What is instructional design?

In the past few years, online learning has surged, refining the future of education. Instructional design is aimed to determine the most effective and engaging way to deliver educational content. 

As stated by Instructional Design Central, instructional design is defined as “the process by which learning products and experiences are designed, developed, and delivered. These learning products include online courses, instructional manuals, video tutorials, learning simulations, etc. The terms instructional design, instructional technology, learning experience (LX) design, curriculum design, and instructional systems design (ISD), are sometimes used interchangeably.” 

In other words, instructional design is the creation of online learning materials and experiences, with the objective that users gain new knowledge.

What is the main goal of instructional design?

The goal of instructional design is to provide a customized learning curriculum that serves the targeted audience. Instructional designers approach the job by taking a systematic outlook of assessing needs, designing processes, developing materials, and evaluating the effectiveness.

Instructional designers take into account many different models and theories while developing a learning curriculum. Their goal is to create a learning experience that is theory-driven, query-driven, data-driven, and outcomes-driven. 

Not only do the instructional designers focus on the educational aspect, but they also take into account that behavioral psychology and communication strategies should be utilized to create a successful learning environment. This allows learners to receive the most impactful education.

What is the most common instructional design model?

There are many instructional design models that designers can use as a foundation when creating an online learning curriculum. However, there are some more popular and widely used models, which have proven to be successful.

Instructional designers utilize these models after developing a promising course of action, which varies depending on the client. Listed below are the most common models used.


ADDIE is, undoubtedly, the most popular instructional design model. It was originally designed for the U.S. Military in the 1970s. ADDIE stands for analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. The ADDIE model gives a simple, yet highly effective, course of action to follow when creating a curriculum.


The core components are identified in the analysis phase. Components like target audience, instructional goals, and overall objectives.


The design phase is focused on planning a curriculum and course of action in the best interest for the learners. Factors like learning objectives, instructional methods, subject matter knowledge, lesson outlines, and so forth are decided upon.


During the development phase, the content and instructional methods that were planned in the design phase are created.


The implementation phase is when all the content and materials are delivered to the Learning Management Systems (LMS).


The evaluation phase measures the success of the curriculum. It identifies what is working and what is not working.

2 – Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a structure developed by Benjamin Bloom in 1956 to help educators identify the cognitive growth of students and to set suitable educational goals for them. Bloom’s Taxonomy highlights six levels students go through when learning a new concept.

  1. Remember
  2. Understand
  3. Apply
  4. Analyze
  5. Evaluate
  6. Create

This hierarchical structure allows the educator to track the student’s depth of understanding. The student can progress to the next level of understanding after they have mastered the previous level. To truly grasp a subject and be considered an expert, the student must master each level.

3 – SAM Model

The Successful Approximation Model (SAM) is commonly compared to the ADDIE model, but SAM is said to be a more simplified version. SAM primarily focuses on giving the student feedback. SAM consists of three phases, which are Preparation, Iterative Design and Iterative Development.

  1. Preparation:

The preparation phase centers around collecting all necessary information and having a basic understanding of the background knowledge.

  1. Iterative Design:

The interactive design phase focuses on collaborating with a team of people to prototype the materials and review the design. 

  1. Iterative Development:

The iterative development phase is similar to the previous phase, as it continues to focus on improving the prototype. This stage involves developing, implementing, and evaluating the finished prototype. 

SAM highlights the significance of repetition. Each phase is meant to be evaluated, repeated, and revisited. SAM is built for performance driven learning through the repetition of small steps.

4 – Merrill’s Principles of Instruction (MPI)

David Merrill’s Principles of Instruction (MPI) is a problem-based strategy. Merrill suggests that effective learning environments are based on problem-solving. This strategy involves five principles of learning. 

  1. Task-Centered Principle: Learning begins with real-world tasks and problems that are relatable.
  1. Activation Principle: Existing knowledge is the foundation for new knowledge.
  1. Demonstration Principle: Information should be delivered in various formats to reach different regions of the brain and increase knowledge retention.
  1. Application Principle: Learning from individual mistakes and applying the new knowledge ensures effective knowledge attention.
  1. Integration Principle: The discussion and reflection of new knowledge allows it to be integrated into daily life.

The MPI model highlights the significance of problem-centered learning, and how the demonstrations and discussions allow learners to apply it to their daily lives.

6 – Robert Gange’s Nine Events of Instruction

Robert Gange is considered to be a leading contributor to education altogether based on his findings that learners experience these nine steps when being taught something. 

  1. Gain attention
  2. Inform learner of objective
  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge
  4. Present the learning material
  5. Provide guidance for learning
  6. Elicit performance
  7. Provide feedback
  8. Assess performance 
  9. Enhance retention and transfer

Robert Gange’s Nine Events of Instruction can be adjusted for different learning situations, which is why it is one of the most commonly used amongst instructional designers. Gagne created this framework based on the mental conditions adults need for effective learning.

5 Principles of Instructional Design

The reason instructional design is a successful learning tool is because it is a systematic process rooted in sound, research-based theory. Instructional designers utilize learning strategies like behaviorist learning theory, cognitivist learning theory, and constructivist learning theory. The instructional exercises, activities, and assessments are proven to be highly effective. Listed below are five principles instructional designers aim to apply to their program.

  1. The creation of focused and customized programs
  2. Encourages more student participation
  3. Sets clear and measurable objectives
  4. Creates consistency
  5. Simplifies learning for students

Instructional designers are equipped with the knowledge and tools to consistently create an educational program that aligns with the desired goals.

4 Basic Elements of Instructional Design

1 – Learning Objectives

The learning objective lays a foundation for the learning curriculum. The objective acts as a guide for the instructional designers while creating learning content and activities, as well as sets a clear expected outcome of what learners should be able to comprehend at the end of the course. The learning objective is considered a critical step because it affects all decisions made after.

2 – Learning Activities

The learning activities for a curriculum are decided in the design phase and are carried out by the students in the implementation phase, when using the ADDIE model.  The types of learning activities can range from more traditional activities such as reading and lecturing, to more student engaging activities such as  audio, video, animation, gamification, and simulation.

Learning Assessments

Learning assessments are a way to confirm that the learning objective was met. Assessments typically come in the form of quizzes, exams, or graded simulations of real-world situations. There are two types of learning assessments, summative assessments and formative assessments.

1 – Summative Assessments

Summative assessments typically are based on a graded basis. They are given at the end of the learning process and are considered a final evaluation of knowledge. Examples include pass or fail assessments, A-F grading, and so forth. Summative assessments are considered by some to be arbitrary and simple, therefore not being able to truly evaluate a student’s knowledge on the material being tested. To reduce this, educators often give pre-tests and post-tests, which has been found to be effective.

2 – Formative Assessments

Formative assessments seek to evaluate the students’ learning journey as a whole, it provides understanding on the “bigger picture,” rather than graded material. These assessments are given during the learning process, instead of the end. This gives the opportunity for learners and educators to identify areas of improvement, receive feedback, and apply it. Examples of formative assessments include class discussions, projects, exit/admit slips, live multiple choice poll, learning/response logs, and more.

Conclusion – What is instructional design?

In conclusion, instructional design is the process of designing, developing, and delivering a customized learning experience to a targeted audience. The learning experience is created using various research based academic theories and models, which have proven to be highly effective.

The experience is created so the learners can carry new knowledge and skills with them into the real world. Instructional design is paving a new way for the delivery of curriculum and refining the future of education.

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