Instructional Design

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Robert M. Branch
University of Georgia

Introduction to Instructional Design

(Comment: Overall the chapter needs the addition of citations to that the reader can track back some of the ideas. Also, given that this ebook is designed for novices to instructional technology, it would also provide them with a reading list for further study.)

Instructional design is a process for generating strategies devoted almost exclusively to seeking ways to close a performance discrepancy (gap) that is caused by a lack of knowledge and skills. The figure below illustrates a performance gap and the three categories of reasons for such a gap.

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Instruction is defined here as the combination of teaching and learning, where teaching and learning are mutually inclusive. Student performance is the focal point of instructional design and teaching is regarded as a means to facilitate student performance. Design refers to a plan or set of artifacts produced to illustrate thought and provide guidance for constructing new knowledge. Learning design applies concepts, theories and practices about the construction of knowledge to day-to-day realities. Instructional design is commonly manifested as a coherent collection of cognitive tools that extend the capability of the teacher as well as extend intellectual and skill capacity of the student that is based on some identifiable organizing theme. (Comment: This may be a little heavy for a novice learner.)

Instructional design is centered on individual learning, includes both immediate and long-range actions, and considers a systematic approach to knowledge construction and human learning. A fundamental approach to instructional design invokes the concept of information processing where external events are deliberately arranged in order to facilitate individual learning. Individual learning is affected by learner characteristics such as traits, existing abilities, and familiar schema. Traits are personality characteristics. Abilities are stable characteristics related to reasoning and spatial orientation. A schema is an organization of knowledge. Designing external events to promote learning is an iterative process of identifying desired outcomes, selecting instructional strategies, choosing supporting media and evaluating the related instructional products and processes. Instructional designers work backwards from the desired outcomes that are identified at the very beginning of the instructional design process, and then, plan activities for the student with the intent of the learning being able to accomplish the desired outcomes.

Instructional design is student-centered, goal oriented, performance-based, and presumes that outcomes can be measured. True instructional design features procedures that are based on empirical evidence, promote interactivity, self-correcting, and typically accomplished through a team effort. Goals are central to instructional design because they reflect the expectations of the primary stakeholders. Stakeholders, such as students, teachers and members of the communities who will directly benefit from the results of the instructional design process, all contribute in some way to the development of instructional goals. Goals that are well formed will maintain a focus on meaningful performances throughout the instructional design process and avoid tasks that are trivial, contrived and over-simplified.

Effective instructional design focuses on authentic tasks, complex knowledge, and genuine problems. While healthy people are always learning within some state of being or space, instructional design focuses on student accomplishments through intentional learning. The idea is that intentional learning (Comment: What about the research on informal learning? Specifically with the social learning networks etc. now available and being used in business and industry to accomplish employee learning.)is effective when educational strategies move a student through learning spaces that approach congruency with a corresponding performance space, such as the environment in which the student will eventually be expected to perform. Thus, effective instructional design promotes high fidelity between learning environments and actual work settings. High fidelity between learning spaces are accomplished by emphasizing measurable outcomes. Measurable outcomes are achieved through reliable and valid assessments.

Learning Space

The principles upon which instructional design is based are dynamic because of the many advances in learning theory, multimedia development, learning management systems and competencies required to practice effective instructional design in the current interconnected world communities. Emerging philosophies about instruction, education and theories of learning have re-focused the “classroom” concept to include a broader array of contexts. While classrooms are defined as “a place where classes meet,” classrooms can be situated at remote sites, accessed at convenient times, and personalized to match the capacity of individual students. While students may still “meet” to study the same subject, the location, time and pace can be made dynamic. Teachers, trainers and instructional designers should regard a classroom as any learning space where the student is at the center and certain requisite entities interact with the student as depicted in the figure below. The figure represents a slice of learning space where each episode of instruction is distinctive and separate, yet remains part of a larger curricular scheme. Episodes of intentional learning are characterized by entities which are themselves complex, namely, the student, content, media, the teacher, peers and the context, all interacting within a discrete period of time while moving toward a common goal.

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Student-centered spaces, wherever they are located, represent an epistemological shift from regarding students as the occupants of static learning spaces, to regarding the actions of students during guided learning as the motivation for the design of instruction. However, the core principle of Instructional design as being a process for generating strategies that close performance gaps caused by a lack of knowledge and skills remain constant. (Comment: Each part of the graphic should be defined/described. For example, there is no mention the word context. A clearer connection between the graphic and ID could also be made.)

Instructional Design Principles

There are several tenets or principles that serve as precepts for instructional design. The main principles of instructional design are: systematic, systemic, responsive, interdependent, redundant, dynamic, cybernetic, synergistic and creative. Systematic merely means agreeing to adopt rules and procedures as a way to move through a process. However, being systematic does not mean blindly following a sequence without reflection on the process. Systemic stresses the application of creative problem-solving methods. The evidence that something is systemic is when you can observe that all components of a system respond when a single component within that system is stimulated. Responsive, within the context of instructional design, means accepting whatever goals are established as its orientation. Interdependence means that all elements within a system are connected to every other element within that same system, and therefore, all elements depend on each other to accomplish the system’s goals. Redundancy refers to duplicate processes and duplicate procedures that are intended to prevent failure of the entire system. Dynamic means the system can adjust to changing conditions and constantly monitors its environment. Cybernetic means the elements efficiently communicate among themselves for the purpose to steer, govern and guide. Cybernetics is most often associated with theories related to automated control systems. Synergistic means that together, all the elements can achieve more than the individual elements can achieve alone. Thus, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Creativity in instructional design refers to the use of special human talents and imagination in generating original ideas that permit instructional designers to expand the limitations of any system.

The characteristics described above allow instructional design to facilitate the complexities of an educational situation by responding to multiple components that form the system, the interactions within a system, and the interactions that occur between different systems. Different learning outcomes often require various applications to a general systems concept.

Training is often characterized as prescribing a narrow set of skills that are to be mastered within a specific situation. However, training is often appropriate for many complex situations where the consequences of failure can be catastrophic. An example of training might be developing training for engineers who will drive high-speed trains for the country’s new coast-to-coast railroad system. Whereas, education is most regarded as provided the support and opportunity for learning knowledge and skills beyond those that might be prescribed to complete a specific tasks or acquire some type of trade, such as having the ability to coach, guide, enlighten, indoctrinate and empower others to accomplish goals and objectives that remain to be determined. An example of education is teaching a new college student how to learn in an environment that is most different from secondary school. All of these scenarios describe some form of intentional learning.

Intentional Learning

(Comment: There could be a stronger or more obvious connection to ID for novices in the field in this section.)

Intentional learning is complex because each of the eight entities is inherently complex. The student is complex because of the physical, emotional, social, and mental development of human beings, and the effect of intelligence, cognitive styles, motivation, cultural norms, creativity, and socio-economic status on behavior patterns. Content is complex because it is a collection of concepts, rules, propositions, procedures and socially constructed information. Moreover, the information types may be attribute, categorical, classification, component parts, dimension, elaboration, goal, hierarchical, kinds, matrix, prerequisite, procedural, rule, skills and type. A peer is a complex entity because of all the social negotiations that occur among persons of the same age, status or ability. Media are channels of communication that come in a multitude of forms. The teacher, or teacher function assumes the executive decision-making role, such as identifying appropriate goals and expectations, analyzing learning needs, arranging content information, choosing media, selecting instructional methods, and conducting assessments on instruction and students. Time is a complex entity because it is omnipresent and can be measured by assigning discrete increments and intervals, but not controlled. Context is the complex entity that refers to those conditions that directly and indirectly influence situations, environments and communities. Contextual conditions are formed by physical, political, economical, and cultural settings: human ecology. Intentional learning space is the place where educational entities and nonlinear behavior coexist. Intentional learning prefers goal-oriented strategies rather than incidental-oriented strategies. This goal-oriented nature of intentional learning promotes self-regulatedness in learners. Thus, focusing on intentional learning provides an opportunity for a student to be reflective. Tentional learning results from everyday natural occurrences. While tentional learning can happen in a variety of ways, such as through conversations, observations, impressions and any unintended stimuli that occur within a context, intentional learning fosters immediate information flow, authentic experiences and a sense of community. The figure below summarizes some of the main differences between tentional learning and intentional learning.

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Student-centered Learning

(Comment: There could be a stronger or more obvious connection to ID for novices in the field in this section.)

Genuine student-centered learning is typically designed at both macro and micro levels to ensure that every component of the instruction is aligned in a way that facilitates a student’s progress from being teacher dependent to becoming teacher independent. Understanding this evolving nature of teacher and student roles is particularly important in order to manage a class in a student-centered manner. A continuum of teacher and student ownership in the student-centered approach is illustrated in the figure below.

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Student-centered learning involves migrating students from being teacher-dependent to teacher-independent. Student independence can be accomplished by communicating the desired outcomes [or performance objectives] early in the instructional design process to all stakeholders. Performance objectives are specific statements of a learning outcome, or what a learner should be able to do. Objectives have five components: situation, learned capability (verb), object, action and tools or constraints. The learned capability verb designates the learning outcome and the action designates specifically how this outcome is expressed. Procedural analysis is a flow-chart representation of inputs, actions and decisions necessary to perform a task. Learning-task analysis is a visual representation (instructional curriculum map) of essential and supportive prerequisites of a task. Procedural and learning-task analyses serve to identify the relationships between goals, performance objectives and enabling objectives. Enabling students to progress toward independence often requires a variety of learning strategies, and depending upon a given situation and the capacity of the students to perform, some design activities will require more attention than others. Further, curricula must be updated to reflect the digital age and progress through a logical sequence of lessons.

Lesson sequencing is extremely important for moving a student to independence, but dependent upon the category of the desired outcome. Likewise, the choice of instructional events, materials and media are dependent upon the domain of the performance objectives. Teachers should supplement selected materials as necessary to ensure all external conditions are addressed. Teachers and instructional designers develop materials in collaboration with subject matter experts (SME’s), knowledgeable others and people who generate content. Student performance is assessed through criterion-referenced test items. The mastery or non-mastery performance required for the test should match the objective and should be consistent over time. Norm-referenced tests measure performance against “typical” performance enabling comparison of individual performance with a group’s performance rather than with a desired learning outcome. Methods of group instruction are dependent upon group size. The precision of the match of the internal and external conditions is inversely proportional to the group size; larger groups require more self-instruction. Instructional designers should attempt to identify strategies to replicate tutoring conditions in small and large group learning environments. The Internet provides for online learning technologies to support teaching and learning strategies. New capabilities are provided to instructional designers via individualization, collaboration, testing and learning management systems. Blended learning and better feedback opportunities, in worldwide venues, are online learning strengths. However, learning objectives remain the focus of the online learning as a way to promote student independence from the teacher.

The role of evaluation in the student becoming teacher-independent is paramount. Evaluation, within the context of instructional design, should answer questions about student performance as well as the worth and unintended effects any planned instruction. Evaluation as an instructional design concept initiates the instructional design process, permeates the instructional design process and concludes the instructional design process, and is expressed in terms of gap analysis, which starts the instructional design process. Formative evaluation, which occurs during the development middle phases of instructional design, and summative evaluation, which ends the instructional design process are essential to any version of the instructional design process. One of the most common ways of thinking about the instructional design process is through the ADDIE paradigm.

The ADDIE Paradigm

(Comment: This section is a good overview. Would the author consider moving it to earlier in the chapter?) ADDIE is not a model. ADDIE is an acronym for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate common to the practice of instructional design. ADDIE illustrates the conceptual components of instructional design. Instructional design models indicate how to practice instructional design. Instructional design models allow people to visualize the overall process and establish guidelines for managing instructional design processes. Instructional design models provide a means for communicating among team members, clients and stakeholders.

While ADDIE is not a specific, fully elaborated model in its own right, it is a term that refers to a category of models that share a common conceptual foundation. According to Professor Emeritus Mike Molenda at Indiana University, the ADDIE label seems to have evolved informally through oral tradition rather than a single author as the source of the ADDIE label. Professor Molenda further asserts that ADDIE has become a colloquial term used to describe a systematic approach to instructional development.

ADDIE is a product development concept. The ADDIE concept is applied to instructional design for constructing performance-based learning. ADDIE is a paradigm that can be used to support the philosophy that intentional learning should be student-centered, innovative, authentic and inspirational. The concept of systematic product development has existed since the formation of social communities. Creating products using an ADDIE concept remains one of today’s most effective tools. Because ADDIE is merely a process that serves as a guiding framework for complex situations, it is appropriate for developing educational products and other learning resources.

ADDIE can be used to promote strategies that move away from didactic, limiting, passive, singular modes of design, and instead, move toward designs that facilitate active, multi-functional, situated, inspirational approaches to learning. ADDIE is illustrated in the matrix below a way to organize the common procedures associated with instructional design.

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ADDIE facilitates an application of instructional design that is generative, responsive, and validating. ADDIE is a generative process because it applies concepts and theories to specific contexts. ADDIE is used within educational environments to facilitate the construction of knowledge and skills during episodes of guided learning. Guided learning is the quest for mutually agreed upon expectations between the student and the teacher. While an individual is in a perpetual state of learning, guided learning refers to the construction of knowledge that occurs in shared learning space, physical or otherwise. The fundamental tenet of ADDIE is that all planned activities focus on guiding the student as she or he constructs knowledge in some learning space.

ADDIE adopts an Input -> Process -> Output (IPO) paradigm as a way to complete its phases. The result of adopting an IPO paradigm is a layered concurrent approach to the ADDIE phases as depicted in the 3-dimensional figure below. The input phase reacts to the variables identified in the learning context by accepting data, information, and knowledge. The process phase seeks ways to stimulate creative and divergent thinking by utilizing procedures to interpret, explain, configure, and display multiple approaches to events that are likely to occur in learning space. The output phase delivers the results of the process by explicitly presenting ways of knowing that are translated into ways of doing. Each ADDIE phase generates a deliverable that represents the collective thoughts of all the stakeholders. Each deliverable is then tested prior to becoming input for the next phase in the process.

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ADDIE is responsive because it accepts whatever goals are established as its orientation. ADDIE is context-sensitive, proactive, interactive, and is a vehicle for communicating ideas to all stakeholders. Learning needs are initially based on prima facie evidence that a desired performance is not being achieved. Many theories contribute to instructional design such as communication theory, theories related to cognitive psychology, social learning theory, and human development theories. The incorporation of a variety of successful teaching and learning theories allow the ADDIE process to be interdependent, synergistic, dynamic, cybernetic, systematic, and systemic. ADDIE stresses interdependence so as to respond to the inextricably connected relationships among pair wise, and otherwise multi-bonded entities joined in learning space. ADDIE is synergistic because it presents the sum of the parts as being greater than the whole, thereby, increasing the function of each entity beyond its individual value, thus, exponentially increasing the probability of achieving the desired goal. ADDIE is dynamic in order to respond to the changing variables within learning space. ADDIE is cybernetic because it governs, guides, automates, replicates, and prevents failure of the entire process. ADDIE is systematic because it establishes rules and procedures; as well as the protocol for establishing the rules and procedures, and helps to constitute responsible approaches to designing instruction. ADDIE is systemic because all components of the process respond to any stimulus: or at least have the opportunity to respond to any stimulus.

ADDIE is a validating process because it verifies all products and procedures associated with the development of guided learning episodes. Validation is the guiding trait of ADDIE, and adds credibility through procedures that are analytical, evaluative, and philosophical. Valid paradigms of instructional design are goal oriented, however, different learning goals require different instructional strategies. Valid learning goals should reflect the reality in which students will be expected to perform, and by so doing, maintain a high degree of congruence between the learning space and the place where actual tasks are performed. A valid instructional design process considers the emotional and instinctive feelings of the student, and the primary participants in the process. The philosophical origin of any instructional design process is important as a way to validate the reasons and motivations of all participants engaged in the process. Validation procedures should be situated, authentic, based on common sense, and account for prominent visceral feelings.

Quantitative and qualitative data should be obtained from all stakeholder groups about the ways in which students learn different kinds of content, and the varying conditions under which learning occurs. Data should be analyzed and summarized into meaningful interpretations so as to make informed decisions about the quality of any materials intended for use during guided learning sessions. Determining the value or specific worth of an ADDIE product requires a process that is inherently evaluative. Evaluation in ADDIE is intended to strengthen a product or procedure, rather than merely ratify an existing way of knowing or an existing way of doing. Evaluation procedures should initiate, permeate, and conclude any ADDIE process so as to afford ample opportunities to intervene during the process for the purpose of improving the product and improving the process as well. Any revisions to the planned instruction should be substantiated with empirical evidence acquired during formative evaluation, thus, increasing the validity of the entire process.

Many school systems and enterprises that provide public and private education currently use ADDIE as the curriculum development approach. ADDIE is frequently used to accomplish educational objectives particularly as e-learning options are adopted and distance learning via the Internet becomes more popular worldwide.


Instructional design provides a process for systematically closing performance gaps, offers boundaries for stakeholders involved in the instructional design process, and features rules for practice of student-centered learning. The systematic design of instruction often adopts or adapts an ADDIE approach to curriculum development. The strength of ADDIE is its ability to make instructional design be both descriptive and prescriptive. Instructional design is descriptive because it shows relationships, illustrates what happens during a process, it’s interactive, it explains, provides if-then relationships, and the ADDIE approach can be adapted to practically any development context. Instructional design is also prescriptive because it guides, assigns methods and procedures, generates strategies, is goal oriented, active and a variety of models can be applied to the ADDIE paradigm.

There are many different models devoted to the instructional design process because instructional design is practiced in a variety of settings. The designer creates procedural models to match unique situational characteristics of a given organization. Instructional designers increase their potential for success when the applied model matches the educational context. (Comment: This is the conclusion to a chapter yet you are introducing new material. This should be eliminated or moved to another earlier section of the chapter.) However, instructional designers should also consider specific contextual issues that may require the application of additional considerations such as rapid prototyping and concurrent engineering.

Rapid prototyping as an approach to instructional design increases opportunities to clarify needs, enhance creativity, reduce errors in final product, increase usability and increase customer acceptance where applicable. However, some of the risks associated with rapid prototyping include employing methods that are often misunderstood by clients and sometimes even media developers, getting caught in a loop of endless revisions, premature release of the learning resources, goal creep, unrealistic expectations of subject matter experts and other strategic stakeholders and project management requirements that can be unfamiliar to those uninitiated into the rapid prototyping approach.

Concurrent engineering, as the name implies, promotes an approach whereby most of the instructional design procedures occur during the same time. A concurrent engineering approach avoids problems often caused during the transition from one instructional design phase to another, tends to enhance creativity by including representatives from all stakeholder groups from the very beginning of the project through to the end of the project, reduces incompatibilities between the learning resources that are developed during the instructional design process and the resources that are actually implemented at the conclusion of the design process, the potential for increased usability and increased customer acceptance, where applicable. However, some of the risks associated with concurrent engineering include employing methods that are often misunderstood by clients and sometimes even media developers, getting caught in a loop of endless revisions, premature release of the learning resources, goal creep, unrealistic expectations of subject matter experts and other strategic stakeholders and project management requirements that can be unfamiliar to those uninitiated into the rapid prototyping approach.

Therefore, successful instructional design practice requires competent professionals with knowledge, skills and experience about managing multiple complex procedures within defined periods of time. People who intend to use an ADDIE approach to instructional design should acquire instructional designer competencies such as those promoted by the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction.

The need to respond to rapidly evolving learning environments, flexible educational delivery systems, the growth of distance learning and technological innovations will require adaptations of the systematic design of instruction or completely new instructional design paradigms. Certainly, the growing attention to accountability in training and education, and a rising emphasis on return on investment will require a nimble and agile instructional design process.

Individuals exist in a perpetual state of tentional learning where the need to arrange experiences is often unnecessary, and thus, instructional interventions are unnecessary. However, there are times when individuals can benefit greatly from planned intentional activities in order to match some agreed upon desired outcome. While there are many valid ways to plan instructional interventions, instructional design offers a process with a proven record of success.