This module contains the following sections:

  • Where, Why and When Did Instructional Design Come to Be?
  • How is the Field of Instructional Design Changing?
  • Common Processes in Instructional Design
  • Understanding by Design (aka Backwards Design)
  • Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

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.

Confused by any of these terms?  Be sure to add them to your eLearning Glossary and look them up!  The format for the eLearning glossary is here, and the rubric for the eLearning Glossary is here.

How is the Field of Instructional Design Changing?

In 7 Things You Should Know About Developments in Instructional Design – a white paper in a series put out by Educause’s Learning Initiative (ELI,) the role of the instructional designer is changing as the paradigm of learning and teaching continues to develop in higher education:  “the complexity of the learning environment is turning instructional design into a more dynamic activity, responding to changing educational models and expectations” (2015, p. 1).  The field of instructional design has recently begun to embrace a more ‘multi-theory’ approach – an integrated focus on learner needs and learning effectiveness – rather than holding fast to a single theory or methodology (Hillen & Landis, 2014).

Video IconWatch this video about what an instructional designer does and how they interact in more traditional environments with college faculty.

Common Processes in Instructional Design

There are several common processes of instructional design used in the field.  ADDIE, Understanding by Design (which generated the method of Backwards Design), Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction and others.  Many of these processes utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy as a basis for writing objectives and assessing learning.



A graphic with bubbles for each of the phases of ADDIE
ADDIE infographic from

The ADDIE process is frequently used in both higher education and in corporate training; it is an instructional systems design (ISD) model.   The five stages of the framework are Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (Peterson, 2003).


In the Analysis phase, the needs of the audience are analyzed, as well as the content necessary for the course.  The Design phase involves creating the instructional components – defining objectives, assessments, instructional methodologies and resource materials; this process utilizes the needs and content results from the Analysis phase.  Phase 3 is Development, whereby the production of the course actually occurs.  Within this phase, drafting, production, and evaluation occur internally, before learners take part in the course.  Implementation involves not only the course in process with active learners and faculty, but also continual and iterative improvement by the designer.  Finally, in the Evaluation phase (which can begin through the development stage in a formative sense,) the designer determines what has been successful about the course, what needs changes, and how to make needed adaptations (Peterson, 2003).  There is a common adaptation of ADDIE that is referred to as rapid prototyping whereby the iterative process is sped up so that complications can be caught and fixed earlier

Understanding by Design (aka Backwards Design)

Backward Design Diagram
Understanding by Design: Backward Design

The Understanding by Design (UbD) framework (most frequently used in K-12 education, but now appearing increasingly in higher education environments) was developed by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins (2012) and has 2 key ideas:  “1) focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and learning transfer, and 2) design curriculum “backward” from those ends” (McTighe & Wiggins, 2012, p. 1). 

This alignment map utilizes a basic Backwards Design focus.  The objectives are first determined, then how they are measured, then teaching and learning activities.  A more modern, androgogical emphasis would be on learning and teaching activities, as opposed to teaching and learning activities.  Check out the linked alignment map and see how it can be used.

Video Icon  Watch this video, which shows Jay McTighe, one of the authors of the Understanding by Design (UbD) Framework, explaining what it is and how to use it.  

The video is seven minutes long.  Be sure to take some notes for yourself along the way.


Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction is another well-known framework or process for instructional design.  It involves nine components that together create optimal learning 1) gain attention of students, 2) inform students of the objectives, 3) stimulate recall of prior learning, 4) present the content, 5) provide learning guidance, 6) elicit performance (practice), 7) provide feedback, 8) assess performance, 9) enhance retention and transfer to the job (Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, 1992).

This video is an example of student-generated content.  The video “Robert Gagne:  The Conditions of Learning” was an assignment in a graduate program.  We are using it here as a brief (9 minute) overview.  Student-generated content is an example of how students can produce real-world, usable learning objects that others can then use to effectively learn from.

Video IconWatch the video.  Think about how you could utilize student-generated content to contribute to a self-sustaining ecosystem of learning.


Next, we’re going to look at some of the quality tools and processes utilized within education to ensure high quality in online and blended learning.

Open icon indicating opening a moduleClick HERE to move to the next Module:  Current Tools for Quality in Online Learning Design and Implementation



Adams, N. E. (2015). Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives, 103(July).

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding By Design framework. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from

Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. (1992). Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction. Principles of Instructional Design.

Peterson, C. (2003). Bringing ADDIE to life: Instructional design at its best. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 12(3), 227–241.

Reiser, R. a. (2001). A History of Instructional Design and Technology: Part II: A History of Instructional Design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(2), 57–68.

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