My Thoughts and Ideas about Instructional Design

When designing instruction of any kind, I have a two guiding conventions:

Find a need; and fill it.

The beginning and ending of any course of instruction is dependent upon clear learning goals/objectives.  Everything flows from the learning goals/objectives.

Instructional Design Defined

Instructional Design is...

the process by which instruction is improved through the analysis of learning needs and systematic development of learning materials.

To me, instructional design is about bringing learning goals/objectives, various standards, learning theory, needs of the learner, instructional methods, visual design and assessment together in an organized manner.  To me, instructional design is about organizing detail.  Therefore, models (which help bring meaning and organization to complex systems) for instructional design are logical tools for the eLearning professional to utilize.

Common Instructional Design Models

As you might imagine, there are many instructional design models available for use. A few examples include:

My instructional design practice, along with the instructional design models I use, is significantly impacted by my background in Training and Development and the philosophies and systems of instructional design emphasized at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  Generally, I would characterize myself as an instructional designer who practices a form of Criterion Referenced Instructional Design.  Instructional design models I have used consistently include the ADDIE Model and the ASSURE Model.

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A Demonstration of the Instructional Design Process using the ADDIE Model

As I mentioned earlier, models help bring meaning and organization for instructional design.  Therefore I will use the ADDIE model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate) as an organizational structure to demonstrate my instructional design process.


During the analysis phase, I am conducting what is often known as a Front End Analysis.  I am interested in getting a clearer idea of:

  • Stakeholder Needs / Problems
  • Standards
  • Learner Characteristics
  • Learning Goals/Objectives

Stakeholder Needs / Problems

Somebody somewhere wants my students to be able to do something or know something or have a particular set of abilities (KSA’s). It is very important for me as an instructional designer to identify the foundational why/what for's that drive the creation of any course of learning. In my practice, my stakeholders are often I often the program directors and advisory committees for degree programs.  Subject matter experts (on campus & off-campus) also contribute to this portion of the instructional design process.


Standards abound in the world of education and training (eLearning)! Some standards focus on content while other standards focus on delivery of content. Standards I draw on for delivery of content and instructional design for eLearning include:

  • International Association for K-12 Online Learning iNACOL: The mission of iNACOL is [to] ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success.
  • National Educational Technology Standards NETS Standards: One of the oldest standards organizations related to the use of computing and Internet technologies. Many of today's standards, reflective of eLearning and computer literacy, were influenced by the NETS standards.
  • Quality Matters (Inter-Institutional Quality Assurance in Online Learning): Quality Matters (QM) is a faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online courses and online components. The rubric this organization provides is what I used to assess the quality of my online course design.
  • The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education NCATE: NCATE is the [education] profession’s mechanism to help establish high quality teacher preparation. Through the process of professional accreditation of schools, colleges and departments of education, NCATE works to make a difference in the quality of teaching and teacher preparation today, tomorrow, and for the next century. This standards organization makes recommendations based on eLearning and general computing technology requirements for educators.

Learner Characteristics

As complex as standards may seem, the analysis of learner characteristics is probably the most complex element of the instructional design process.  In short, the elements to analyze the learner can include:

  • Age
  • Educational Background
  • Current Job or Position
  • Cultural Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Entry-Level Competencies
  • Learning Styles
  • Motivation
  • Physiological Factors

Learning Goals/Objectives

This point of the analysis is where all that is known from the previous analysis steps is boiled down into learning goals/objectives. Imagine if you will the beginning of the analysis portion of instructional design as the wide end of a funnel.  When learning goals/objectives are finally formed, this is most like the narrow end of the funnel. (See the Funnel).

Big picture ideas are boiled down to specific outcomes (learning goals/objectives).

When I consider all the elements of the analysis and create learning goals/objectives, I use Bloom’s Taxonomy to make certain that I am writing objectives / goals that are appropriately challenging for the particular audience of students.

I believe it very important to write very specific learning goals/objectives.  An analogy that explains this would be shooting at a target with a rifle (specific) versus a shotgun (broad).  This is important because all the remaining steps of the ADDIE instructional design depend on specific learning goals/objectives.  In other words...

Everything in the instructional design process begins and ends with specific learning goals/objectives.

An example that supports my philosophy and practice with Bloom’s Taxonomy and learning goals/objectives can be seen with The Foundations of Design (a portion of my Final Project for Assessment in E-Learning)

Once the learning goals/objectives are written, the next step in my (and the ADDIE Process) instructional design process is ‘design.’


The design phase is all about planning!  In the analysis step of the ADDIE model, the learning goals/objectives were determined.  The design phase uses the learning goals/objectives as a foundation in the development of the course blueprint.  I use the terminology blueprint because it really applies! I am creating a blueprint or model that will guide me as I proceed through the development phase (coming next) of the ADDIE instructional design process.

A few guiding questions I would ask to guide my design include:

How should content be organized?

A chunk at a time…  I believe that chunking content and pieces that are easy to use for the student is most appropriate.  My online courses utilize modules. Click HERE to see a list of modules. Click HERE to see a specific module.

How should ideas be presented to learners?

The simple answer is whatever way gets the job done (reflective of the learning goals/objectives). I generally use a mix of mediums to communicate ideas to learners.  Whether it is an online text reading, online lecture or a prompt for the learners to research and discover on their own.  Dale's Cone of Experience is a model I will often use to help guide my planning when it comes to presenting ideas to my students.

What types of activities and exercises will best help learners?

The answer to this question is ALWAYS dependent on the learning goals/objectives. Usually, the more complex the learning goals/objectives (higher levels of thinking based on Bloom's taxonomy); more complex and challenging activities and exercises.

How should the course measure learners' accomplishments?

Assessment of learning is something that can be designed immediately.  As matter of fact, I believe it's very important to have assessment in mind soon after the creation of learning goals/objectives.  A well-written learning goals/objectives will often dictate what the most appropriate assessment should be.  See the following example (HERE). This example is called 'The Foundations'. It is a good example of designing for assessment.

Examples of Design Documents

The following are examples of instructional design documents I've created. I have provided a wide variety that demonstrates my experience in creating design blueprints.


During the development phase, the blue print from the design phase is used to create the tangible elements of the course. As the design document is complex and multifaceted, so is the development process of any course. Creating a course shell and testing are development steps I practice when creating an online course.

Create a Course Shell

A course shell is a common format or template that can be used for any online course.  Often, the course management system (CMS) will dictate how a course shell may look and how it may function. 

  • I usually start a course shell at the level of file management.  See example HERE
  • Of course, the files need to be organized into ‘chunks’ through modules (Click HERE). 
  • The Big Yellow Box further organization materials (Click HERE).
  • I also set up group functions in the course shell.  This could include project groups and discussion groups. Example HERE and HERE.
  • Discussion framework is another element of the course shell.  Click HERE for a brief video example.
  • Checklists are important tools for online learners to management their own activity.  Click HERE for example.
  • Grade book set up is also done in the development phrase.  See example HERE and HERE.

Testing the Course

Testing during the development phase of instructional design occurs at the levels of content, functionality and usability.

  • ContentIs everything correct?  This question tests the content of the course.  Credibility of course information and materials (website's) is part of this testing.  Also, assuring that borrowed materials are properly used related to copyright law and fair use. Talking to or researching the content via subject matter experts is also a way to test content of my online courses.
  • FunctionalityDoes it do what is supposed to do? This is mostly technical testing.  If I create a series of online lectures, create an automatically updating grade book or providing web conference rooms for workgroups, I want to make sure everything works as designed and developed.
  • UsabilityIs it easy to use?  This is the frosting on the cake to my development process.  Testing usability can occur in a number of ways.  First, I will try the course.  Second, I will ask my colleagues to try components of the course.  Finally, I will ask students to try out components of a new course. 

All the information from testing the course is used to do last revisions of course before the course is implemented.


The implementation phase is go time!  All the planning, development and testing finally meet up with the time when the intended student audience gets their opportunity to learn in the eLearning environment. When implementing an online course, the following items should be considered.

  • Establish the timetable for the course rollout.  This is important so both the student and the eLearning professional can plan their schedules.
  • Market the course.  If you don’t advertise your course, you won’t have any students. Nothing too complex about this... 
  • Communicate with registered learners before the start of the course. Click HERE and HERE for example communications.
  • Arrange for the course materials, if any, to be shipped or made available to the student.
  • Ensure all students will have internet-ready computers and other course specific technologies. I use a survey in the course orientation to address this item.
  • Provide a course orientation.  This is crucial to set clear expectations BEFORE any work is done in the eLearning environment.  Click HERE for an example of orientation tasks.  Click HERE for additional examples of the orientation process.
  • Establish student project groups. MOST of my online courses use student project groups.  I use a structured process that brings individuals together.  First, the students complete a personality profiler.  Next, each student shared the results of the profiler in a group interview discussion.  After a group of 3 to 5 has been established, each group creates a final evaluation tool that allows the individuals to evaluation the performance of their group mates.  This evaluation both clarifies expectations and creates accountability.  The final group evaluation process is binding.  Individual grades for group projects are determined by the members of the group. (No free lunches). Students also view the online lecture explaining how the group evaluation process works along with an online lecture called ‘Surviving / Thriving in Virtual Groups.’
  • Finally, the group is provided their own wiki, web conference room and a group discussion room for project development and communication.

The course is now on!  But, it eventually ends.  The last (but not least) phase of the ADDIE instructional design model is Evaluation.

Evaluation (Assessment)

The evaluation (or assessment) phase is about learning and improvement for the student, the instructor and the elements of online course.  Some questions that may be pertinent here include:

  • Did the student demonstrate the knowledge skills and abilities indicated by the learning goals/objectives? This question must be asked first; ALWAYS!!  This question addresses both student learning, course design issues and my performance as an elearning professional more so than any other assessment data.
  • How did students feel about the overall experience of the course? Like, dislike or otherwise indicated.
  • What elements of the course seemed to work well?  Not work well?
  • How did I perform as the facilitator of the course and student interactions?
  • What areas of the course need to be improved?
  • Are the learning goals/objectives still relevant?

Answers to these general questions and revisions that follow assure an ongoing continuous improvement practice; a dynamic and fluid learning environment.  By no means is this an easy phase.  It takes a good deal of time and effort to do a thorough assessment of student learning and effectiveness of course design.  Assessment is where I spend most of my time as an eLearning professional.

Assessment of Student Learning

Back in the foundations section of my ePortfolio, I included this statement in my eLearning philosophy:

I believe that the learning of required knowledge and skills in any course will more often occur when students are given multiple iterations along with substantial, constructive instructor feedback.

In other words, I practice a form of formative assessment.

The Process of Assessment

My process of formative assessment begins with clear expectations of learning goals/objectives.  Then the communication of activities to meet the learning goals/objectives needs to be clear. Iterations of assessment then follow; along with multiple opportunities for students to “get it right”.  Of course, the time to learn from multiple attempts eventually runs out.  Summative assessment and final grading eventually occur. 

Assessment Example

An example of my assessment of student learning process can be found HERE.  At the bottom of this wiki page, you can see the progression through a substantial group project (Group Research Project).  At each step of the project, initial assessment feedback is provided by me.  In some instances, student groups also receive revision feedback (Initial Assessment of Group Research Project) .  Eventually, final assessment feedback is given (Final Assessment of Group Research Project).

Technologies Used for Assessment of Student Learning

As I mentioned earlier, I spend the majority of my time as an eLearning professional engaged in assessment of student learning.  I depend on various technologies to create efficiencies while at the same time being very effective.  A few of the technologies I use include:

  • Jing.  This is a free screen shot capture technology.  It allows me to show my students their work in comparison to assignment criteria.  It also provides audio narrative capabilities.
  • Voice Recognition (Dragon NaturallySpeaking).  Talk-to- type has been a huge efficiency for me! I very rarely use the keyboard on my computer anymore.  My ability to provide rich text feedback has been enhanced.  Not to mention, I am not hurting my hands anymore.
  • Copy and Paste.  An oldie but a goodie!  I will often use copy and paste to give feedback for asynchronous discussions (view example HERE).
  • Customized PDF Assessment Document. Along with the multimedia feedback I provide, I also provide PDF's that keep the score (so to speak) of the assessment process.  Click HERE for an example.

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