Instructional Design 101, Part 1

In this 4-part series, Instructional Design 101, we will discuss what instructional design is, why it is important, and offer you instructional design strategies that you can use in your classroom.

What is ID?

Let’s start by defining instructional design (or ID)? Definitions of ID abound, from simple to complex. The Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University is attributed with developing a four-part definition of instructional design (Brown & Green, 2011, p. 5):

  • Instructional Design as a Process
    Instructional Design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes development of instructional materials and activities; and tryout and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities.
  • Instructional Design as a Discipline
    Instructional Design is that branch of knowledge concerned with research and theory about instructional strategies and the process for developing and implementing those strategies.
  • Instructional Design as a Science
    Instructional design is the science of creating detailed specifications for the development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of situations that facilitate the learning of both large and small units of subject matter at all levels of complexity.
  • Instructional Design as Reality
    Instructional design can start at any point in the design process. Often a glimmer of an idea is developed to give the core of an instruction situation. By the time the entire process is done the designer looks back and she or he checks to see that all parts of the “science” have been taken into account. Then the entire process is written up as if it occurred in a systematic fashion.

Simply put, ID is the process of assessing learning needs and applying the appropriate learning strategy to meet those needs.

Learning & Teaching…It Just Happens, Right?

We are wired to learn and we are constantly learning. Learning happens through our experiences as we explore our environment and what we see and hear, we learn as we privately reflect on life, we learn in our interactions socially with others, and we learn through formal education. We are also wired to teach. People have been teaching others ever since, well…ever since we existed. We instruct our infant daughter as she is learning to walk or our son as he attempts to ride a bike; we explain and demonstrate to an apprentice how to blow glass; we guide our new co-worker through the institution’s policies and procedures.

So, if learning and teaching happens casually and organically, then why is ID so important? Why do we need a system and a process and a person and a framework and a…OK, I’ll stop there…  The answer is that instructional design can make learning happen faster and more efficiently (and I am not just saying that because I am an instructional designer)! ID helps learners makes sense out of new information through clear goals and objectives, providing context and perspective, in an engaging, meaningful way. How can you say “I don’t need that”?

Where Do We Begin?

This is where ADDIE comes in – it is one way to conceptualize the entire ID process. ADDIE is not an ID model per se, but an illustration of the components of many ID models.


Stay tuned for Part 2, as we delve into the ADDIE process.

Brown, Abbie and Timothy Green (2011). The Essentials of Instructional Design: Connecting Fundamental Principles with Process and Practice, Second Edition. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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