Behind LX: Instructional Design & Development

There is a wide range of models for what instructional design resources exist at an institution, where those resources are located, what they are designated for, and what the learning experience is because of it.  Most college and university professors are experts in their field of student, or research; they are not required to have training in pedagogy within the brick-and-mortar classroom, and likewise typically do not have formal training in instructional design and development within online environments.

Typically, institutions that have a larger presence with fully online programs have centralized learning design resources, and utilize one-to-many models.  Examples of institutions that do this are:  Southern New Hampshire University, University of Maryland University College, Capella University, Walden University, Western Governors University and more.

Decentralized learning design is associated with one-to-one models, with faculty as SME, designer and developer, LXD or ID in a role as consultant or trainer, and no or minimal training required. Centralized learning design resources are associated with a one-to-many model, faculty serve as SMEs, an LXD or ID designs and develops the course, and training is required to teach online.

Many institutions are expanding their online offerings, but through either individual courses or through smaller fully online degree offerings.  Continuing Education departments also often offer online education, whether through individual courses or through professional development opportunities.

Quality instructional design and development are the first key pieces of understanding good virtual learning experiences.  Just as all face-to-face courses are not equal, likewise not all online courses are equal.

Roles in Instructional Design and Development

There are a variety of roles involved in instructional design and development.  What those roles are, and even what they are named, changes from environment to environment.  Typically, the role dedicated to the instructional design of the course, is the instructional designer.  The instructional designer creates measurable objectives, designs quality assessments, and creates the blueprint, or design document, for the course, which includes what learning resources will be used, what activities will be engaged in, etc.  A more contemporary interpretation of this role in applied settings (as opposed to research into instructional design) is the role of the Learning Experience Designer (LXD).  The LXD has a practical instructional design skill set, plus the ability to develop courses with a variety of development tools, and also has some literacy with the visual and functional elements of the online learning environment, like user interface design.

Whitney Kilgore of iDesign, illustrates the difference between instructional designers and learning experience designers in this way:

“Instructional designers, like web developers in the ‘90s, historically had expertise in conveying content through a limited set of tools and platforms, such as a learning management system (LMS). LX designers, in contrast, merge design-thinking principles with curriculum development and the application of emerging technologies to help faculty tailor content to student behaviors and preferences. It cuts across disciplines and moves beyond the LMS: LX designers embrace graphic design, multimedia production, research-based standards and social media. They are partners to faculty throughout the program and course development process” (Kilgore, 2016).

Learning Experience Designer roles: discover, define, curate, develop, learn, evolve

There are also many other roles associated with the design and development process.  Read this document, which illustrates those roles.  You will note that in this document, which is almost 10 years old, the instructional design role and the course builder roles are separated by the clean line of “design” and “development”.

Where, Why and When Did Instructional Design Come to Be?

The history of contemporary instruction design demonstrates the use of a variety of models for essentially similar activities “the analysis of instructional problems, and the design, development, implementation and evaluation of instructional procedures and materials intended to solve those problems” (Reiser, 2001, p. 58).   Research about adult learning emerged as a field of study distinct from the pedagogy of teaching children after World War II.  The success of the development of training programs during World War II led to increased interest in psychologists to continue research in the science of learning and instruction (Reiser, 2001).  During the 1960s, a body of research on adult learning came was accumulated from a variety of fields including psychology, sociology and anthropology (Knowles, 1988).  Knowles defined andragogy originally as the “art and science of helping adults learn”; further along in his career he transformed his view to acknowledge that andragogy “is simply another model of assumptions about learners to be used alongside the pedagogical model of assumptions” (Knowles, 1988, p. 43).

The history of online learning in the U.S. follows a similar trajectory – originally rooted in behaviorism, then moving to cognitivism and constructivism (Hillen & Landis, 2014).  This transformation had implications for instructional design and the design process.  “The move away from defining learning as knowledge acquisition and organization to the development of functional skills and judgment has deepened what American scholars require of e-learning designers” (Hillen & Landis, 2014, p. 202).  Recent innovations in higher education in the U.S. include a focus on outcomes rather than information delivery, seat time, and knowledge transfer (Kelly & Hess, 2013).  This shift from inputs to outcomes follows the shift over time from behaviorism to constructivism, and from pedagogy to andragogy, and has implications for the learning process of both students and faculty.

Interested in learning more?  Find a snapshot version of some of the big names and theories in traditional instruction design here.   Note that more contemporary theories like connectivism and heutagogy are not included in that snapshot.

Instructional Design Processes and Tools

There are many processes that are used when designing and developing a course.  Some of these are commonly used by IDs or LXDs.  In scenarios with centralized design and development structures, the ID or LXD would lead this process.  In other institutions focused on more individual courses or boutique programs, it is likely that these processes would impact faculty training and individual consultations on courses.

Common processes for designing courses include:

There are also many tools for quality assurance.  One of the most common in the field is Quality Matters, but there are also other rubrics and tools.

The below section is drawn from Quality in Online Learning, Instructional Design and Professional Development (S. Thackaberry, 2015).

Much has been written about elements that impact effective learning in online environments, and what constitutes “quality.”  All online courses are not the same, and a critical examination of pedagogy and design, as well as academic and other student supports, is needed to enable colleges and universities to effectively create systems and processes for instructional design and institutional support to enable students to have a quality learning experience online (Jaggars & Bailey, 2010).  A variety of tools have emerged throughout the field, including those specifically focused on the instructional design of online courses (some of which also include guidelines for delivery), those focused on designing instruction for students with diverse needs, and those focused on, or including, elements of institutional strategy and student support services (Blackboard, n.d.; CAST, 2011; eCampusAlberta, 2013; iNACOL, 2011; Online Learning Consortium, n.d.; Quality Matters, 2014).

Quality tools, guidelines and processes used in the field include engagement that is learner to learner, learner to faculty member, and learner to content as a critical piece.  However the other essential factors of course navigation, alignment of instructional components (i.e. objectives, assessments and activities,) the effective use of instructional technology, and academic and institutional supports and commitments are holistically viewed as impacting student success (Blackboard, n.d.; CAST, 2011; eCampusAlberta, 2013; iNACOL, 2011; Online Learning Consortium, n.d.; Quality Matters, 2014).

Learning Resources

Learning resources are a core component of the learning experience.  Part of the designer role – whether it be ID or LXD – is to work with the SME (or Subject Matter Expert) to curate learning resources, or create them where necessary.  Depending upon the type of institution, this may be more or less familiar to faculty.  In some instances, how a course is taught is still heavily driven from the textbook chosen, rather than from the learning objectives of the course. This adds to the cultural complexity of the creation of an online learning experience.

There are many publisher resources available that have robust online materials, including names that have been around for a while like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin and Cengage Learning.  Most learning resources that come from larger companies are (or largely have been) still built around an individual textbook.  These resources started as supplements to textbooks, and have since developed into interactive lessons, in some cases with adaptive learning platforms.

Check out this video from Pearson on eTextbooks:

Growing their footprint into more contemporary resources Wiley Publishing and Mindedge; companies like Lumen are supporting the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and create low-cost curated lessons of free resources.

Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources are a critical part of access to higher education.  Open Educational Resources have three primary components:

  1. Open content
  2. Open source software
  3. Licensing to support OER

  Read the Wikipedia definition of Open Educational Resources (OER) here.  Read the definition and the first section only on Defining the Scope and Nature of Open Educational Resources.

Now that you have a bit of information on what OER are, watch the following video for a brief overview.  

The concept of Open Education is larger that Open Educational Resources.  Open Education has no admission requirements, is typically offered online, and is designed to remove barriers and enable full and open access to education.

A great explanation regarding OER is posted on David Blake’s YouTube Channel.  David Wiley did the voice recording and editing. Degreed sponsored the animation, which was done by Mike Moon and produced by Haugen Creative.  View this video.  

There are many organizations that are dedicated to supporting both OER and Open Education.  One among them is the Open Education Consortium.  Their mission is to: …promote, support and advance openness in education around the world.

One of the most important elements to support OER is the development of Creative Commons licensing.  Creative Commons (CC) licensing enables content creators to reserve partial rights to their work.  Before CC licensing, authors had the option to either reserve all rights, or keep the full copyright to their works.  Now, authors and content creators can decide how they want to share their content.

You can also review some common development tools that are either free or freemium and that you can use to create content.

There are hidden costs to OER, however.  Amy Stevens, of Southern New Hampshire University, has referred to OER as “Free like a free puppy” (personal communication, 2017).  That is accurate, as IDs and LXDs and course developers must spend time locating, curating, remixing and storing OER.




Blackboard. (n.d.). Exemplary course program rubric. Retrieved from

CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

eCampusAlberta. (2013). Essential quality standards 2.0. Retrieved from

INACOL International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online courses version 2. Retrieved from

Jaggars, S., & Bailey, T. R. (2010). Effectiveness of fully online courses for college students: Response to a Department of Education meta-analysis.

Kilgore, W. (2016, June 20). UX to LX: The rise of learner experience design. EdSurge. Retrieved from

Online Learning Consortium. (n.d.). Quality scorecard for the administration of online programs version 2. Retrieved from

Quality Matters. (2014). Higher ed program rubric Quality Matters. Retrieved from

Sax, C. M., & Schoolcraft, T. (2016, November 18). Overcoming barriers to new program development. Evolllution. Retrieved from

Smith, Jaggars, S., & Xu, D. (2013). Predicting online student outcomes from a measure of course quality (57). Retrieved from Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University website:

Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness online: What the research tells us. Elements of quality online education, practice and direction, 4, 13-47.

UPCEA. (2018). A model for new program development. Retrieved from