CPG Basics: Theories and Models of Instructional Design

General systems theory, based on biological research as well as the philosophy of science spawned a sub-category normally called Instructional Systems Design (ISD). Although there are a variety of models for designing instruction, they all have similarities to the generic and most familiar systems model – ADDIE (Analyze-Develop-Design-Implement-Evaluate).

Influences from communication theory include Frank Dwyer’s work on components that direct attention during instruction, Richard Mayer’s multimedia message design, and John Sweller and his colleagues’ work on the effects of message structure on cognitive processing. Important concepts encompass Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), cueing techniques, split attention, and single and multi-channeled communication.

Learning theories that continue to influence instructional design (ID) fall into three key categories: behavioral, cognitive and social learning approaches. Principles significant to ID are based on continuing multidisciplinary work on different types of memory, schema construction, self-efficacy, and connections between learning and social behavior. Some key ID applications from this research include behavioral objectives, message design, task analysis (behavioral, cognitive, contextual), chunking, and feedback. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction is based on a review of all the major learning theories that have influenced ID.

Finally, theory specific to instruction focuses on the design and management of instruction, identification of instructional objectives, sequencing of objectives and activities, and selection of instructional strategies, all important components of the instructional design process that is found in systematic ID models. Although ISD continues to be a central component in the general ID field, there are some dissenting views that argue that it no longer meets today’s educational and training challenges. For example, many ID practitioners and researchers now consider themselves constructivists, viewing learning as constructed from experience and a personal interpretation of knowledge. In addition, social constructivists expand this to include collaborative learning that negotiates meaning from multiple perspectives. These IDs stress active personalized learning within rich, collaborative and primarily open learning environments.

In conclusion, the ID field encompasses a broad array of theories and models that instructional designers draw from when designing instruction – far too many to cover in this post. We recommend the following books and links for a more comprehensive look at this growing field.

Recommended Reading

Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Instructional-design theories and models: Volume II. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Carr-Chellman, A. A. (2009). Instructional-design theories and models: Vol. 3. New York: Routledge.

Reiser, R.A and Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.)(2002). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Richey, R., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2011). The instructional design knowledge base: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Routledge.

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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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