Date of Award

December 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Tiffany A. Koszalka


Case-based instruction, Cognitive flexibility, Instructional design education, Judgment, Progressive case, Project management education

Subject Categories



A project is a finite activity aimed at producing a tangible product or service. Designing and developing instruction is a type of project. Instructional design projects (design projects) require instructional designers (IDs) to manage multiple and often overlapping work tasks, balance the triple constraint (time, budget, and quality), and react to project changes. Thus, project management (PM) is a critical aspect of instructional designer competencies.

Traditionally, professional development (PD) involves the use of cases that present a complex, realistic problem for learners to discuss. Most of these cases are static; the problem does not change during the learning process. Static cases do not engage learners in anticipating and resolving project changes, including client requests for scope additions, or changes in budget or timelines; therefore, novice IDs and project managers (PMs) are often ill-prepared to work on real-world, complex, dynamic projects.

PD should engage learners in thought and action around messy project problems. Zingers, realistic and unexpected challenges, were introduced while graduate students were developing a PM plan for a design project. These zingers were designed to simulate the complex, dynamic real-world practice of PM within instructional design (ID) work. This dissertation study aimed to inform the design of instruction to develop the expert-like thinking strategies and practice strategies required to respond to unexpected events and solve messy problems. The case study research method (CSRM) was used to describe the learning process during the progressive case by tracking participants’ flexible thinking (cognitive flexibility [CF]) and PM judgment in thought and action dimensions over a semester.

In general, the selected teams approached the zingers differently. In most cases, teams made optimistic assumptions, did not balance constraints, and submitted PM plans with internal inconsistencies. While teams had difficulty executing responses to unexpected changes on their PM plans, they exhibited flexible thinking and an understanding of PM concepts in their reflections and discussions. Thus, participants demonstrated more CF than PM judgment, and their thoughts exhibited more CF and PM judgment than their actions.


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