CPG Basics: A Brief Introduction into the Art and Science of Instructional Design

There is some confusion about what instructional design (ID) is. Perhaps the confusion lies in the word ‘design’, which suggests the creation of technology-based products requiring a great deal of programming and graphic design skills. Although these skills are often useful (and sometimes very useful when programmers and graphic designers are not available), the main goal of ID is to translate pedagogical research and practice into instructional curriculum in order to produce desired learning outcomes.

ID came into its own as a profession in the 1970s, although its beginnings can be traced to the research and development of training materials during World War II. Since then, instructional designers develop many forms of instruction within a wide range of educational domains including K-12, higher education, military, and organizational settings. Its growth coincides with a healthy research agenda that not only incorporates theory from multiple disciplines and perspectives but includes a burgeoning native theoretical base.

The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defines ID as “the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning” (Reiser, 2002, p. 1). This implies a broad scope of activities and domains. Richey et al. (2011) divide these into six main content areas:

  • Learners and Learning Processes
  • Learning and Performance Contexts
  • Content Structure and Sequence
  • Instructional and Non-Instructional Strategies
  • Media and Delivery Systems
  • Designers and Design Processes

In order to be effective practitioners and researchers within this wide range of areas, IDs rely on theories and models from many disciplines, the most important being general systems theory, communication theory, learning theory, and its own early instructional design theory. These models provide the foundation for ID practitioners to apply their expertise in training and curriculum design.

Visit the CogBlog soon to read about the next installment of CPG Basics where we discuss these theories and models in more detail.

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Photo attribution: Andy ManGold


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Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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