Instructional or Learning Design Theories

ISD Concept Map
ISD Concept Map
Learning Concept Map
Learning Concept Map

An Instructional Design Model

This model or framework is a guide for designing a learning platform.

Gather the Content

Gather only the content (information and activities) that is essential for learning. Map the information as shown below and add activities to ensure you have gathered all the content (Merrill, 2002):

Concept mapping of instructional design

Use If/Then Statements

To help you map the content, you can use if/then statements, for example,

Cathy Moore has an excellent slide show on using this process: Design Lively Elearning with Action Mapping.

zen of instructional design by iStock

Chunk the Material (epitomize)

Divide the instructional material into small units to allow better learner retention (Reigeluth & Stein, 1983).

Sequence the Content into a Logical Structure

Present the instructional content to the learners in a manner that allows them to build upon the previous content (Reigeluth & Stein, 1983). This is known as scaffolding. It aids in stimulating the recall of prior knowledge.

Build Interest and Visualization Devices

An interest device is a story or other piece of information that captures their attention (Gagné, 1985; Keller, 1988), while visualization is actively cultivating an image of what is going to happen in that you paint a mental picture of where the learners are going. Visualization methods may be done through the use of tools, such as mind maps, or strictly within their minds, such as helping them to picture what the task looks like. (Zipperer, Klein, Fitzgerald, & Kinnison, 2003).

interest device

Organize the Objectives

This is the Task, Condition, and Standards created in the design phase. Normally, formal objectives are too stiff for informing the learners of the performance requirements, thus the objectives should be reworded so that they present a more casual learning environment.

If at all possible, get the learners' input for the objectives — what do they need to learn that will make their job more effective or efficient? Let them play a part in constructing their learning (Vygotsky, 1978; Piaget, 1950).

Create Strategies to Foster Critical Thinking and Deeper Understanding

When presenting content, two approaches can be used (van Merriënboer, 1997):

Deductive and Inductive Instructional Design

Closely related to the presentation methods are two strategies for helping the learners to learn:

Expository and Inquisitory Instructional Design

For more information on presenting information and examples see, van Merriënboer's 4C/ID Model.

Keep the Learners Actively Involved with the Learning

Build activities. Consider needs first; technologies last — your task is to solve real world problems and not to advocate technologies just for the sake of technology. Technologies can enhance training; they do not solve training problems.

We learn what we do.

Relate the information to the learner's interests (Keller, 1988).

Short lectures are OK, but break them up with other delivery methods and active participation.

Don't put them to sleep

boring presentation


Keep them involved with the learning process

interaction for learning

Point out content relationships.

Ask rhetorical questions.

Ask the learners for examples (this allows them to build upon their experiences).

Build Summaries and Relate it to the Next Module of Instruction

Provide regular summaries. Give them time to gather their thoughts.

Build reflection periods for deeper understanding

Test the Learners

What we get tested on is what we remember the most and the longest.

This should have been built in the Design Phase.

Help with the Transfer of Learning

Transfer of learning is a phenomenon of learning more quickly and developing a deeper understanding of the task if we bring some knowledge or skills from previous learning. Therefore, to produce positive transfer of learning, we need to practice under a variety of conditions.


Gagné, R. (1985). The Conditions of Learning and the Theory of Instruction, (4th ed.), New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Keller, J.M., & Suzuki, K. (1988). Use of the ARCS motivation model in courseware design. In D. H. Jonassen (ED.) Instructional designs for microcomputer courseware. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Piaget, Jean. (1950). The Psychology of Intelligence. New York: Routledge.

Merrill, M. D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. M. Reigeluth (ed), Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview of their Current States. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Merrill, D., (2002). First Principles of Instruction, ETR&D, Vol. 50, No. 3, 2002, pp. 43-59 ISSN 1042-1629.

Reigeluth, C. M. and Stein, F. S. (1983). The Elaboration Theory of Instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth (ed), Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview of their Current States. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (1997). Training Complex Cognitive Skills: A Four-Component Instructional Design Model for Technical Training. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.

van Merriënboer, J.J.G, Clark, R.E., de Croock, M.B.M. (2002) Blueprints for complex learning: The 4C/ID-model, Educational Technology, Research and Development. 50 (2);39-64, DOI: 0.1007/BF02504993

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zipperer, E., Klein, G., Fitzgerald, R., Kinnison, H. (2003). Training and Training Technology Issues for the Objective Force Warrior. U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Research Report 1809.