, Conservation/Energy Management, Building Sciences, Installer Training (Solar Thermal, Wind, PV) or some combination might be the focus. The experts would define the knowledge and skills that define the job. From this, courses that could be included in the curriculum would be determined. Therefore, experts in RE would come together to decide the focus of the curriculum and help determine what courses should be included.

IREC: Do you work with the instructors or the management?

BM: I typically work with instructors who are designing a RE course, or experts in the field who want to develop a RE curriculum. Management may be initially involved to determine whether or not there is a need for a course or curriculum but once the actual course design and development starts, management relies on the content experts to work with an educator to put together the best course or curriculum possible.

IREC: That makes sense. So it’s very important is it to know your audience?

BM: Critical! You cannot develop a course or a curriculum without first knowing what the knowledge base and the skill level is of the people who will be enrolled in the course(s).

IREC: After you know who you’re working with, what’s the first thing you do?

BM: One of first components of course development is to conduct a Needs Analysis. The purpose of a Needs Analysis is two-fold. The first question you ask is: Is training necessary? Sometimes the reason a job is not being done well or correctly isn’t because the workforce is inadequately trained but for other reasons such as poor equipment (e.g., inverters that don’t work properly), poor working conditions (e.g., poor lighting, extreme heat or cold) or lack of worker motivation. If these are the reasons for “performance problems,” then a training program may not be necessary. If, however, “performance problems” are due to worker deficiencies in knowledge, skills, or attitudes, then a training program is necessary.

The second question you ask during a Needs Analysis is: What knowledge, skills and attitudes do our participants bring to the training course? That is, we must get to know our audience. We want to know exactly what knowledge, skills and attitudes they bring to the training so we can pitch the course to them. We don’t want the course to be too difficult or too basic, and we want to them to learn the knowledge and skills that will positively influence their job performance.

IREC: Of course. It makes perfect sense that people bring their expertise and experience to the classroom. Does that help tailor the training to the audience better? Will it help maximize the learning experience?

BM: I think a better question is: How do I go about producing a high quality course or program? Instructional Systems Design (ISD) is the process we use to develop courses, programs, and lessons. ISD is:

  • the systematic design, development, implementation, and evaluation
  • of instructional materials, lessons, courses, or curricula
  • in order to improve student learning and teaching efficiency

There are five primary components in ISD model that are useful when designing instruction. An easy way to remember the five components is to use the mnemonic ADDIE: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. The ADDIE model is a systems models (not a linear model) and is dynamic and iterative.

IREC: Some new acronyms for me: ISD, ADDIE. How does ADDIE work?

BM: When I’m designing instruction using ADDIE, I ask myself : Is the training really necessary, who are the learners, what is the context where the training will take place (i.e., what equipment, resources, and facilities are available?

There are five primary components in ISD model that are useful when designing instruction. An easy way to remember the five components is to use the mnemonic ADDIE: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. The ADDIE model is a systems models (not a linear model) and is dynamic and iterative. Here are the key questions that should be asked when designing instruction using the ADDIE model:


  1. Is training really necessary?
  2. Who are my learners?
  3. What is the context where the training will take place? That is, what equipment, resources, and facilities are available?


  1. Is there a task analysis to guide the design process or do I need to create one?
  2. What competencies and objectives must the students learn?
  3. What test items and checklists can I use to determine whether students are competent?


  1. How do I create a lesson plan? How should the content be organized?
  2. What media should I use when teaching?
  3. What teacher and student activities should be included?
  4. How do I provide practice for the learners?
  5. How can I present confirming and corrective feedback?


  1. How do I motivate the learners?
  2. How do I use Powerpoint or other presentation media?
  3. How do I summarize and review each lesson or presentation?
  4. What kinds of questions are best to use?
  5. How do I introduce the lesson?
  6. How do I use my time wisely during the lesson?


  1. How do I know if my course has been successful?
  2. Which experts should review the materials before the course is presented?
  3. Which changes should be made to improve the course after it is presented?
  4. Was the time and effort spent developing the course worth the cost of developing it?
  5. What are some of the challenges in helping create a new program?

IREC: That’s a lot to remember, to apply. Has this been a challenge using the ADDIE model?

BM: The biggest challenge is to get course developers to think first about what students need to learn rather than what they, as instructors are going to teach. Most instructors are primarily concerned with what topics they are going to “cover” during a course. However, what an instructor “covers” is dependent on what participants need to learn in order to be effective on the job. Using an ISD model requires that instructors think first about the competencies and learning objectives that are necessary for students to acquire before they make decisions about how to present the topics and content in the classroom.

A second, but related, challenge is to ensure that students have a chance to practice what they are learning before they are tested, and certainly before they go out to a job. We want all student failures to be in the classroom, not on the job. We can help students correct their mistakes in a controlled environment.

IREC: This would make for better instructors, don’t you think? Who wouldn’t want to develop courses based on what students need rather than what they (instructors) must cover. It makes an enormous amount of sense for students to practice their craft in class before they enter the workforce. Has this surprised you? What has surprised you about this work?

BM: Hmmmm. I guess there are two. First, there has been a willingness for subject matter experts (SMEs), that is, people who are knowledgeable in the content, to learn how to be better educators. They truly want to do a better job designing and presenting instruction. I have worked with groups of subject matter experts (SMEs) who think that all they have to do is present information. I call it the “spray and pray” approach to instruction: spray them with information and pray that they get it. However, the RE trainers have tended to want to become better educators. That has been a nice, and very rewarding, surprise.

Second, the RE field has taken off. Courses, programs, and curricula are being developed by many diverse groups. There is a comraderie among the trainers. They want to share materials, ideas, successes, and failures so that everyone succeeds. Their goal tends to be workforce development that works and they are willing to help each other to make it happen.

IREC: It’s an incredibly exciting time. We’re all watching an industry take form. You do exemplary work, Barbara. Keep it up.


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