Instructional Design

In this section of the LearnAU website, you will find an abbreviated primer on instructional design. 

Instructional design is the science of creating detailed specifications for the development, implementations, evaluations, and maintenance of situations that facilitate the learning of both large and small units of subject matter at all levels of complexity. Instructional design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes development of instructional materials and activities; and tryout and evaluation of all instructional and learner activities (Brown & Green, 2015)

Although most models have more sophisticated procedures, for the sake of this website, we will break the process down into three steps:

Step 1: Needs Assessment And Assessing Learning Characteristics

Doing a needs assessment is an extremely important part of the instructional design process and it can be very complex, or it can be flexible enough to allow you to get just the information you need. Some might say that it's akin to performing a market survey when you're trying to market a product or service. In an educational context, it 's the tool you use to find out "the gap" between what your students already know and what you want them to know. Filling "the gap" with instruction that meets the needs of your learner is what ID is all about.

To perform a needs assessment, you can use questionnaires, surveys, interviews, observation or any sort of tool to collect data about your learners. Questions can be open-ended and broad or specific, asking the learner to rate something. You then use the data you collect to assist you in the rest of the ID process.

Assessing Learner Characteristics is another important "front-end" part of the ID process that can go hand-in-hand with the needs assessment. This part helps you assess who your learners are and at what level on the knowledge spectrum they exist in the specific area of instruction. It's important that you don't teach over the heads of beginners or bore advanced students with information gauged at novices. It also tells you the participant's preferred method of learning and the best delivery method to meet that style. Similar to the needs assessment, to get this information, you can use questionnaires, surveys, interviews or other information gathering techniques.

The data collection methods should help you discover the learners preferences for learning, whether it be through hands-on, team oriented activities or through self-paced individual learning assignment. You also could discover what the base line knowledge that the learners need to bring to the educational program. With any educational program, you have to have a starting off point, and learners are best prepared when they know that level.

Knowing your audience is important. When delivering educational programs, it is essential to meets the needs of your participants and performing a needs assessment and assessing learner characteristics can create on a successful program.

Step 2: Instructional Goals And Content Analysis

For many educators, it seems to make sense to make an inventory of the subject matter you're going to teach before doing anything else. And it is the place to start -- after you've performed your needs assessment and assessed your learner characteristics (refer to previous On Target Issue). Knowing your learners and their instructional needs is essential in selecting and molding your content.

The culmination of the needs assessment and learner assessment helps you arrive at the instructional goal. This instructional goal is the ultimate aim of the instruction. It can be broad and encompassing like learning how to play the flute, mastering basic algebra, performing brain surgery (yes, in this case, it is brain surgery), etc. You then move into more specific categorizing.

Reviewing and categorizing the information you're going to cover in your educational effort is called a content analysis. It is the process of identifying the essential information that learners have to translate into knowledge, skills and attitudes and making learning more easily managed by the learners.

The first step in the content analysis is to take the whole of the subject matter and then to break it down into manageable chunks of information. Ultimately, these chunks of information will be developed into some form of delivery (lecture, demonstration, videotape, etc.) and these will be used to develop the goals for the students to meet when they achieve the mission of the instruction.

An example of this process might be teaching someone to use a word processor. You might start off with an overview of word processing and then break the process into smaller chunks. These smaller, more manageable tasks could be opening a new document, saving a document, underlining text, etc. This sort of approach not only makes it easier for the learner, but makes the content easier to organize.

In review, the instructional goal is the ultimate goal of the educational effort. You want to always keep this in mind as you design your instruction, using it as a guidepost. Then perform a content analysis, taking the larger goal and breaking it down into more digestible chunks for the learner.

Step 3: Developing Performance Objectives and Creating Learning Materials

Performance Objectives, sometimes called behavioral objectives, are the pivotal blocks of the instructional design process. Both these terms sound somewhat technical, but, when you distill them down, they are really only a description of what the learner is suppose to be able to do when they have completed the instruction.

A simple and broad example would be:

Given a tennis racket and after viewing a demonstration of how to serve a tennis ball, the learner will serve balls into the serving area three times out of four.

A performance objective can be broken down into three different sections -- activity, behavior and condition or more simply put, the A, B, C method. In the example above, the "Given a tennis racket and after viewing a demonstration" is the activity, "the learner will serve the ball" is the behavior, and "into the serving area three out of four times" is the condition by which the skill has to be measured.

Your content should be broken down to develop the performance objectives. From the example above, we're only looking at the serving portion of the game of tennis. Serving is still a broad portion of the game and something that would probably broken down into more specific components (e.g. gripping the racket, tossing the ball into the air to be served, etc.).

The area of creating your instructional materials can be broken down into two distinct areas; the instructional strategy and material development.

The instructional strategy is the procedure by which you will implement your instruction. It has five major components:

  1. Preinstructional activities - motivating the learners and informing of what is to be covered
  2. Information presentation - lecture, demonstration, videotape, etc.
  3. Student Participation - practice and feedback
  4. Testing - measuring their ability to meet the objectives
  5. Follow-up - evaluating for success or remediation and enrichment

The materials development is when the rubber hits the road and decisions must be made about the delivery method. Should you use a lecture, a demonstration, guided practice, etc.? These should fit the learners and the topic to be taught. If the instruction is one-on-one, self-paced learning, maybe a CD/DVD would be appropriate. If you have to delivery to a geographically dispersed audience, then a satellite videoconference might be best.

In some cases, "reinventing the wheel" may not be necessary. Perhaps some materials have already been developed that can be used or adapted. In other situations, materials will have to be generated from scratch.

At the culmination and throughout the entire instructional design process, you should be evaluating the success of the process and adjust, modify and change methods to ensure success.