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Instructional design

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Instructional design, and the more holistically-based practice Instructional Systems Design, are technologies of education and instruction. The term technology is being used in the sense of an applied science. Instructional Design and Instructional Systems Design are scientifically derived processes which are intended to optimize learning gains in knowledge and performance from precisely engineered (and designed) instruction. It is a common misunderstanding that Instructional Designers use physical technology as a method for developing instruction. From a narrow definition of the term 'technology' this may be true. But Instructional Designers will tend to prefer to use the term 'media', instead of technology, when referring to the instructional delivery vehicles that they employ

A useful reference to the history of Instructional Design can be found in The evolution of American educational technology by Paul Saettler (1990). For a sense of the use of term technology, see H.D. Stolovitch and E. Keeps (Eds.), Handbook of human performance technology (1992 &1999).

As a field, Instructional Design is historically and traditionally rooted in cognitive and behavioural psychology. However, because it is not a regulated field, and therefore not well understood, the term 'instructional design' has been co-opted by or confused with a variety of other ideologically-based and / or professional fields. Instructional Design, for example, is not Graphic Design although graphic design (from a cognitive perspective) could play an important role in Instructional Design. Preparing instructional text by E. Misanchuk, and publications by James Hartley are useful to informing the distinction between Instructional Design and Graphic Design.


Much of the foundation of the field of instructional design was laid in World War II, when the U.S. military faced the need to rapidly train large numbers of people to perform complex technical tasks, from field-stripping a carbine to navigating across the ocean to building a bomber.

Drawing on the research and theories of B.F. Skinner on operant learning, training programs focused on observable behaviors. Tasks were broken down into subtasks, and each subtask treated as a separate learning goal. Training was designed to reward correct performance and remediate incorrect performance. Mastery was assumed to be possible for every learner, given enough repetition and feedback.

After the war, the success of the wartime training model was replicated in business and industrial training, and to a lesser extent in the primary and secondary classroom. In 1955 Benjamin Bloom published an influential taxonomy of what he termed the three domains of learning: Cognitive (what we know or think), Psychomotor (what we do, physically) and Affective (what we feel, or what attitudes we have). These taxonomies still influence the design of instruction.

Learning theories were influenced by the growth of digital computers in the 1960s and 1970s. Many models adopted an "information-processing" approach.

Cognitive load theory and the design of instruction

Cognitive load theory developed out of several empirical studies of learners as they interacted with instructional materials (Sweller, 1988). It is emblematic of the historical roots of cognitive psychology in Instructional Design. Sweller and his associates began to measure the effects of working memory load and found that the format of instructional materials has a direct effect on the performance of the learners using those materials (Chandler and Sweller, 1991; Sweller and Cooper, 1985, Cooper and Sweller, 1987).

While the media debates of the 1990s focused on the influences of media on learning, cognitive load effects were being documented in several journals. These effects it seems were based on the design of instructional materials, as opposed to the media being used. Finally Mayer (1997) asked the Instructional Design community to reassess this media debate, to refocus their attention on what was most important – learning.

By the late 1990s, John Sweller and his associates had discovered several learning effects related to cognitive load and the design of instructional materials (e.g. the Split attention effect, redundancy effect, and the worked example effect). Later, other researchers like Richard Mayer began to attribute other learning effects to cognitive load (Mayer, 1997). Mayer and his associates soon developed a Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer, 2001, Mayer, Bove, Bryman, Mars, and Tapangco, 1996; Mayer, Steinhoff, Bower, and Mars, 1995).

In the past decade, Cognitive load theory has begun to be internationally accepted (Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2004) and begun to revolutionize how Instructional designers view instruction. Recently, Human performance experts have even taken notice of cognitive load and begun to promote this theory base as the Science of Instruction, with Instructional designers as the practitioners of this field (Clark and Mayer, 2002). Finally Clark, Nguyen and Sweller (2006) publisher an important text describing how Instructional Designers can promote efficient learning using evidence based guidelines of Cognitive load theory.

Influential researchers and theorists

  • B.F. Skinner - Behaviorism - 1940s
  • Benjamin Bloom - Taxonomies of the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains - 1955
  • R.F. Mager - ABCD model for instructional objectives - 1962
  • Jean Piaget - Cognitive development - 1960s
  • Seymour Papert - LOGO - 1970s
  • Robert M. Gagné - Nine Events of Instruction - 1970s
  • Jerome Bruner - Constructivism
  • Dick, W. & Carey, L. "The Systematic Design of Instruction" - 1978
  • M. David Merrill and Charles Reigeluth - Elaboration Theory / Component Display Theory / PEAnets - 1980s
  • Robert Heinich, Michael Molenda, James Russell - Instructional Media and the new technologies of instruction 3rd ed. - Educational Technology - 1989
  • Roger Schank - Constructivist simulations - 1990s
  • David Jonassen - Cognitivist problem-solving strategies - 1990s
  • Ruth Clark - Theories on instructional design and technical training - 1990s

Instructional design models

Perhaps the most common model used for creating instructional materials is the ADDIE Model. This acronym stands for the 5 phases contained in the model:

  • Analyze - analyze learner characteristics, task to be learned, etc.
  • Design - develop learning objectives, choose an instructional approach
  • Develop - create instructional or training materials
  • Implement - deliver or distribute the instructional materials
  • Evaluate - make sure the materials achieved the desired goals

Most of the current instructional design models are variations of the ADDIE model. A sometimes utilized (but unproven) adaptation to this model is in a practice known as rapid prototyping. Proponents suggest that it attempts to save time and money by catching problems while they are still easy to fix but widespread attempts to make Instructional Design a field of professional practice devoid of analytical thought have resulted in rapid prototyping.

Instructional theories also play an important role in the design of instructional materials. Theories such as behaviorism, constructivism, social learning and cognitivism help shape and define the outcome of instructional materials.

Learning Design

One attempt at recrafting the name of the well established field of Instructional Design is the IMS Global specification "Learning Design". However, traditionalists will argue that it is possible to design instruction (with strong predictive outcomes) but it is not possible to design learning.

The IMS Learning Design specification supports the use of a wide range of pedagogies in online learning. Rather than attempting to capture the specifics of many pedagogies, it does this by providing a generic and flexible language. This language is designed to enable many different pedagogies to be expressed. The approach has the advantage over alternatives in that only one set of learning design and runtime tools then need to be implemented in order to support the desired wide range of pedagogies. The language was originally developed at the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL), after extensive examination and comparison of a wide range of pedagogical approaches and their associated learning activities, and several iterations of the developing language to obtain a good balance between generality and pedagogic expressiveness.

See IMS Global Learning Design Site for more info.

See also

Since instructional design deals with creating useful instruction and instructional materials, there are many other areas that are related to the field of instructional design.

  • assessment
  • educational animation
  • educational psychology
  • educational technology
  • e-learning
  • electronic portfolio
  • evaluation
  • instructional technology
  • instructional theory
  • learning object
  • learning science
  • m-learning
  • online education
  • instructional design coordinator
  • Instructional design storyboarding
  • training
  • interdisciplinary teaching

External links

  • International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI)
  • Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT)
  • Instructional Design - An informative guide to ID from
  • IMS Global Learning Design - XML Specifications
  • EServer TC Library: Instructional Design
  • KitWiki (class notes of a student taking an ID course)
  • Creating an Instructor Kit (how-to article)
  • Semantic Pedagogy
  • The instructional technology et distance learning Journal
  • Instructional Design Resources from The Learned Man! e-Learning Resource
  • Training Within Industry - A proven training methodology developed during WWII makes a comeback


  • Chandler, P. & Sweller, J.. (1991). "Cognitive Load Theory and the Format of Instruction.". Cognition and Instruction 8 (4): 293-332. 
  • Cooper, G., & Sweller, J. (1987). "Effects of schema acquisition and rule automation on mathematical problem-solving transfer.". Journal of Educational Psychology. 79 (4): 347-362. 
  • Clark, R. C., Nguyen, F., and Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN 0-7879-7728-4. 
  • Clark, R.C., Mayer, R.E. (2002). e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN 0-7879-6051-9. 
  • Mayer, R.E. (1997). "Multimedia Learning: Are We Asking the Right Questions?.". Educational Psychologist 32 (41): 1-19. 
  • Mayer, R.E. (2001). Multimedia Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78239-2. 
  • Mayer, R.E., Bove,W. Bryman, A. Mars,R. & Tapangco, L. (1996). "When Less Is More: Meaningful Learning From Visual and Verbal Summaries of Science Textbook Lessons.". Journal of Educational Psychology. 88 (1): 64-73. 
  • Mayer, R.E., Steinhoff, K., Bower, G. and Mars, R. (1995). "A generative theory of textbook design: Using annotated illustrations to foster meaningful learning of science text.". Educational Technology Research and Development. 43 (1): 31-41. 
  • Paas, F., Renkl, A. & Sweller, J. (2004). "Cognitive Load Theory: Instructional Implications of the Interaction between Information Structures and Cognitive Architecture". Instructional Science 32: 1–8. 
  • Sweller, J. (1988). "Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning". Cognitive Science 12 (1): 257-285. 
  • Sweller, J., & Cooper, G. A. (1985). "The use of worked examples as a substitute for problem solving in learning algebra". Cognition and Instruction 2 (1): 59-89. 
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