What is Instructional Design?

Instructional Design is the systematic analysis, planning, implementation and evaluation of learning environments and learning materials. Research on this topic was substantially underwritten by the US military during World War II, as many soldiers had to be trained through effective and consistent training programs. The term ‘Instructional Design’ was coined by Robert Gagné.

Systematic Instructional Design refers to the design of learning experiences in the context of schools and companies; it is also related to information and communication technologies for teaching and learning purposes since the emergence of new media.

In the Anglo-American realm, the term ‘Instructional Systems Design’ (ISD) is used and encompasses all kinds of development training. It is the further development of the ADDIE model, often seen as very rigid, and integrates feedback loops between all steps.

Instructional design based on Gagné

Robert Gagné created one of the most widely known models for the lesson plan design of teaching and learning units.

A training-needs analysis helps to define course objectives, which are then are broken down into more concrete learnings goals officially called ‘performance objectives’. These are concrete, behaviour-oriented goals that can be measured and evaluated.

Gagné created a nine-step process that detailed each element required for effective learning. His method differentiated between the activity of the teacher / the learning media vs. the activity of the learner.

Teacher / learning media Learner
1 Gain attention Mobilise concentration
2 Inform learners of objectives Realistic expectation of learning goal
3 Stimulate recall of prior learning Activate long-term memory
4 Present learning material Understand learning material
5 Provide learning guidance Enable shift in long-term memory
6 Elicit performance Enable conclusion of learning results
7 Provide feedback Get feedback and react to it
8 Assess performance Perform self-assessment and learn from it
9 Enhance transfer Be able to use the learning in everyday life

Instructional Design Models


ADDIE is an abbreviation for the words: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. The five components build on each other.

In the Analysis phase, it is important to identify training needs; the problem, the effects of the problem and the goals are determined. Based on this information, it is then necessary to clarify differences in the knowledge, understanding, passion and skills of the participants (also known as head / heart / hand).

During the Design phase, the content is put together, the overall structure is fixed and the detailed design – including learning content and exercises – of all modules is done.

In the Development phase, the learning material is developed and a pilot test is conducted.

In the Implementation phase, participants experience the training. It is important to get feedback during the pilot and implementation phase and inform the design team of the results.

The Evaluation process then shows if the training has the expected effect.

In the 1970s, the ADDIE model was subject to more and more criticism, as it was seen as being too rigid and systematic. The model was further developed and seen as a system, which led to its change from Instructional Design to Systematic Instructional Design.  The process became more dynamic and was improved through increased feedback loops to reduce defects in the design process.

Agile methods in Instructional Design

Many instructional design and development processes produce ineffective products, often accompanied by delayed timelines, difficult collaboration with subject matter experts and cost overruns. Agile instructional design applies Success Approximation Model (SAM) principles to training development, which results in meaningful and effective learning experiences that help the learner as well as meets the needs of stakeholders.

Contrary to ADDIE, which is a waterfall model, SAM is a cyclical model with three iterations of the known phases Analysis/Evaluation, Design and Development. Using this iterative approach all ideas and assumptions can be discussed, a prototype can be provided and tested, and feedback can be brought back much faster to the instructional design process.

LLAMA, the Lot Like Agile Methods Approach, is also an agile process, which uses the five phases of the ADDIE model. It starts with analysis, followed by iterations of design and development. Only then do implementation and evaluation take place. Based on the short cycles, feedback is easier to integrate, and it is by far more flexible if targets are moving.

Instructional design principles

Training aims at providing knowledge, influencing attitudes and transferring skills. The job is done when the skills are successfully applied in daily business.

The job of an instructional designer is to prepare everything so that the trainer can teach and the learner can learn easily.

Two of my favourite design principles:

  • Have the end in mind: whatever your design, each step, each bit of content, each exercise must have a purpose that is defined in the learning objectives.
  • Train from the back of the room: design so that learners do a lot of the work – the role of the training changes to being a learning enabler.

Instructional design training

People interested in instructional design can attend instructional design training in a classroom setting or virtually online. Attending training with a company like the Association of Talent Development (www.td.org) will not only enable you to a be an expert in adult learning, performance improvement, leadership development, e-learning, and the evolving trends in the field, it will also provide you with an instructional design certificate.


Instructional Design is the systematic analysis, planning, implementation and evaluation of earning environments and learning materials.

The model of most renown is ADDIE, a systematic waterfall model. There are still books – especially on the American market – that claim ADDIE to be the non plus ultra.

In agile times an instructional designer should be open for new approaches like LLAMA and SAM (especially for e-learning instructional design). Shorter development cycles and custom-fit designs will satisfy companies and participants.

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