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Instructional Design

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    1. The Six Domains of the Instructional Design Knowledge Base
  2. Instructional Design Theory (Descriptive)
    1. Components an Instructional Design Theory Should Include
    2. Constructs about the Nature of Instructional Design Theory
  3. Instructional Design Models (Prescriptive)
    1. ADDIE
    2. 4C/ID


Instructional design is the process of combining descriptive and prescriptive theories in an effort to develop instructional products which are effective, efficient, and engaging.

Instruction (however you conceive it) can be discussed in terms of factors such as context (for example, corporate, government, military, college, and K–12), domain (for example, science, education, and mathematics), environment (for example, face-to-face, online, virtual, and simulation), and culture (for example, country, religion, and location). (Bruner, Capella, ED7420, Unit 1, Introduction).

"Instructional design (ID) today is an established profession, as well as an area of study. As a profession, it consists of a series of well-defined competencies, and an active group of practitioners who work in increasingly complex and sophisticated environments. As an area of study, it has a rich and growing foundation of research and theory viewed from increasingly diverse points of view. Both the practice and the study of ID can be seen in two ways: as strategies for creating particular products and as the implementation and management of the overall design process. In either of these orientations ID is a planning process. As such, distinguished from development processes, the actual production of instructional materials" (Richey, Klein, & Tracey, 2011).

"Instructional design synthesizes elements from a number of related disciplines, such as communication, psychology, curriculum development, and computer-assisted instruction [CAI]" Ledford & Sleeman, 2000, p. 20). In addition to the influence from these disciplines, instructional design is also influenced by many other theories including communication theory, systems theory, learning theory, design theory, and instructional theory (Smith & Ragan, 2005, p. 33, fig. 2.4).

Contributions to instructional design can be organized into two groupings descriptive and prescriptive. Instructional design theory is the descriptive grouping and instructional design models make up the prescriptive offerings.

Six Domains of the Instructional Design Knowledge Base

Domains of the instructional design knowledge base.
(Richey, Klein, & Tracey, 2011, p. 4).

Instructional design as a discipline makes informed decisions based on various theories and models (Richey, Klein, & Tracey, 201, p. 4).

Instructional Design Theory

Instructional design theories abound, but Merrill (2009) feels that the all have general principles in common and wrote a paper about it titled the First Principles of Instruction.

Due the confusion caused by a non-precise usage of the instructional design theory vocabulary and an observed disagreement within the instructional design research community Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman (2009) proposed a ADDIE-like version of how to organize instructional design theory as a way to synthesize previous instructional design models into one common framework. The components they suggested should be included in an instructional design theory and a description of the component's task are shown in the table below.

Components an Instructional Design Theory Should Include

Component Name Component Task
event Describing what the instruction should be like
analysis Gathering Information for making decisions
planning Creating the instructional plans
building Creating instructional resources
implementation Preparing for implementation
evaluation Evaluating the instruction

(Reigeluth, 2009, p. 8)

Figure 1 below represents an adaptation of the Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman model; it has been abbreviated in order to accentuate the titles of each of the six components. In order to accurately represent Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman's model, the reader should read each component as the instructional (component name) design theory; e.g. instructional event design theory, instructional analysis design theory, etc.The six components of instructional design theory as proposed by Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman, 2009, p. 9.
Figure 1.

Constructs About the Nature of Instructional Design Theory

All elements of any instructional theory can be categorized as one or the other of these two constructs.

  1. Instructional method
    • Scope of a method (a continuum from micro through meso to macro)
    • Generality of a method (a continuum from universal to local)
    • Precision of a method ( a continuum from highly precise to highly imprecise)
      • Parts of a method (categories that are more precise)
      • Kinds of a method (categories that are more precise)
      • Criteria for a method (categories that are more precise)
    • Power of a method (a continuum from low to high)
    • Consistency of a method ( a continuum from  low to high)
  2. Instructional situation
    • Values (categories)
      • Values about learning goals
      • Values about priorities
      • Values about methods
      • Values about who has power
    • Conditions (categories)
      • Content
      • Leaner
      • Learning environment
      • Instructional development constraints

(Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman, 2009, pp. 21-24)

Instructional Design Models

Many models for developing instruction exist including ADDIE (ISD), 4C/ID (ID),


One of the more popular ID models is ADDIE which is an acronym for the five steps which it comprises, Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. For the most part these steps can be applied in a linear (waterfall) fashion, however newer iterations stress that that the entire process is cyclical in that even after the instruction is implemented it should be analyzed for redesign, redevelopment or re-implementation when a new or altered instructional need is determined to exist. Also, evaluation should occur at each of the first four steps of the process. In order for the instructional methodology at each step to properly be evaluated, a specific instrument of evaluation should be created and applied for each step in the process.


van Merriënboer (2002) developed the four component instructional design model to address what he felt were limitations in previous offerings by other ID models.

An illustration of the 4C/ID model.
Figure 2 - The 4C/ID instructional model (van Merriënboer, 2002).