Module 4c - Instructional Design: Design

Learner Characteristics
Instructional Analysis
Learning Assessment Plan
Instructional Strategies
Create Content Plan
Further Resources

Instructional Systems Design (ISD) is an established model for developing education. It is structured around the five phases shown at the right. There are many appoaches to designing instruction, and in many instances, it is a matter of choosing what works well for you. By reflecting on the design phase, this module will help you to think critically about creating effective e-learning products.

The purpose of the design phase is to select an instructional strategy which will enable learners to achieve, at optimum cost, the learning/performance objectives defined in the analysis phase. Design activities are aimed at defining what needs to be learned, how it will be learned and how learning will be assessed. The result of the design phase is typically a content/lesson plan guidance document which specifies the content, instructional strategies, assessement plans and resource requirements.

In the analysis phase, we examined some of the attributes of our learners. In the design phase, these characteristics must be taken into consideration if the instructional program is to be appropriate and effective. The instruction is more likely to be successful if it is adapted to what learners already know about the subject matter and the ways in which they will learn best. Other factors such as the size and location of the learning group may also affect decisions on how the material is delivered. 

Sources of information to identify learner characteristics are evaluation forms, personnel who are knowledgeable about the learners, and/ or data gathering methods such as questionnaires, threshold knowledge tests, interviews, focus groups and observations. Personal experience on the part of many faculty/designers at CIHI will also be a valuable source of learner information

learner characteristics = foundation for content design

Key questions: What types of content and learning activities will appeal to this group of learners?

Key Activities: Consider ways of making the learning interesting and relatable by bridging-in things that are familiar to the learners. Examine the 2-minute tutorial on Adult Learning Principles.

The purpose of this process is to determine exactly what to teach so that the learner will achieve the learning objectives that were specified in the analysis phase. Instructional analysis begins with an examination of the learning objectives in order to identify the component skills, knowledge and/or attitudes that the learner will require to achieve them. In other words, determine everything a participant needs to learn. The components and sub-components are then grouped and placed in a sequence suitable for learning. At this point, you can arrange the goals, learning outcomes and terminal and enabling objectives into an initial course structure that will help you to develop lesson plans. 

Arrange the topics and sub-topics so that the relationships among topics can be identified. Establish a sequence that is logical. Usually, the content is delivered in a linear fashion, that is, one skill or concept is introduced before another, sometimes moving from the simple to the more complex. There are other possible sequences that you may find work better for you and/or your learners. A lesson plan is a description of the sequence of activities that will take place to achieve all of the instructional objectives. This will also help you to describe the aids, devices and other resources needed to meet the objectives. 

Key questions: What are the relationships between topics? What is the best sequence of topics and tasks?

Key Activities: Organize your goals, learning outcomes and terminal and enabling objectives into units, topics and sub-topics. Analyze the relationships between sub-topics so that an instructional map may be created for a lesson plan.

The assessment plan establishes the overall strategy for testing. It specifies how achievement of the learning objectives will be assessed, including how the learner progresses through them. Whether you are planning any combination of a workshop, e-learning or self-study package, testing is an important part of the instruction. Different types of tests can measure achievement of learning objectives and/or progress. 

Practical tests are the best way to confirm if the learner has the skills required to perform a task. By examining the learning outcomes and objectives from the analysis phase, you can devise practical tests that actually demonstrate the learner's ability to do the job! It may be that you want to test each step along the way, or just the final product. Practical test items are of three general types, all of which are based on observation of actual performance of the job task: checklist, rating scale and anecdotal record. Be sure to pilot your practical tests with a knowledgeable collegue first!

Theory tests are used to test achievement of knowledge and learner progress. They measure the mastery of facts, concepts and principles. Theory tests are usually in the form of a written quiz, where the learner selects available options (i.e. - multiple choice) or supplies an answer. Although the emphasis should be on practical testing, theory tests can be effective supplements to the practical tests. 

It may not be feasible to completely test the performance of some tasks or test every part of a large body of knowledge. In such cases, sampling is used to select a representative performance. Practical tests may focus on the most important or most difficult elements of the performance. Theory tests may use a random sample of sufficient size to represent overall knowledge of the subject matter, and may include oral or written tests.

examination of learning objectives + creation of tests = learning assessment plan

Key questions: What aspects of performance, skills, knowledge or attitudes need to be measured?

Key Activities: Examine your learning outcomes and objectives and create the appropriate testing mechanisms.

The purpose of this step of the design phase is to identify viable instructional strategies and make preliminary cost estimates for each. This will ensure that the subsequent selection of an instructional strategy is based on the consideration of the learning/performance objectives, the target learner population and the cost, rather than unfounded assumptions about a particular approach. 

An instructional strategy is the combination of methods, media and environment used to deliver instruction in other words, how the subject matter will be taught.

Demonstration and practice Computer Simulations
Self-paced Computer and manual Home/office
Lecture Video conferencing equipment/instructor Conference room

Table 1 - A Few Examples of Methods, Media and Environment

Identify Instructional Methods

Methods are the first component of an instructional strategy to be addressed. The term method refers to the type of learning activity, such as demonstration-performance, case study or lecture.  The aim is to identify methods that have a high probability of promoting learning, and transferring learning to the job. Methods can be generally classified into the following categories:

Instructor-centered One-way communication of cognitive information.
  • lecture
  • questioning
  • demonstration
  • Interactive Active learner participation in the communication process.
  • discussion
  • cooperation
  • collaboration
  • peer teaching
  • Individualized Individuals learn at their own pace.
  • distance learning
  • e-learning
  • exploration
  • other self-directed packages
  • Experiential Learners perform in a real or simulated setting.
  • lab work
  • clinical practicums
  • field work
  • exploration
  • simulations
  • Table 2 - The Attributes of Various Methods

    If learning is to occur, the methods must be consistent with the objectives. For example, a lesson on a procedure will require a different method from a lesson on a concept or principle. It is therefore important to determine what type of learning is involved in each objective. Based on whether just recall of information or comprehension or even analysis is required will dictate the method of instruction. Doing a task will obviously indicate a completely different approach.

    It also helps to know a little about learning theory so that you can take advantage of methods that work best. You may want to review the module on Considering How We Learn for an updated perspective on the different ways that individuals learn. This can help you develop your own style of designing instruction that will engage your learners, so that learning becomes meaningful, understood, shared, deeply processed, retained, built-upon and of course... used.

    Identify Media

    The term medium refers to the means of delivering instructional activities to the learner. Some examples of media are computers, printed texts, and video conferencing. In the context of identifying an instructional strategy, an instructor is also considered to be a medium. To be instructionally effective, a medium or combination of media must be able to provide all the inputs, or stimuli, that are essential to learning. In general terms these are:

      • Presentation or demonstration.
      • Application or practice.
      • Feedback.
    There is an enormous variety of instructional media to choose with developments in technology constantly adding new possibilities. In order to achieve optimum efficiency ininstruction, media must be considered from the perspective of cost-effectiveness. The application of technology to achieve cost savings should be investigated unless there is a clear requirement for an instructor-led approach. In general, technology-based instruction is more expensive to develop than classroom instruction, but the delivery costs can be much lower. For example, technology-based instruction may be cost-effective when the target population is large and geographically dispersed.

    A good instructional strategy should employ a combined or blended approach, using a variety of methods, media and environments. This could include a mix of paper-based, e-learning and instructor-led approaches in a variety of enviroments to suit various learning objectives. 

    Proposed strategies should be reviewed along with the learner characteristics to determine which strategies are preferred. For example, if there is a wide variety of skill levels among learners, self-directed, pre-workshop e-learning may be suitable, but if the learners are not computer savy, it may not. The abilities of the instructional staff may also affect the identification of strategies. If instructors are not comfortable or familiar with a particular approach, it is not likely to be effective. When you identify discrepencies such as these, you can modify the strategy or train the individuals.


    This information is used to directly support the decision to select and approve a particular strategy (or as a basis for a detailed costs benefit analysis). The main question to be asked regarding costs concerns the cost per student for a particular instructional strategy for a given number of students over the expected life of the learning. Generating a cost estimate involves determining expense categories, and generating estimates for each category. Costs may be estimated by using actual costs of previous or similar projects, or by constructing estimates for each category based upon research.

    Select Instructional Strategy

    By considering the range of options available, you can now begin to implement the optimum approaches. Normally, the option that meets the need at the lowest cost will be selected, but the proposed strategies are first reviewed to confirm their potential for enabling the target learners to achieve the learning/performance objectives. The education department can assist you with determining what is available and practical for your learning package.

    ability to meet objectives + learner/instructor characteristics + costs = instructional strategy

    Key questions: What methods, media and environments will work best? How will the learner and instructor characteristics affect your choices? What are the associated costs with various methods and appoaches?

    Key Activities: Select cost effective approaches that will work best for all of the people involved in the learning endeavour. 

    In this final step of the design phase, the results of the preceding steps are compiled and integrated into a coherent plan that will specify what must be learned, how it will be learned and how learning will be assessed. The content/lesson plan should contain the following information:

    A general statement of the intended outcome of the program.

    Target Population Description
    A summary of the relevant information obtained by defining the learner characteristics.

    Content and structure
    A detailed plan of the subject matter, indicating learning outcomes, learning/performance objectives and their interrelationships.

    Assessment guidelines
    The assessment plan and test specifications.

    Instructional strategy
    An overview of the approved instructional strategy with a brief rationale for its selection.

    Lesson specifications
    Detailed information on all aspects of a lesson. This should include all of the information created in the process so far. 

    Resource Requirements
    A list of the facilities, personnel, equipment and materials required for the learners to successfully complete the objectives. This includes printed materials, Web resources, text books, etc.

    Implementation Plan
    A sound implementation plan should define the project management requirements (activities, resources, responsibilities and timings) and a communications strategy (information, promotion, technical support, etc.).

    all analysis and design activites = content plan
    Key questions: Have I addressed all of the previous key questions and activities so far?

    Key Activities: Compile all data from previous activities into a content plan.

    Further Resources

    Not available in demo.