Instructional Design – Which is the Correct Learning Model?

By 30/04/2018 December 1st, 2019 Education, Pedagogy

Introductions and Recaps

In the first post of the series, we looked at what Instructional Design is and specifically, what the ADDIE learning model was, and what was involved in each stage. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here.

ADDIE stands for:

  • A – Analysis
  • D – Design
  • D – Development
  • I – Implementation
  • E – Evaluation

Using this learning model, we can put together a process in which we plan more specifically for the user and their needs. Working through each phase sequentially, we create an environment in which the learner will understand that learning is taking place as a defined, intended and ordered event. Inbuilt to the methodology is Evaluation, which gives us a clearly defined space for review and improvement, so that in the next iteration of the curriculum, the next cohort of students will be able to receive an improved version of what was initially planned. This could be an aspect of the curriculum that didn’t work as well as you hoped, or an update to new content – thinking of the IT world in which I teach, a new software version, update or software release can result in new content being required.

In this post, we’re going to be looking at the next part in the series in Instructional Design. That is, the different methodologies of Instructional Design. We’ll be looking at seven different Instructional Design methodologies and look at how they can help with curriculum planning, as well as be more helpful than simply using the ADDIE model, which I talked about in the first post of the series (here).

Learning Models

Like the saying, “there is more than one way to skin an animal” (although I’m not entirely sure as to what those variations would look like – neither do I want to know, it’s idle curiosity, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate), there is more than one way to plan a curriculum – even within Instructional Learning Design, there is more than one way to practically implement the principles and core concepts while remaining true to their spirit.

In this post, I’ll be looking at seven different Instructional Design methodologies that I will explore briefly and show how they differ from one another, as well as what they benefits they offer to the learner and the educator.

Learning Model #1: Situated Cognition Theory

The Situated Cognition Theory is based upon principles that are based in the areas of anthropology, sociology and cognitive sciences. Its central focus is that the total knowledge that a learner acquires is situated within activities that are socially, physically or culturally-based.

The Situation Cognition Theory mainly supports, that the acquisition of knowledge cannot be separated from the context in which this knowledge is collected. Therefore, a learner must grasp the concepts and skills that are being taught in the context in which they will eventually be utilised. As a result, instructors who are trying to apply this theory in their classes are encouraged to create an environment of full immersion, wherein students must be able to learn skills, as well as new ideas and behaviors that are taught in the context in which they will be used at a later time.

When we apply this to eLearning course design, the Situated Cognition Theory is directly related to the way that eLearning content is presented to the audience. This would follow that all type of new information that learners are exposed to, should be given within a specific context. In practice, from an instructional designer’s point of view, this can be translated as the integration of case studies and interactive branching scenarios and simulations of real life contexts in which the particular piece of knowledge would apply. All eLearning activities should make it explicit to the learners the connection of what is actually presented as part of the eLearning content with its practical application in real life.

Learning Model #2: Sociocultural Learning Theory

learning model - social development theory

The Sociocultural Learning Theory (SLT) is based upon the idea that a learner’s environment plays a pivotal role in his/her learning development. According to Vygotsky the learning process actually involves three key themes: culture, language, and the “zone of proximal development”.

The 3 Key Themes of The Sociocultural Learning Model

1. Social Interactions

Like Piaget, Vygotsky believed that young children are curious and will be actively involved in their own learning and the discovery and development of new understandings/schema.  However, Vygotsky placed greater emphasis on these social contributions to the process of development. According to Vygotsky (1978), much of the important learning by the child will occur through social interaction with a skillful tutor. The tutor will model behaviours and/or provide verbal instructions for the child. Vygotsky refers to this as cooperative or collaborative dialogue. The child seeks to understand the actions or instructions provided by the tutor (often the parent or teacher), internalises the information and then uses it to guide or regulate their own performance.

2. The More Knowledgeable Other

The more knowledgeable other (MKO) can be somewhat self-explanatory; it will refer to someone who has a deeper understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, concept or subject area. Although the implication is that the MKO is usually a teacher or an older adult, this is not necessarily the case. In many instances, a child’s peers or an adult’s children may be the individuals with more knowledge or experience. In fact, the MKO need now not be a person at all. With the advent of eLearning, many companies, are supporting employees in their learning process, by using electronic learning systems. Online educational settings can facilitate and guide students through the learning process at their own pace – removing a potential difficulty in keeping pace with their peers in a class setting. The key to MKOs is that they must have (or be programmed with) more knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner does.

3. Zone of Proximal Development

This is the ‘gap’ or distance that exists between a learner’s potential educational development, which is determined through problem solving activities, and the development that actually takes place (reality). This is assessed when learners are asked to engage in problem solving tasks under the supervision of an instructor. Their responses and capabilities are then compared to that of their peers. This assessment is based upon a spectrum, wherein what learners are capable of doing without any assistance is at one end of the spectrum, and what they can do while being assisted is at the other. In essence, the zone allows instructors to learn what a student is not yet capable of doing or has not yet learned, but can be taught with the proper instruction.

Applying Sociocultural Learning Theory

SLT also takes into account how learners are impacted by their peers, and how social scenarios impact their ability to acquire new information. As such, instructors who apply SLT in their instructional design can also become aware of how learners may directly impact one another, as well as how cultural “norms” can influence a learner’s learning behavior. They can then create an eLearning course plan that integrates the principles of SLT, in order to enhance the effectiveness of the curriculum.

Learning Model #3: The ADDIE Model

The ADDIE learning model was first designed in the 1975 by the U.S. Army by the Centre for Educational Technology at Florida State University. It is comprised of the five factors (Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate), which helps Instructional Design professionals tackle eLearning projects in stages. ADDIE tackles eLearning development rather than learning behaviours. It allows Instructional Designers to delve into the needs, learning objectives, and desired outcomes so as to create more personalised eLearning resources.

Your can read a more detailed explanation of ADDIE from a previous post here.

learning-model addie

Learning Model #4: Merrill's Principles Of Instruction

Merill’s learning model is based on the different ways that learning can be facilitated. Each phase in the learning process has an important role to play. There are four core phases of learning:

  1. Demonstration
  2. Application
  3. Activation of previous knowledge,
  4. Integration into real world challenges
  5. Engagement

Merill’s approach is task-centered. This theory also involves ‘scaffolding’, whereby learners are gradually introduced to more complex ideas and concepts as the lesson progresses.

Although Merrill’s Principles Of Instruction shares some similarities with other problem-based approaches, there is a key distinction. Merrill’s Principles of Instruction include more demonstrations and support in order to gradually build knowledge and experience. For example, online learners are able to receive the help and feedback they need until they develop their skills and expand their knowledge base sufficiently.

It’s important to note that the term ‘problem’ has a variety of meanings, depending on who you ask. Merrill suggests that it covers a diverse range of activities and applications. However, it must be a complete task that involves the ‘big picture’, rather than individual steps or ideas related to the problem. Furthermore, the task must focus on a real-world challenge or situation in order to be truly meaningful and effective.

Learning Model #5: Individualised Instruction

As the name suggests, the Individualised Instruction Theory revolves around the individual and how they learn. If you are learning something and catch on quickly, you can keep going. However, if you are not connecting with the material, the principles of this theory allows you to go at your own pace. It also accounts for learners who respond better to different learning preferences.

Individualised Instruction focuses on 4 key principles:

  • Learners should be capable of completing the work autonomously. As a result, they have the opportunity to focus on their own strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Each lesson should be followed by an assessment to measure individual learner progress.
  • Written learning materials are preferred over presentations.
  • Facilitators support learners and add a level of social interactivity to the experience.

Learning Model #6: Bloom’s Taxonomy Of Learning Objectives

learning-model blooms taxonomy

This well-known learning model was first developed in the 1950s. While some modern theories focus on the pure memorisation of facts, Bloom focused on the cognitive domain. This portion of the theory moves up a hierarchy of processes starting at the most basic. These specific processes include:

  • Remembering,
  • Understanding,
  • Applying,
  • Analyzing,
  • Evaluating,
  • Creating.

The committee which was developed by Bloom also stipulated that there are 3 essential domains to consider: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.

Learning Model #7: The SAM Model

This Instructional Design learning model allows the Instructional Designer to make changes by performing small steps and multiple iterations. You begin with the short Preparation Phase, where information on the eLearning project is gathered. Then you move to the Iterative Design and Iterative Development phase where the design is created and reviewed.

This process allows for more flexible designs with rapid changes as the eLearning project moves forward because of the iterative nature of its design.

How To Find The Right Learning Model Theory For Your eLearning Course Design

Stating the obvious, the learning model you choose should align with the needs of your online learners and your client’s learning objectives. The subject matter also plays a pivotal role in the process. For example, an eLearning project that calls for problem-based training may require Merrill’s Principles of Instruction. Individualised Instruction, on the other hand, is great for personalised learning paths that rely on self-paced studies. The key is to identify your client’s expectations and needs beforehand so that you can narrow down the list of potential Instructional Design theories, then determine which one supports the learning behaviors and desired outcomes.

Learning about the principles behind the work that you do is important in any field, but especially in Instructional Design. Learning as much as you can about Instructional Design will help your career development in several ways. Your clients or students will appreciate your comprehensive knowledge of the field. When clients ask questions or need guidance, you will be able to support your recommendations by citing specific Instructional Design theories. Additionally, you will develop better work products utilising the theories you have learned. While you will not be able to implement every Instructional Design theory on every learning project, you can take pieces from each one. Research as much as you can now – it will go a long way to helping your Instructional Design career.


Michael Johnston

About Michael Johnston

I'm a Lecturer in Computing and the Foundation Degree Director in Computing for the Northern Regional College in Northern Ireland. My research interests in the areas of technology enhanced learning, how we interact with technology, blended learning and professional development. Michael currently specialises in the computing areas of web development technologies, cyber security, software development and IoT. Michael has worked in a range of different roles in IT-from teaching roles to running his own web design company, Michael is equally at home working with theory, as he is conducting research, or building a bespoke IT solution. Michael is currently studying a PhD in Cyberpsychology.

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