1 Introduction to Instructional Design

What is Instructional Design?

Imagine I asked you to teach an introduction to Excel class to your colleagues. Would you just walk in a classroom and start teaching off the cuff? Probably not. You would probably ask me a few follow-up questions before going off and developing the content for your training. You might ask questions like…

  • Why do you feel this training is needed?
    • Is there a specific observation you’ve made that makes you think this training is needed?
    • Is there a specific part of the job people are doing wrong due to lack of skills in Excel?
  • I know my coworkers well, but I am not familiar with their existing skill levels in Excel. Can you tell me what you know about their existing skill levels? For example, can you give me the most advanced formula and/or feature you have observed and by whom?
  • How many learners will there be?
  • Will we have access to a training space with computers that have Excel installed on them? Will there be enough computers for each learner to use their own? Does the space of a computer connected to a projector?
  • Do they know they are being asked to take this training?

Based on my answers, and some additional research, you will most likely determine whether the training is necessary or focused on the right topic. For example, in our conversation, you may learn that your coworkers are struggling more with math concepts than how to use Excel – a common issue when teaching Excel. This would impact decisions of what to teach, the strategies for teaching it, and the supporting materials you would use during the class. This process of determining the instructional problem, understanding learners, identifying environmental resources, deciding what to teach, and developing the materials that support those ideas is instructional design.

In a nutshell, Instructional Design  (ID) is the systematic approach to:

  • determining the need for instruction;
  • assessing the learners, the environment, and the context in which skills be taught and then practiced in and out of the classroom;
  • designing and developing objectives, content, and assessments around the need and learners;
  • assessing learner mastery; and
  • evaluating the effectiveness of your design in relation to instruction.

During this course, you will read, research, discuss, and contemplate some of the field’s most commonly used ID models and answer some fundamental questions about instructional design:

  • What is instructional design?
  • Does every teaching and training professional know-how to design instruction in the most effective and efficient manner?
  • How do we apply learning and motivational theories to the instructional design process?
  • How do instructional design professionals add value to teaching, learning, training, and products?
  • Is there one best way to develop instruction?

Instructional Design Framework

There are several different Instructional Design Models out there to choose from. All of the models follow a similar framework based on a generic framework: ADDIE. Based on this framework, one begins to develop their instruction by following the steps below, which are summarized in the infographic. You can download the infographic here or open a larger version in a new window by clicking on the image itself.

A: Analysis

To me, this is one of the most important steps that we often leave out because we assume we already know the information or we just don’t have the time and resources to dedicate to this step. In this step, you analyze what problem you are trying to solve or the knowledge gap you are trying to bridge. You also begin to research information about who your learners are, what environment they will be teaching and learning in, and what resources and equipment you have access to. Additionally, it’s important that you understand the context in which the learned knowledge or skill will be used outside of the classroom. By knowing this, you can create learning opportunities that simulate and/or replicate these experiences as much as possible. Remember, that everything you learn throughout this step informs later decisions around how you will design, develop, and teach. For example, if you learn that you are teaching a computer programming course in a lecture hall where students will not have computers in front of them, this might impact how you use your class time – demonstration vs. practice.

D: Design

During the this step, the information acquired during the Analysis step informs the design of instructional objectives – the heart of any instructional experience. Instructional objectives outline, in a measurable/observable fashion, what exactly the learner will know and be able to do upon participating in the instruction. In this step, the instructional designer chunks and sequences the content in a logical manner in which it will be presented to learners – starting to outline the course.

D: Development

During development, the outline from the previous step is used somewhat like a To-Do list to create content, activities, and assessments in alignment with the instructional objectives.

I: Implementation

The Implementation step is the one we are most familiar with – the step where the instructor presents what they have developed to the learners.

E: Evaluation

The Evaluation step is about evaluating the process and the effectiveness of the instruction. This is not an evaluation of the learners. In this step, the Instructional Designer and/or Instructor looks at a variety of information to determine how effective the design was. Did learners learn? Where did learners struggle the most? Once we have this information, the intent is to cycle back through the process to update the design in hopes to improve learning.

The Role of an Instructional Designer

The role an instructional designer plays within this process can differ greatly depending on the situation. Sometimes one person is responsible for the entire process – designing, developing, teaching, and evaluating. Is this persona an instructional designer, a subject matter expert (SME), or teacher. The answer is, Yes. They are all of those identities. If they designed digital media content, they may also be considered an instructional technologist as well.

In some organizations, the instructional designer plays more of a project management role. In these situations, the instructional designer facilitates the process, coordinates the procuring of digital media content, and consults with the subject matter experts – helping the SME determine objectives, logically chunk and sequence content, develop pedagogically sound teach strategies, and evaluate effectiveness.

In higher education, instructional designers often serve as a 1:1 consultant to support SMEs think through strategies for teaching their course. Instructional designers might also be asked to formally review courses developed by SMEs and give feedback based on research and best practices. In these situations, instructional designers may also be called on to develop larger scale trainings and workshops around a variety of topics including…

  • the instructional design process
  • teaching and learning theories
  • creating accessible content
  •  effective use of technology tools in the classroom

Many people think that instructional designers only focus on online courses. This is because the field of instructional design was thrusted to the fore when online courses came to be in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The idea of teaching online was new and frightening and we needed help supporting the transition to this new modality – Instructional designers to the rescue.

It is important to note that the instructional design process is not tied to modality. Modality is one of the many variables considered during the process however. For example, during your analysis, you may learn that you need to train 2,000 employees about a procedure change. These employees (your learners) are spread out over four countries and multiple times zones. This information may lead to a decision that the course should be taught fully online (asynchronously) or maybe even via a live Zoom session (synchronously). Therefore, the process helps us make better decisions. Once these decisions are made, we can continue the instructional design process developing content appropriate for the determined modality.

Identifying an Instructional Problem

Before one engages in the instructional design process, the first step is to identify a problem or knowledge gap and ask if that problem can be solved by providing instruction. For example, let’s say you just rolled out a new customer service application that all employees will use to track their interactions with customers. During the first week, none of your team members are able to properly enter a customer into the system. Your first step is to investigate the problem. If during the investigation you find that the software was installed incorrectly, then you simply reinstall the software and move on. There is no need to move forward with developing a training program because you can’t solve this problem by teaching something to somebody. However, if you learn that the software was installed correctly and that team members are simply not entering information using the right sequence, you now have a problem that you can solve through instruction. Therefore, you’ll want to develop a training program that solves your problem by teaching your team how to log in, enter information correctly, and solve common problems when they arise. To develop this program, you will follow the steps within the instructional design process.

In the academic world, there sometimes isn’t a clear “problem” to solve, instructors are simply assigned a course to teach. Therefore, an English instructor may not ask the same questions during their problem identification step, but they would still analyze the situation and determine if there are industry standards needing to be met or knowledge gaps needing to be bridged.  For example, an English 102 instructor might interview an English 101 instructor and learn that students consistently struggle with using the comma correctly. This might warrant some attention in English 102.

What is an Instructional Design Model?

As mentioned above, the ADDIE model is only a framework. It doesn’t even have a known author. Though other models follow this same skeletal outline, the biggest difference is that they offer different tools and specific strategies to use within each step of the ADDIE framework. For example, our authors provide clear strategies for how one might go about conducting a Learner and Contextual Analysis by providing specific questions to research and answer. These questions lead to answers that have an impact on your instruction.

In future modules, you will conduct an activity where you explore different Instructional Design Modules in small groups. During the activity, you will learn that some models are more focused on the audience (e.g., k-12 vs higher education learners) while others are more focused on types of instructions (face-to-face vs. use of technology tools). You will also learn that some models are much more linear in their process; whereas, others, like the one we’ll focus on in this class, allow for a lot more flexibility and have no one specific sequence or order to complete the steps. No matter what, all of them, in some fashion, relate back to the ADDIE framework.

According to Branch and Kopcha (2014), instructional design models have the following characteristics in common:

  1. Instructional design is learner-centered: The learners and their performance are the focal points.
  2. Instructional design is goal-oriented: Well-defined goals are essential.
  3. Instructional design focuses on real-world performance – helps learners perform the behaviors that will be expected of them in the real world.
  4. Instructional design focuses on outcomes that can be measured in a reliable and valid way – creating valid and reliable measurement instruments is essential.
  5. Instructional design is empirical – data is the heart of the process.
  6. Instructional design typically is a team effort – this process usually involves teamwork.

To me, instructional design is a holistic process that requires all aspects of the ADDIE model to be covered in some way. For example, it’s difficult to develop instruction if you haven’t determined what it is you want the learners to do upon receiving the instruction. It’s also difficult to plan for instruction if you don’t understand who your learners are and what knowledge, skills, and abilities they bring to your course or training session. With that said, it has been my experience that instructional design models differ in depth, breadth, and scope specific to this concept of a holistic design. As you learn more about the different models, you will learn that some focus more on one particular element of the model, while others take a more holistic approach. So, as you get to know the different instructional design models, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the model have an author or multiple authors?
  • Is the model based on sound research and demonstrated best practices?
  • What are the steps to the model and is the model more linear or flexible within the process?
  • Does this model conduct an analysis to determine if there is a problem?
  • Does this model require the use of data to influence the design process or just instinct?
  • Does this model require the designer to formally analyze the learners and outline the knowledge, skills, and abilities they bring to your course, lesson, or training?
  • Does the model require the designer to clearly define what it is learners should be able to do by the end of the course, lesson, or training?
  • Does the model require the development of strong learning objectives?
  • Does the model require the development of activities and assessments that align with the learning objectives?
  • Does the model utilize teaching and learning theories to influence teaching strategies.
  • Does the model provide a process for evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction before, during, and upon completion of the instruction?
  • Does the model focus on a single piece of instruction one at a time or in the context of an entire course, lesson, or training?
  • Based on findings, is the model a holistic model or more of a strategy that could be embedded into a more holistic model?

The Morrison, Ross, Morrison, and Kemp Model of Instructional Design

For the purposes of this course, I have chosen the Morrison, Ross, Morrison, and Kemp Model. We will use the components and stages of this model as the foundation for your capstone project: a Design Document. I’ll go into more details about your project soon.

This model is represented by three rings. The inside circle illustrates the nine core elements to this model that need to be explored in order to make decisions around your instructional design plan. The model allows for you to engage with any of these components at any time throughout your process. However, for the purposes of this course, we will be taking a more linear approach and addressing most of the steps in the order in which they are presented:

  1. Instructional Problems: Determine the specific goals and instructional issues.
  2. Learner Characteristics: Identify the characteristics and needs of the learners that should be taken into account.
  3. Task Analysis: Clarify the course content and analyze the proposed task components in relationship to the set goals.
  4. Instructional Objectives: Define the instructional objectives and learning outcomes.
  5. Content Sequencing: Ensure the content for each component of instruction is sequentially and logically presented.
  6. Instructional Strategies: Design instructional strategies to enable learners to master the content and achieve the learning outcomes.
  7. Designing the Message: Plan the instructional message and the appropriate mode of delivery.
  8. Development of Instruction: Develop the evaluation instruments suitable for measuring and assessing learners’ progress toward achieving the course objectives.
  9. Evaluation Instruments: Choose appropriate resources that will support the teaching and learning activities.

The two outer rings represent eight ongoing processes that the instructional designer engages in throughout the entire process. These processes include:

  1. Planning: Taking the time to engage in the process exploring the 9 core elements.
  2. Implementing: Putting your plan into action – teaching/training.
  3. Project Management: Managing the depth, breadth, and scope of the project. Some projects require the instructional designer to serve as the project manager – collecting content, arranging media creation, and meeting deadlines, and staying within budget.
  4. Support Services: Outside expertise needed to develop course content such as media experts, script writers, photographers, etc.
  5. Revising: The act of updating content based on data and other information acquired during the evaluation
  6. Summative Evaluation: Evaluation of the effectiveness of the course materials overall – evaluating how well you met your instructional objectives.
  7. Formative Evaluation: Ongoing evaluation of content and materials as instruction is “forming.”
  8. Confirmative Evaluation: Ongoing evaluation process to help determine if the course or program is still relative and/or needed.

Chapter 1 provides a great overview of the Morrison, Ross, Morrison, and Kemp model. Therefore, I won’t get into it here. However, to close the loop on how models align with the generic ADDIE framework, here is an illustration of what it might look like if we aligned our authors’ model with ADDIE:


As illustrated in the image:


  • Instructional Problems
  • Learner Characteristics
  • Task Analysis


  • Instructional Objectives
  • Content Sequencing
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Designing the Message


  • Development of Instruction


  • Instruct/Teach


  • Evaluation Instruments


Branch, R. M., & Kopcha, T. J. (2014). Instructional design models. In Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 77-87). Springer New York.


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