What is Instructional Design?
Instructional design is a discipline that aims to design productive learning experiences. Good instructional design considers how specific groups of learners learn and what materials and methods would be the most effective in meeting their specific or unique learning needs.
This approach is research-backed and seeks to align learning objectives with business objectives so as to ensure that training offers a successful transfer of skills and knowledge and a clear ROI. Instructional design helps to provide your learners with access to high-quality training material that considers their strengths and weaknesses.
Instructional design is merely an approach to learning. It can involve any or all of the typical training delivery methods such as e-learning courses, videos, manuals or classroom training. Each of these methods has a range of potential components within them.
What makes instructional design a unique approach?
Where an inexperienced designer might jump into development of a learning experience without thought, the instructional designer will first focus on planning and will follow a clear structure that relates to how people learn, in order to execute the best solution. Instructional design follows a systematic approach which assesses learner needs before designing relevant and effective processes, developing materials and evaluating their success.
There are various models of instructional design which will be explored in this article with the intention of highlighting the best practices for learning and development professionals looking to incorporate instructional design into their development of training programs.
These models combine education, psychology, and communication strategies to create the most effective training processes for specific groups of learners/employees. The complexities of instructional design mean that it is best carried out by experts who possess a versatile skillset which allows them to create effective learning courses with specific goals and objectives.
What are the Key Components of Instructional Design?
There are a number of different models of instructional design. However, there are a few primary components at the core of the systematic practice.
- Analysing the gaps. In order to understand training needs, an instructional designer must be able to analyse performance so as to identify the skills and performance gaps in a team. This then allows them to identify clear goals and objectives that need to be met.
- Development of materials. Instructional design relies on successful analysis that allows effective materials and delivery methods to be identified and developed. The idea is that a successful analysis helps to identify the unique needs of a group so that the training can be best catered to them. This leads to more effective training.
- Measurement. Finally, some form of measurement is required to evaluate if the training was successful. Measurement methods can be a difficult concept when it comes to learning and development, as some training styles make it harder to determine success. However, instructional design will consider how best to evaluate the outcomes of the learning, which is crucial. This may be in the form of some form of assessment, or even meeting certain key performance indicators.
Instructional Design Models
The above generalises the process. We can explore some of the most popular instructional design models in more depth.
The ADDIE Model.
The ADDIE model is arguably the most popular instructional design model. It has existed since the 1970s and outlines 5 key stages of the training process.
Analysis: to understand the gaps in knowledge and skills.
Design: to make informed design decisions based on the analysis.
Develop: to bring the learning experience to life.
Implement: to distribute the training to the relevant audience.
Evaluate: to evaluate training effectiveness, then revise and update.
This basic approach to creating and delivering learning puts emphasis on analysing the specific needs of learners before creating any content so as to be able to cater to them at every stage of the process.
Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.
This pedagogical framework is based on the belief that learners must begin by learning basic, foundational knowledge about a given subject before they can progress to more complex types of thinking such as analysis and evaluation. The six original stages were considered to be:
For any given course or topic, learners must work through these levels in order and master one level before they can progress to the next.
The model has developed greatly over the years into the pyramid depicted below which emphasises the concept of creating new work.
This hierarchical structure allows a trainer to track the learner’s real depth of understanding effectively. If they start at the bottom, they can move up a level only after they have mastered the previous one.
Therefore, expertise requires learners to go through all six levels to ensure they are able to not only remember, but truly understand and then apply their newfound knowledge effectively.
Merrill’s Principle of Instruction.
MPI is a problem-centred strategy for instructional design.
This framework integrates five principles of learning.
Task-centred principle highlights how learning starts with real-world tasks or problems that your learners can relate to.
Activation principle suggests that activating your learner’s existing knowledge helps them to connect new information to existing skills.
Demonstration principle advises that your training courses must deliver information in various formats so that they leverage different regions of the brain. This helps to increase knowledge retention.
Application principle suggests that your learners must apply new knowledge on their own and learn from their mistakes to ensure effective knowledge retention.
Integration principle highlights how discussion, reflection and presentation of new knowledge help to integrate it into the real world.
MPI ultimately suggests that learning is promoted when instruction is problem-centric and activates existing knowledge. It must include demonstrations and opportunities for real-world application.
What are the best practice guidelines for instructional design?
With all of the above considered, we may wish to simplify instructional design down to a handful of key practices or ideas. When learning experiences are optional and elected by the learner, there is of course greater motivation to learn. Instructional design is often used for mandatory courses (such as compliance or security-related topics). This can be disengaging as the learning rarely equates to a pay rise, increased job responsibilities, or other tangible benefits.
The following offers the best practices for instructional design aimed at motivating and engaging learners…
- Having clear goals and objectives from the start.
- Ensuring the learners remain the focal point of the process throughout.
- Offer context that allows learners to see the real-world benefits of the learning.
- Offer control, i.e., allowing learners control over the pace of learning.
- Use statistics to reinforce consequences.
- Integrate training approaches such as gamification or story-based learning.
- Quality over Quantity.
- Prioritise measurable outcomes.
Ultimately, instructional design is aimed at offering high-quality, effective training that accounts for the specific needs of the learners at hand. Organisations can utilise instructional design to make learning accessible to their employees and shape the outcome to match their business needs.
If you want to develop the skills of the instructional designers in your organisation, checkout our Instructional Design Training Course Materials.