What is Instructional Design?

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  • Written By: Elva K.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 March 2020
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Helping students learn to the maximum extent possible is an important goal that teachers and school systems have. Instructional design can be an important part of achieving that goal. In fact, instructional design tends to be relevant at all levels of learning whether the students are in kindergarten, high school, college, or beyond. Specifically, instructional design, which was founded based on the theories of various researchers, involves analyzing a learning setting, determining the learning needs of the students in that setting, and developing a system to deliver what is needed through the use of instructional strategies, instructional materials, learning theory, and models of instructional design.

There are a number of models of instructional design. One of the more important models is the ADDIE model that several other models are based on. ADDIE is an acronym which refers to five specific phases involved in instructional design: the analyze phase, the design phase, the develop phase, the implement phase, and the evaluate phase.

The analyze phase involves analysis of the student’s characteristics and the tasks the student must learn. Design is a phase that involves developing learning goals and choosing a particular instructional method. The develop phase refers to the creation of the instructional materials or training materials. To implement refers to the phase where the teacher delivers or distributes the materials to be used for instruction. The evaluate phase is when one makes certain the learning materials were able to achieve the desired goals.


Instructional designing was founded based on the theories of a number of researchers. For example, in the 1800s, Hermann Ebbinghaus and Ivan Pavlov studied forgetfulness and classical conditioning. B.F. Skinner developed radical behaviorism and applied that to learning. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky studied learners’ development states and cognitive processes that pertained to learning. Their work and David Ausebel’s work helped to form cognitive learning theory, which is an important part of instructional designing.

Then in World War II, Robert Gagne put together training materials to help the United States (US) military and later published a book called “The Conditions of Learning” (1965), which ended up being an important book in instructional design. Also, Robert Mager published an important book called “Preparing Objectives for Programmed Instruction” (1962) to assist teachers in writing clear learning objectives. Benjamin Bloom continued the work and further described learning objectives in the famous "Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning" where he stressed that the lessons must help students synthesize and evaluate information as opposed to just solely recalling facts.

After this, instructional design models were developed by Walter Dick and Lou Carey and others. Each successive model addressed different aspects of instructional designing. Of note, the advent of the computer age and the development of distance learning also impacted the development of instructional designing.


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