Instructional Design

What is Instructional Design?

Instructional design is the science of instructional development, but that is a rather vague statement. There is a great deal that goes into “instructional development,” and even if you have been doing it for years as a teacher or trainer, you may not always think about all of the steps that you go through (and sometimes go through repeatedly) to ensure that your learners adequately reach the objectives that you put forward. Instructional design (or ID) theory helps us put all of those steps into perspective and understand them more thoroughly.

How can the OLT Help with Instructional Design?

The Office of Learning Technology is staffed by people with knowledge, experience, and training in instructional design and technology. We can assist you through the process in any way you wish, whether that is sitting down and creating a lesson or course from start to finish, or just providing support when you need it along the way.

You may also wish to participate in the Technology Mentorship Program for ongoing support and assistance through the entire instructional design process, as you strive to make your courses the best they can be.

Basic Steps of the Instructional Design Process

Before you begin creating any instruction, online or otherwise, it is important to think about how the process works. There are actually dozens of different instructional design models that have been devised by scholars over the past 60 years or so.  Many of them can be broken down, however, into five main components, which some refer to as ADDIE:

  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Implement
  • Evaluate

These five stages of ADDIE encompass the entire core instructional design process, from the time someone first asks, “What does our audience need to learn?” all the way to the point where someone actually measures, “Did they learn what was intended?” Individual models of instructional design may differ somewhat in the way these steps are implemented or how they are treated within the whole of the process – for example, the Pebble in the Pond model devised by M. David Merrill (see to review much of his outstanding contributions to the field) integrates the Analysis with the Design steps, asking designers to consider the tasks that need to be accomplished, and how those tasks can be broken up into “part-tasks” that can then each be tackled in turn.

ADDIE does not suggest or follow specific learning theories, even though it may contain elements of many different instructional design theories in its simplification of what it truly a complex and multifaceted discipline. Instead, ADDIE is a course design management tool – a roadmap, if you will, to designing a complete course. It will help you to think about the different steps in course and instructional design.

Though the model appears linear, it does not have to be followed rigidly or in a linear approach, especially if you already have course materials developed. The table below gives an abbreviated overview of some of the components of ADDIE.

Using this model will help to guide you and ensure that you take into consideration the essential components of effective course design.


During this phase, you will analyze course content and specify your learning objectives (what do they need to learn?). In addition, you should also assess the skill levels, characteristics, and needs of your target audience (What prior knowledge will they need in order to be successful in your course?). Furthermore, you should take into consideration the context of the learning environment. Will they all have similar internet connections? Will you plan any synchronous meetings, or will the majority of your instruction be delivered in an asynchronous format?


During this phase it is important to think about what types of instructional strategies you will employ to deliver your instruction. “Learning is an active process in which the learner constructs meaningful relationships between the new knowledge presented in the instruction and the learner’s existing knowledge.” (Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2007). Effective learning occurs when you have created an appropriate initial presentation strategy (PowerPoint, video, etc.) then you follow that up with a generative strategy (what will you have the students do, or generate, in order for them to make the necessary active connection to that knowledge).


Two excellent tools for helping you understand how your course objectives, activities, and assessments will align properly are the Quality Matters Rubric and the Course Blueprint Tool. These items can help you assemble a roadmap for your course design that is both effective and engaging for your students.

You may also wish to visit the following links for examples and information on online instructional strategies:


During this phase, it is very important to take into consideration how learning occurs and how to create the most effective activities to ensure learning. Presenting your instructional materials in a variety of ways will help to address the needs of all learning styles. In addition, the successful implementation of pre and post instructional strategies are also crucial to the success of the instruction. The following instructional model, “Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction”, was developed by American educational psychologist, Robert Gagne. This model is popular among instructional designers and it may also help you to develop effective learning activities.

Another useful model for designing whole courses or indivdual units of instruction comes from the First Principles of Instruction model by M. David Merrill (see This model places the instructional problem or task to be accomplished at the center (similar to Pebble in the Pond), then helps designers create activities that activate prior learning, demonstrate the new learning, provide opportunities for application, and finally provide a chance to integrate the new knowledge into their full understanding. Similar to Gagne’s theory in many mays, the First Principles model can be used to holistically evaluate a whole course or just one unit or lesson.


This is the phase in which you implement your course design for the first time. This is where you will learn how effective your design is. You may want to keep a running list of all of the things that are working well, along with things that may not be working so well in your course as you teach. It is always the true test of any instructional design when real learners are asked to participate, but this phase can often be the most useful phase in the process.


An effective design is iterative. It is constantly being evaluated for effectiveness. You should obtain a variety of forms of feedback to assess and evaluate your design. Not only should you consider student feedback, but seeking out the feedback of your peers could also prove to be a valuable resource that will help you identify strengths and weaknesses. Anonymous surveys, peer reviews, open discussions, wikis, etc., are all examples of ways in which you could obtain feedback. Tools like Qualtrics or BlackBoard Learn can assist at this level.