December, 1999
Issue 3 - page 2
 I N S I G H T S    I N T O    U S I N G    E D U C A T I O N A L   T E C H N O L O G Y

Part 2 of 3


The design phase takes its input from the specifications created in the analysis phase, and will output a detailed description so that the program may be physically created. It will also provide feedback for evaluation and revision of previous activities.

As well as being a creative process, good design should also incorporate logical decision-making, and draw on expertise in the areas of pedagogy, subject matter, presentational design and technology. Once again, this may be non-linear process. 

The design phase deals with the following factors: 

Instructional design theory

  • appropriate selection of instructional design theories (derived from specifications in the analysis phase)
  • instructional objectives
  • evaluation methods
Learning environment
  • selecting and ensuring that the necessary components are in place
Content design 
  • content scope and outline or treatment (derived from task analysis and/or goals)
  • media determinations
  • storyboard(s) and/or script(s) for media components
Presentational design
  • interfaces, navigational elements, layout, look and feel
  • artistic elements - graphic design and/or other media design
  • template or prototype design 


If you are new to the world of instructional science, welcome to the world of rocket science, where flow charts, taxonomies and psychologies of all sorts abound. It is easy to lose one’s self in the ozone here, and it is essential for designers to understand the basic differences between instructional design, theories of learning and instructional theory.

An instructional design process is the actual organized procedure or guide for creating instruction. The analysis and design phases discussed in this paper are part of an instructional design process, very similar to the model shown below. There are currently about 40 popular process models. Most accomplish the same end, but may conceptualize and organize the process differently.

Example of an instructional design process
(Dick and Carey -- Systems Approach to Design Instruction)

By applying a set of principles such as those illustrated above, we have a system for producing effective, efficient, and relevant instruction.  Now that we have a process, we require theories which can provide solutions to instructional problems. Learning theories basically describe how learning takes place. The three basic theories of learning are:

  • Behaviorism 
Behaviorism is based on changes in behavior that can be observed and measured. People are conditioned to react or respond without necessarily understanding why. ‘Drill and practice’ is a typical example of this type of learning.
  • Cognitivism 
Cognitivism is based on the thought processes behind a behavior. This is a less mechanical approach where the learner is more actively involved. The learner can understand the ‘how and why’ of performing tasks, but may not be able to respond in a way that is unique or optimal for him or the situation. 
  • Constructivism 
Constructivism is based on the assumption that a learner constructs their own perspective of the world through experiences and solving problems. Here learning is more student-centered, and the tutor is more of a guide or coach. The learner will be much better suited to deal with real life problems as he will learn to make judgments about multiple interpretations. This may not the best choice if conformity of a task is an issue (i.e.- using a standardized system database).  Some literature I've read refers to humanism as a fourth popular theory of leaning. Humanism is very much like contructivism, adding that significant learning incorporates creativity, initiative and visualization. In this theory, learners rely on self-analysis, team building and learner evaluation to foster wisdom, individual growth and development. It seems to me that a little ‘new age’ philosophy may even be entering into the scene here, and some may find this a little too ‘warm and fuzzy’ or even esoteric. 

Instructional design theories are based on learning theories, but describe events outside of the learner that facilitate learning (Reigeluth, 1999). Instructional design theory provides designers with knowledge that can be used as a guide to create educational experiences with a higher probability of effectiveness. 

Once again, there are many theories and opinions on instructional design theory, and finding the relevancy for a particular instructional problem or situation using this type of information will not always guarantee success, but it will certainly increase the chances of it occurring. 


The paradigm of education that most of us grew up with is now in transition, and is based on the concepts of standardization inherited from the industrial age. This is well illustrated in the popular Pink Floyd Music Video - "Just Another Brick in the Wall", where a machine is cranking out automatons. Attitudes towards living (and learning) have changed. Once popular sayings such as "life is a struggle" and "nothing comes easy" are being replaced with ones like "life is meant to be fun" and "the universe is abundant". Correlate these statements to classroom settings in the 1950’s and 1990’s. 
The information age has brought us into an era where more specific, personalized and customized approaches to everything are required, including education. Moving from a society of conformity and compliance into an information-based one requires us to have more diverse perspectives and individuality in order to solve increasingly complex problems. Although still valid, the memorization and procedural skill development techniques of the past alone cannot meet the modern demands for higher levels of learning. Thus, current educational practices are aimed at seeing that each individual’s specific learning needs are met. This is accomplished by empowering learners to actively build on their own knowledge base, rather than receive standardized facts and information passively en mass as was done in the past.
Mankind is now entering into the knowledge age. Focusing on the context of information is the premise of this age, as there is no present shortage of information today, just perhaps a lack of understanding of what to do with it all. Moving from a data processing era into one of wisdom building will require educational strategies that create life long learners who possess the skills, knowledge and attitudes to develop their own personal styles of more specific, practical learning.

Our definition of instruction now includes what is referred to as construction (Ferguson, 1992). Learning is becoming increasingly more ‘learner-centered’, and is concerned with facilitating learners in developing initiative, carrying out real-world tasks, setting their own goals and utilizing advanced technologies. One indicator of change in the West has been a shift to decrease the number of subjects and increase class period time, as standard curricular goals and traditional time requirements are impediments to the immersion required to tackle more real-world based problems (Scott, 1994).  I was quite surprised to learn that my son is only dealing with two subjects a day in high school, whereas I had several 40-minute periods!

Most theorists have categorized the different types of learning into three domains: cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling) and psychomotor (physical activity). Higher-order learning such as understanding, intellect and skills falls within the cognitive domain. Included in this domain is metacognition, the ability to monitor, contemplate and even change one’s own thought processes. Developing metacognition is the gist of the knowledge age.

In 1956, Bloom and his colleagues developed a hierarchical chart or taxonomy indicating the main types of learning. He identified six levels within the cognitive domain. At the lowest level, there is simple recall or recognition of facts. The mental levels become increasingly more complex and at the highest level we find evaluation. Although many taxonomic analyses of learning behavior have been developed, Bloom’s has created a standard dialogue and is still popular for identifying and creating educational objectives and activities to facilitate better learning.

KNOWLEDGE learners working at this level can remember and recall information ranging from concrete to abstract

verbs: arrange, define, duplicate, label, list memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce, state

COMPREHENSION learners are able to understand and make use of something communicated, and can translate, interpret and extrapolate the communication

verbs: classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select

APPLICATION learners can apply appropriate concepts or abstractions to a problem or situation even when not prompted to do so

verbs: apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write

ANALYSIS learners can break down the material into its parts and define the relationship between the parts

verbs: analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test

SYNTHESIS learners can create a product, combining parts from previous experience and new material to create a whole

verbs: arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, write

EVALUATION learners make judgments about the value of materials, ideas and so forth

verbs: appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose, compare, defend, estimate, judge, predict, rate, core, select, support, value, evaluate

Adapted from Instructional Design Theories and Models - Ver2, Reigulth, 1999 
 and WestEd Distance Learning Resources, 1998

What taxonomies do in fact, is make the designer think about how to optimize instruction with the organization, dissemination and construction of knowledge.  It would seem that higher order learning where information is significant enough to the learner to be placed into long term memory is an ultimate goal in teaching and learning.  This type of learning is associated with application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  One way of planning effective education would be to use the verb examples above that are associated with the various levels of learning in creating performance objectives and tasks. Taxonomies can also assist with the selection of learning technology and appropriate media. 

There are other popular taxonomies, such as Shuell’s 12 learning functions (1992), or those from Gagne (1985), Merrill (1983) or Ausubel (1968) which help to develop instruction that evokes higher order learning skills.

Once again, there are many theories and opinions on instructional design theory, and finding the relevancy for a particular instructional problem or situation using this type of information will not always guarantee success, but it will certainly increase the chances of it occurring.

It has been said that good instructors and designers can intuitively apply good instruction design theory based on their tacit knowledge and gut reaction.  Although many designers may have developed their own brand of functional instructional design strategies, all show respect and appreciation for established research and design theories.  I have chosen some of the more current and popular trends in instructional design and have summarized them in part 3 for easy digestion. 

last page   next page

© 2000 Shaw Multimedia Inc.