Systems and Processes in Instructional System Design

A system may be thought of as a set of concepts or parts that must work together to perform a particular process. Bela Banathy (1968) defined a human-made system as an entity comprised of parts that is designed and built by people into an organized whole for the attainment of a specific purpose.

An organization is a system or a collection of systems. Every job in an organization is used by a system to produce or support a product or service. The product or service is the means by which a organization survives or supports itself. A large organization may have several systems that are generally broken down into departments or groups, while a smaller company may only have one system.

Inputs of a System

There are four inputs necessary in every system to produce a product or service (Laird, 1985):

Note: We often think of technology as computers, electronics, etc., but it is much more. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines technology as the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area. It includes the usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, processes, and methods of organization.

gears in a system

An example of the inputs of a system is a production team (people) who transform electronic components (materials) into computers by working (process) on an production line (technology) and completes each production run within a given deadline (time).

Functions of a System

All systems have three basic functions:

The Inputs and Functions of ADDIE or ISD

In ADDIE, the system's input are:

Training is mostly concerned where people and technology meet — look for the means to help workers master and apply the unique technologies governing their tasks. The goal in a good learning process is to allow the workers to use the available technology efficiently and effectively so that they may perform better.

The three basic functions of ISD are:

Instructional System Design almost always starts by identifying what their customer needs (business need) so that they can create the best output possible. This process is the start of Backwards Planning.


A process is a planned series of actions within a system that advances material or procedures from one stage of completion to the next. A system generally has several processes in it. A process is like a mini-system in that there are inputs and functions. The main difference is that a system produces a complete product or service, while a function produces or supports part of the product or service. A couple of example processes are:

  1. The circuit board assembly workers (people) who solder electronic parts (materials) onto circuit boards by working on a specialized production line (technology), and completing a set number of circuit board within a given deadline (time). The final product (output) is then used by other members of the production team in the assembly of a computer.

  2. An Instructional Designer (people) who creates a learning activity (materials) by using her knowledge and skills (technology), and completing the task within a given deadline (time). The activity is then inserted into a learning process, such as a performance support aid, classroom, or elearning program, which in turn, helps a person to master a new skill.

Notice that in these examples there is always a supplier (the creator of the product or service) and a customer (people who will use the product or service). The customer can either be internal or externa0 to the organization.

Being able to break an organization into systems and process will help you with your instructional design skills. By identify a process within a system; you will be able to concentrate on a small chunk of a very large piece. For example, when you are analyzing a job, you break it into duties, tasks, and steps to make your work more manageable.

Feedback and Feedforward

Systems normally have feedback loops in them. Bela Banathy (1968) noted that when designing a learning process, such as training, elearning, and performance aids, it is normally recommended that an iterative or spiralic method be used (analysis–synthesis–evaluation).

An iterative design allows you to explore knowledge, problems, and experience spaces, thus you are able to bring forth a more refined learning process than a linear designing allows. The unfolding spirals of design are interlaced with feedback and feedforward:

Next Steps

Next section: Definitions and Explanations

Read Bela Banathy's Instructional Systems

Return to the ADDIE Table of Contents

Pages in the ISD Overview


Banathy, B. (1968). Instructional Systems. Palo Alto, California: Fearon Publishers.

Banathy, B. (1968). Instructional Technology: Foundations. Gagné (ed), p.92, NY: Rouledge.

Laird, D. (1985). Approaches To Training And Development. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

U.S. Army Field Artillery School (1984). A System Approach To Training. ST - 5K061FD92.