What is Instructional Design?

So What is Instructional Design and Why Should I Care?

So what is instructional design? Well…If you’re not a teacher, or involved in Education, you probably won’t care that much. But if you are…then read on!

Quite simply, Instructional Design is a method of “the systematic process for designing, developing and delivering instructional materials. It centers on improving learning through technology, and can involve related terms such as learning experience design, instructional systems design and educational technology” (Neese, 2016).

In everyday English…we design and develop our curriculum in a particular way so that we can create a learning event and in doing so, maximise the opportunity for learning. We do this by planning to use technology and other tools in a deliberate and scientific manner, so that we can absolutely know that learning has taken place. As you’ll see in the video, Merill et al. (1996) found that when we meet the external needs of students, the acquisition of knowledge was more efficient, effective and appealing.

Creating an effective learning experience is complicated. There are many widely implemented learning practices within the education system that are little more than myths. Unsurprisingly, most formal learning experiences are incredibly inefficient. This is because for some of them, they are based on what the teacher ‘feels’, rather than what they can quantify, measure or prove. Instructional design models provide us with a  framework to facilitate the obtaining of new knowledge, skills or attitudes. Instructional designers use these models to guide the creation of engaging learning activities based on the science of how people learn.

So How Does ADDIE Work?

ADDIE stands for:

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

ADDIE is a dynamic and flexible framework for building effective training and performance support tools.

  • Analysis: We establish instructional learning goals and objectives. Other topics can include the audience, delivery options, pedagogical considerations and the timeline.
  • Design: We document our strategy, apply instructional strategies, create storyboards, design the user interface and user experience, create prototypes and apply visual or graphic design.
  • Development: We create and assemble the content assets that are created in the design phase.
  • Implementation: We deliver the course and its equipment, such as multimedia needs and the website. We develop a process for training the facilitators and the learners.
  • Evaluation: We measure and assess whether the course provides the expected results.


In the analysis phase, the instructional problem is written out explicitly and clarified. The instructional goals and objectives are established and the learning environment and learner’s existing knowledge and skills are systematically identified. Below are some of the questions that can be addressed during the analysis phase:

  • Who is the audience and their characteristics?
  • Identify the new behavioural outcome?
  • What types of learning constraints exist?
  • What are the delivery options?
  • What are the online pedagogical considerations?
  • What is the timeline for project completion?


The design phase deals with learning objectives, assessment instruments, exercises, content, subject matter analysis, lesson planning and media selection. The design phase should be systematic and specific. Systematic means a logical, orderly method of identifying, developing and evaluating a set of planned strategies targeted for attaining the project’s goals. Specific means each element of the instructional design plan needs to be executed with attention to details.

These are steps used for the design phase:

  • Document the project’s instructional, visual and technical design strategy
  • Apply the instructional strategies according to the intended behavioural outcomes by domain (cognitive, affective, psychomotor).
  • Create the storyboards
  • Design the user interface and user experience
  • Create the prototype
  • Apply the visual design (graphic design)


The development phase is where the developers create and assemble the content assets that were created in the design phase. Programmers work to develop and/or integrate technologies. Testers perform debugging procedures. The project is reviewed and revised according to any feedback given.

In education, this will be the curriculum design phase. We collect our resources and develop the curriculum to ready it for delivery. In a more focused picture, we will create the scheme of work and the individual lesson plans. Most teachers may think out their lesson plans as they do them, but planning in advance, allows for greater clarity and scientific precision in delivery of the lesson material.


During the implementation phase, a procedure for training the facilitators and the learners is developed. The facilitators’ training should cover the course curriculum, learning outcomes, method of delivery, and testing procedures. Preparation of the learners include training them on new tools (software or hardware), student registration. This is also the phase where the project manager ensures that the books, hands on equipment, tools, CD-ROMs and software are in place, and that the learning application or Web site is functional.

In education, this is the teaching phase, we’ve designed, planned and resourced, now we deliver the curriculum. This is the good part where you can see all your ideas come to life. It’s time for your learning to go happen! You will deliver it to your learners on whatever delivery platform you have decided to use in the development phase, most likely sending it straight to learners’ LMS using tools such as SCORM. Remember to produce any accompanying documents (e.g. instructions, procedures) to ensure your learners or trainers get the most from the eLearning. With solid planning the IMPLEMENTATION should run smoothly. However, be ready for the unexpected; TEST, TEST, TEST to fix any bothersome bugs before the course goes live.


The evaluation phase consists of two parts: formative and summative. Formative evaluation is present in each stage of the ADDIE process. Summative evaluation consists of tests designed for domain specific criterion-related referenced items and providing opportunities for feedback from the users.

This part is just as important as any other stage. In teaching, we may instinctively know what worked but sometimes it’s easier to know what didn’t work! By going through this stage scientifically, we allow ourselves to really look everything we have achieved and assess whether a process should be used again, or if a resource didn’t fully achieve what we hoped it would. This allows us to refine the curriculum for the next iteration.

Some Other Links to Consider


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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