Instructional Design Research Paper

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1. Instructional Design And Its Relation To Instructional Technology

The term instructional design (ID) refers to the systematic and professional provisions for education or training. Considerations regarding planned instruction have been made at least as long as there have been institutions for instruction and training. The term ID itself appeared for the first time in the USA in the midst of the twentieth century.

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ID and instructional (or educational) technology (IT) are related terms with an overlapping meaning. Both expressions are used in a broad as well as in a narrow sense. The term ID is used in a variety of ways with different ranges of meaning:

(a) The narrowest variant concerns only the planning of an instructional treatment.

(b) The somewhat wider usage concerns both planning and constructing of what is needed for a certain instructional solution.

(c) The even wider interpretation adds the implementation of the instructional system or program in a particular context and the evaluation of outcomes. ID is most often used with this interpretation and sometimes referred to as IT with the same broad meaning.

(d) The widest interpretation adds to the previous meaning by including maintenance and management of the instructional system or program over a period of time; this includes conducting ongoing evaluations, planning, and developing upgrades as well as managing all of these processes organizationally and economically. This broad interpretation of ID corresponds with the most comprehensive definition of IT.

ID, under any of these interpretations, can refer to these education or training processes with regard to varying degrees of scope (unit of instruction, lesson, curriculum, program, system, etc.). At the macrolevel, ID concerns instruction of whole curricula, programs, or systems that will cover months or years of instruction; this is called large-scale ID, or, alternatively, curriculum construction. At the middle or mesolevel, the object of ID are typical lessons that cover hours or weeks of instruction. The microlevel concerns a period of minutes, or short parts of a lesson, such as giving exercises or demonstrating illustrative examples. The most frequent use of theories and models of ID refers to the mesolevel. The limits between the three levels are fluid and not always clearly defined.

Some authors tend to reduce ID to the mere planning of instruction or to restrict IT to hardware and software, but these narrower interpretations do not fulfill the conditions of providing efficient instruction, because efficient instruction has to take into account all relevant factors (e.g., learners, environmental factors) in a systematic and systemic approach.

2. A Short Historical Overview To Characterize Relevant Aspects Of ID

In the 1930s educational scholars in the USA began to investigate questions like: will students who went through a certain, alternative high school curriculum be successful at the following college? These instructional scientists asked how to state instructional objectives more precisely by taking into account the learner’s behavior. Furthermore, it was important to check if the alternative curriculum was implemented in the planned way. For this, the instructional goals were used as a benchmark and critical point of reference. Reaching the intended instructional goals was improved by continual revision of the course during the development and test phase. This cyclic process of goal-oriented checking and improvement of lessons and courses today is called ‘formative evaluation.’

The development of ID as a special field of research and development was mainly stimulated by two goals to be achieved:

(a) training as many learners as possible within a short period of time; and

(b) using the most efficient available instructional means (e.g., media, such as written instructions and demonstration films, as well as practical exercises).

The Second World War introduced enormous training problems for the military in the USA. In order to address military training problems, the ‘Division of Visual Aids for War Training’ within the ‘US Office of Education’ produced hundreds of films and training handbooks. Military training became an example for the successful connection of research and development with professional practice. It started to prove to be useful that teams for instructional development should include instructional designers as well as subject matter experts and a ‘producer.’ From that time on, the necessity for professional ID standards and professional ID practitioners has been widely recognized.

In the middle of the twentieth century when learning psychology reached its peak, especially in North America, there was a systematic effort to apply learning research results to practice, including the design of instruction. Thus, important scholars of learning psychology implemented basic learning principles (operant conditioning in particular) in programmed instruction and teaching machines.

In 1965 Gagne published the influential book The Conditions of Learning which originally had a behavioristic orientation; later editions provided a cognitive orientation (Gagne 1985). Gagne’s new procedure, again based on a theory of learning proposed a systematic choice concerning instructional methods corresponding to a classification of instructional goals by hierarchically ordered kinds of learning. The procedures for evaluation and control of learning success were improved in the 1960s; the term ‘criterion referenced measurement’ emerged characterizing goal oriented tests. One important addition to ID was to give precedence to ‘needs assessment’ as a necessary precursor to other already existing steps of the ID process. Therefore, ID models should not simply start with the establishment of instructional goals but with an analysis of which instructional goals are useful for anticipated audiences in a particular environment. In the middle of the 1970s a major ‘watershed’ of professionalism of instructional designers was reached in the USA. For the first time, instructional designers became responsible contract partners for course development ahead of subject matter experts. In Europe this development was delayed.

The turn from behavioral to cognitive psychology produced new approaches in learning theory. In the time of behaviorism the parsimonious theory of operant conditioning encouraged the opinion that the direct transferability of learning theories found in basic research is fairly problem-free. Later, however, criticism of these basic research theories—also of cognitive approaches—included their practical applicability as well as their theoretical coherence. As a reaction, approaches of learning psychology especially created for instructional purpose were developed. In the 1990s this type of learning theory is called ‘educational learning theory’ (ELT). Steiner (1997) proposed such an ELT by adding European views of learning.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, learning psychology tended to investigate more and more complex instructional matters. The contributions of modern instructional psychology become increasingly diverse. During the last 25 years, approaches of ID have tried to take more systems thinking to ID (cf. Briggs 1977, Seels and Richey 1994, Jonnassen 1996, Dijkstra et al. 1997, and recently Richey and Fields 2000). This concerns

(a) the view on instructional systems, subsystems and its relationships to the environment;

(b) the development of highly systematic, often linear or branched design procedures; and

(c) more emphasis on systemic approaches of ID, which takes the inter-relation of all relevant factors of instruction into account.

Finally, more attention is given to the philosophical and theoretical grounding of ID principles (cf. Reigeluth 1999, Tennyson et al. 1997).

3. Present Applications Of ID

The systematic application of ID generally contains the following subtasks:

(a) performing a needs assessment,

(b) identifying instructional goals,

(c) analyzing goals into subgoals and identifying prerequisite knowledge,

(d) defining what the learners have to learn to bridge the gap between prerequisite knowledge and subgoals,

(e) developing criterion-referenced tests and/or other assessment measures,

(f) developing instructional strategies,

(g) developing materials and preparing media,

(h) conducting formative evaluation, and

(i) conducting summative evaluation (a final evaluation of the whole instructional procedure).

It should be noted that these are typical tasks found in many current ID models; variations among professional practitioner models still exist. Moreover, from a systemic point of view these subtasks are inter- related and are usually not performed in a linear way or only a single time; rather, the practice of ID is interactive and responsive to individual situations (cf. Richey and Fields 2000).

ID approaches can be applied in all fields and situations that deal with education and training, including school settings, technical training, professional training, collaboration with human resource development professionals in industrial and professional organizations, higher education and university settings, as well as in distance and life-long learning situations—using all old and new kinds of media and telecommunications. In short, ID has matured into a broad profession with many connections to other professions and activities, including personnel and project management.

It is especially noteworthy that the practice of ID often involves a variety of experts, such as text designers, media designers, software programmers, subject matter experts, and learning specialists. Such a team is obviously necessary when the development involves technology-based learning or instruction since the required skills and expertise are likely to be distributed among a variety of specialists. When ID teams are involved, it is critical to have recognized standards and an established methodology.

4. Challenges For Future Theory, Research, And Development

Important challenges in the future for theory, research, and development are:

(a) Dealing with integrated sets of learning goals for teaching complex skills and higher-order skills. Such transferable skills become more and more important in our society (cf. van Merrienboer 1997).

(b) An expert can broaden his or her competency by integrating the individual knowledge and the resources of getting, storing, and processing information externally by computerized tools. To take this into account we need to develop more powerful, integrated techniques for instructional and task analysis.

(c) Fostering the systematic design of collaborative learning/team training, of new technological developments in distance education, in particular webbased instruction.

(d) We need models for designing media mixes instead of models for media selection.

(e) Dealing with highly heterogeneous target groups (differences in prior knowledge and skills, cultural diversity, older learners) and target groups with low motivation (e.g., ‘teens at risk’).

(f) Further development of effective forms of assessment. The need for assessment of efficient ID solutions is often underestimated.

(g) Automating ID processes using techniques of artificial intelligence. This can help to lower the cost, e.g., by generating tasks for a given item format and content, or to produce automatically instructional materials for a variety of products of the same type.

(h) Last but not least, a better theoretical foundation for ID, which takes into account the whole problem of providing useful knowledge for human beings in our world of nearly unlimited possibilities for getting immense information from everywhere.


  1. Briggs L (ed.) 1977 Instructional Design: Principles and Applications. Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
  2. Dijkstra S, Seel N, Schott F, Tennyson R D (eds.) 1997 Instructional Design—International Perspectives. Vol. 2: Solving Instructional Design Problems. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ
  3. Gagne R M 1985 The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction, 4th edn. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York
  4. Jonnassen D H (ed.) 1996 Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. Macmillan, New York
  5. Reigeluth C M (ed.) 1999 Instructional-Design Theories and Models. Vol. II: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ
  6. Richey R C, Fields D F (eds.) 2000 Instructional Design Competencies: The Standards, 3rd edn. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology & The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance & Instruction, Syracuse, NY
  7. Seels B, Richey R 1994 Instructional Technology: The Definitions and Domains of the Field. Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Washington, DC
  8. Steiner G 1997 Educational learning theory. In: Tennyson R D, Schott F, Seel N, Dijkstra S (eds.) 1997 Instructional Design—International Perspectives. Vol. 1: Theory, Research, and Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ
  9. Tennyson R D, Schott F, Seel N, Dijkstra S (eds.) 1997 Instructional Design—International Perspectives. Vol. 1: Theory, Research, and Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ
  10. van Merrienboer J J G 1997 Training Complex Cognitive Skills: A Four-Component Instructional Design Model for Technical Training. Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
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