Lesson #2: Introduction to Instructional Design

How to Create E-Learning Courses

Lesson #2 – Introduction to Instructional Design

By Michael D. Lawrence


January 8, 2013


There are several Instructional Design (ID) models in use today, but all share some similarities. We will be looking at two models:

  • the model known as ADDIEAssessment, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation,


  • the Dick and Carey Model (DCM).


Personally, I prefer to use a combination and blending of methods depending on the project at hand. By not being tied into just one model, I have found it possible to reduce the time to create an e-learning course by nearly one-half the average time.

Below is an overview of the ADDIE Model steps:


OK, let’s take a look at some of the steps in these two models. In ADDIE, the first step is to Analyze, while in the DCM the first step is to Identify Instructional Goals. I like to do a combination of both. I Analyze the needs based on input from whomever is requesting the course and then I dissect these needs to help develop the Instructional Goals and to Conduct Instructional Analysis. This Analysis also looks at where the target audience is right now and where we want them to be (Gap Analysis).

Next, we might move on to the Design phase (as in the ADDIE Model). Looking at the DCM, this might include Identifying Entry Behaviors (a sort of prerequisites or where the learner is now), and Writing Performance Objectives (what the participant should know or be able to do upon course completion).

In the ADDIE Model, the Design Phase produces a Design Document.  This document contains things like:

  • Learning objectives
  • Instructional strategies
  • Content outline
  • Practice activities
  • User interface
  • Media selection
  • Support materials

This document is the foundation for the entire course.

Now, this is where I think things get interesting. In the DCM, we develop our test questions before we develop the course materials (which would be in the Develop stage of ADDIE). To me, in some cases it does make sense to write the test questions according to the Performance Objectives first and then write the course material according to the test questions/Performance Objectives. For me, it just depends on the project. In some projects, I will develop the Performance Objectives, then write the course materials, and then create the text questions. This can really speed up the development process. But we have to be careful, because speeding things up can cause us to miss important considerations in the development process.

Learning Objectives

Development of the Learning Objectives (or Performance Objectives in the DCM) is one of the critical points in ID. The Learning Objectives:

  • Make clear what evidence of learning is required or how we will measure learning.
  • Are used to translate tasks into descriptions of observable and measurable behavior.
  • Set out what is to be learned.
  • Lead us to criterion-referenced tests and instruction that are developed based on the objectives and are designed to bring about the learning.

Objectives should be short, specific, and testable. You’ve probably seen the acronym SMART used in relation to objectives (Specific, Meaningful –or Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely).

Once the objectives and, if you choose to do so, the tests have been created, we can develop the overall Instructional Strategy to ensure the objectives are mastered (which are measured by the tests).  In both ADDIE and DCM, common Instructional Strategies include:

  • Introduction
  • Presentation of content
  • Interaction and feedback
  • Guided practice
  • Review and summary
  • Proficiency testing
  • Remediation
  • Content mastery

Learning objectives, which are specific and testable, might be written as finishing the sentence:

  • “After completing this course students will be able to:”
  • Match the sections of the system with their purpose.
  • Identify the steps required in preventative maintenance.
  • Given a set of equipment symptoms, select the appropriate solution.

Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies should ensure that instruction meets these requirements:

  • Must Involve Active Learning
    • Learning is not a passive process where students just listen to a lecture, watch a demonstration, or read text.
    • Instead, the outcomes of the Design Phase are a set of job-relevant learning tasks that require active response.
  • Must be Job Relevant
  • If the goal is job performance improvement, the instruction must help students transfer learning to the job.
  • We do this by using situations that allow active practice of the specific job tasks and behaviors to be learned, similar to how they should be performed in the job setting.

In developing our Instructional Strategies, it’s important to think about how much learners tend to retain based on how the information is presented. Looking at the Learning Pyramid below, we can see that reading only results in 10% retention. Pretty poor results for my money! Make sure your Strategy includes a variety of methods in presenting information. The Learning Pyramid is something to keep in mind as we develop our Strategies.

Content Outline

It is the Learning objectives that determine the actual content of the program. After reviewing source materials and/or interviewing subject matter experts, a content outline is developed, which is a lesson-by-lesson breakdown of topics.

The content outline lays out a plan for the sequence of instruction. The order of information depends on the subject matter at hand but typically goes in sequence from:

  • beginning to end when process is being taught, and
  • from easy to hard when concepts are being taught.

Practice Activities

Practice and feedback are critical elements of effective instruction and should be planned carefully. We should consider not just what is available, but what is allowed by our information technology department. Sometimes technical specifications expand into the choice of development tools, including specific authoring systems, databases, or learning management systems (LMS).

The choice of media should also be justified from an instructional standpoint. Just because a computer can display video does not mean video has to be used. In fact, many designers with a video or instructor-led background use too much video. Audio narration with appropriate graphics and interactivity is a better choice than “talking head” video clips that are passively viewed.

Practice activities might include:

  • simple questioning (multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in), simulations,
  • instructional games,
  • on-the-job application exercises, or
  • situational analysis activities.

There are lots of tools available to develop interactions. Two I find useful are created by Articulate:  Engage and Storyline.

User Interface

The graphical user interface is the critical link between the learner and content. The Design Document should list the buttons and navigational features that will be available, what their labels or names will be, and where on the screen they will be located.

Some commonly used interface items are:

  • Next button, which advances to the next screen.
  • Back button, which moves back to the previous screen.
  • A screen counter to indicate progress through a lesson.
  • Menu button to jump directly to the Main Menu.
  • Exit button to exit the program.
  • Glossary to access an online glossary.
  • Help to access context-sensitive information, or navigational assistance.
  • Notepad for recording student notes.
  • Bookmark to tag the existing screen for future quick access.

Media Selection

Media are the means by which information is presented and experiences are shared. Media decisions can precede, follow, or accompany decisions about the instructional strategy to be employed. Consider

  • the stability of the content,
  • time available for development,
  • budget, and
  • type of learning to occur
  • skill development, knowledge, and attitude.

Support Materials

Support materials are non-instructional materials that the participant can take with them to use later…sort of a performance support tool. This can include charts, graphs, spreadsheets, presentations, or anything else that will help the participant to better understand the subject and help them recall the training at a later date.


Assessment of knowledge transfer will be covered in detail in the next article. But generally, there are four types of evaluation:

  • Level 1: Reaction of student – what they thought and felt about the training.
  • Level 2: Learning – resulting increase in knowledge or capability.
  • Level 3: Behavior – extent of behavior and capability improvement and implementation/application.
  • Level 4: Results – effects on business or environment resulting from learner performance.

The DCM lists two types of evaluation: Formative and Summative.

  • Formative evaluation: learner assessments, communication with learners, periodic evaluations.
  • Summative evaluation: analysis of formative assessments, examinations, surveys, interviews.

Any evaluation should be closely linked to the course objectives. We’ll discuss Assessment of Knowledge Transfer more in the next article

The Team

One last thing I want to cover in this lesson and that is the ID team. The type of project you are working on will determine who needs to be involved in creating an e-learning course. My experience has been that the more people on your team, the longer it will take to create the course. Team members might include:

  • Technical writer/Course Developer
  • Editor
  • Graphics designer/Illustrator/Animator
  • Web designer
  • Web programmer
  • Video author/integrator
  • Sound recorder/editor
  • Database designer/programmer
  • Project manager

What normally works for me is to keep the team as small as possible. The more skills that I have myself, the fewer people needed. Now, this is not easy. It means that as the Instructional Designer you need to learn the subject very well (almost to the level of a Subject Matter Expert), and know how to do things like graphics, web design, audio, and video. And you need to understand project management very well. The option is to have several team members.

Limiting the number of team members is one of the ways that I have been able to reduce course development time dramatically. But we have to be careful here. As the film character Dirty Harry said…”A man’s got to know his limitations”. Know what you can do, know what you can’t do, and know when to get help.

So, this has been a very brief introduction to instructional design. ID is both art and science and covers a huge field of knowledge and skill. It is impossible to cover everything in just one article, but I hope this overview helps you to build better e-learning courses. In Lesson #3, we will discuss Assessment of Knowledge Transfer.


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