Instructional Design Models


Instructional Design Theory
Instructional Systems Design Models
Instructional Theory


Teacher-directed approaches to influencing learning

Principal Metaphors

Instructional Design Models are not associated with a specific perspective on learning. They are most often linked to the full spectrum Correspondence Discourses, across which notions associated with the Acquisition Metaphor and the Attainment Metaphor figure most prominently:
  • Knowledge is … material; domain
  • Knowing is … recalling; applying
  • Learner is … recipient; seeker (individual)
  • Learning is … acquiring; attaining
  • Teaching is … directing


Varied, commencing 1940s


Instructional Design Models are usually articulated as frameworks and rubrics to support systematic design, development, and presentation of lessons or sequences of lessons. There are many subtle variations, but most Instructional Design Models involve identifying learning needs, specifying desired outcomes, crafting a plan to achieve those outcomes, and devising a strategy to assess whether the outcomes are achieved. Regarding the phenomenon of learning, most Instructional Design Models assume the following:
  • Analytical Learning (Explanation-Based Learning; Knowledge-Based Learning) – the combined assumptions that all necessary knowledge can be rendered explicit and that learning obeys predictable linear sequences – which, together, are typically encountered in curriculum structures that revolve around fragmenting knowledge into component parts and organizing it logically
Such assumptions typically translate into trajectory-based program structures. The most prominent of these are:
  • Linear Program – a sequence of topics that all students are expected to follow, typically at the same pace
  • Branching Program – an instructional design that offers an array of trajectories through topics, typically based on student performance but often incorporating student interest
  • Spiral Curriculum (Jerome Bruner, 1960s) – an instructional design that involves revisiting of topics and themes (both across courses or across grades), each time in more sophisticated ways, to deepen understanding and to knit ideas across subject areas
Regarding the phenomenon of knowledge, most Instructional Design Models rely on the assumption that knowledge can be tidily parsed into discrete domains:
  • Disciplines Thesis – the proposal that all knowledge can be unproblematically divided into discrete domains or disciplines, according to their distinct concepts, specific logics, and criteria for truths. Two prominent examples include:
    • Forms of Knowledge (Paul H. Hirst, 1960s) – subscribing to the Disciplines Thesis, eight disciplines were proposed as a “bridge” between the human mind and the real world: Mathematics, Physical Science, History, Religion, Philosophy, Arts, Morals/Ethics, Social Science
    • Realms of Meaning (Philip H. Phenix, 1960s) – subscribing to the Disciplines Thesis, six fundamental patterns of meaning were proposed to counter feelings of fragmentation, cynicism, meaninglessness, and inadequacy: Symbolics, Empirics, Esthetics, Synnoetics, Ethics, Synoptics
Amplifying this point, Instructional Design Models typically rely on the assumption that concepts and learning tasks can be tidily parsed and sequenced:
  • Concept Analysis – examining the origins, applications, representations, and interpretations of a concept, as well as underlying definitions and relationships to other concepts, for the purposes of designing appropriate learning experiences (compare: Task Analysis)
  • Task Analysis – examining a learning activity for the purpose of ensuring that participants have (or will be able to develop) the physical skills, analytic competencies, and conceptual understandings for a reasonable level of success (compare: Concept Analysis; Cognitive Task Analysis)
  • Cognitive Task Analysis – a variety of Task Analysis that also includes examination of the Cognitive Processes associated with the task
A sampling of Instructional Design Models, presented chronologically, follows:
  • Backward Design (Ralph Tyler, 1942) – Three-stage model: 1. Identify desired results. 2. Identify acceptable evidence of learning. 3. Design teaching and learning experiences.
  • Conditions of Learning (Robert Gagné, 1968) – Model that assumed a linear, hierarchical model of learning. It specifies nine possible instructional events (gaining attention, informing about objective, stimulating recall, presenting stimulus, providing guidance, eliciting performance, providing feedback, assessing performance, enhancing retention).
  • Personalized System of Instruction (PSI; Keller Plan) (Fred Keller; 1968) – Model of undergraduate-level teaching with five defining features: self pacing; Mastery Learning; teaching activities seen as motivational (versus as delivery of information); strong emphasis on written teacher–student communications; use of teaching assistants for testing, scoring, tutoring, and social connection.
  • ADDIE Model (Florida State University, 1975) – Five-phase model: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and E Originally presented as a linear model. Current versions reinterpret the phases in terms of an iterative process.
  • Criterion Referenced Instruction (Robert Mager, 1975) – A four-stage model: 1. Goal/task analysis. 2. Specification of learning outcomes. 3. Criterion-referenced evaluation. 4. Development of learning module. The model includes a comprehensive set of methods for each stage.
  • Algo-Heuristic Theory (Lev Landa, 1976) – Model concerned with both conscious and non-conscious mental processes associated with expert performance. It revolves around a system of techniques to uncover the processes involved with expert performance. Associated discourses include:
    • Landamatics (Lev Landa, 1990s) – a prescriptive teaching model based on Algo-Heuristic Theory involving mainly Authority Teaching Style and Guided Discovery Style (see Teaching Styles Discourses), with emphasis on assessment practices that match teaching styles
  • Organizational Elements Model (Roger Kaufman, 1981) – A systemic model that focuses on gaps in performance. Three levels of systems (micro, macro, and meg) along with five system elements (inputs, processes, products, outputs, and outcomes) are identified.
  • ASSURE (Robert Heinich, Michael Molenda, James Russel, Sharon Smaldion, 1982) – A six-stage process: Analyze learners, State standards and objectives, Select strategies, tools, and materials, Utilize technology, media, and materials, Require learner participation, Evaluate and revise.
  • SOLO Taxonomy (John Biggs & Kevin Collins, 1982) – short for “Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome, the SOLO Taxonomy classifies learning objectives according to their complexity – and, thus, serves a basis for sequencing learning and for assessing the quality of student work: Prestructural (learner misses the point), Unstructural (learner notices one relevant aspect), Multistructural (learner notices multiple relevant aspects), Relational (learner coherently integrates aspects), Extended Abstract (learner generalizes)
  • Component Display Theory (David Merrill, 1983) – Model that involve classifying and matching across several sets of distinctions: three learning actions (i.e., remembering, using, generalizing), four knowledge types (i.e., fact, concept, procedure, principle), four primary instructional strategies (e.g., exposition of general rules, exposition of specific examples, recall of generalizations, practice of specifics), and some secondary instructional strategies.
  • Elaboration Theory (Charles Reigeluth, 1983) – Model that recommends prerequisites should be mastered before proceeding with a simple and personally meaningful version of the task or concept. Subsequent lessons should introduce new levels of complexity. Motivators, analogies, cognitive strategies, and openings for learner control should be designed into the teaching sequence.
  • Knirk and Gustafson Model (Frederick G. Knirk, Kent L. Gustafson, 1986) – Three-stage process: 1. Identify problem and goals. 2. Design and develop objectives. 3. Specify strategies.
  • Spiral Model (Barry Boehm, 1986) – The original spiral model of instructional design, comprising five iterative steps: define, design, demonstrate, develop, and deliver)
  • ARCS (ARCS Model of Motivational Design) (John Keller, 1987) – A motivation-focused model, structured in two major parts: components of motivation (interest, relevance, expectancy, satisfaction) and instructional design to realize those components
  • Hannifin-Peck Model (Michael J. Hannifin, Kyle Peck, 1987) – Three-phase model: 1. Needs assessment. 2. Design. 3. Develop and implement instruction. Evaluation and revision are components of all three phases.
  • Outcome-Based Education (William Spady, 1988) – Originally, Outcome-Based Education was more-or-less typical among Instructional Design Models – and a clear example of Backward Design – distinguished slightly in its emphases on providing clear pictures of culminating outcomes of schooling and laying out high expectations for success. The model was picked up by several countries in the 1990s, and it was quickly attached to accountability measures (e.g., achievement tests) and coupled to accreditation. More recently, a softened version, shorter-term version has become popular, which revolves around teachers providing learners with explicit information on the following:
    • Intended Learning Outcome (ILO) – a user-friendly statement, presented to learners prior to a learning activity or lesson sequence, on what they will be able to do when they complete that activity or sequence.
    • Outcome-Based Assessment (Outcomes-Based Assessment) – criterion-referenced assessment based on measurable (and, often, observable) student products or performances. The outcomes and the criteria for assessment should be specified in user-friendly terms at the start of a learning event.
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship (Allan Collins, John Seely Brown, Susan E. Newman, 1989) – Model focused on master–apprentice relationships. On the master’s side, the model is concerned with critical elements of the skill, supervision, and feedback. On the apprentice’s side, it is concerned with practice, mastery, and reflection.
  • Minimalist Theory (Minimalism) (John M. Carroll, 1990) – Picking up on the core themes of Learning-by-DoingMinimalist Theory recommends that learners be provided with minimal (and sometimes flawed and/or incomplete) information for the tasks to be performed. It is supported by a handful of studies that demonstrated that, in some situations, people provided with such information learn faster and perform better than those who have access to comprehensive materials and instruction.
  • Rapid Prototyping (Steven D. Tripp, Barbara Bichelmeyer, 1990) – Model based on a continual design–evaluation iterative cycle. Elements include defining the concept, implementing a skeletal system, refining based on user evaluation, implementing refined version, refining based on user evaluation, etc.
  • Goal-Based Scenarios (Roger Schank, 1992) – Model that combines Case-Based Learning and Learning-by-Doing, framing the teaching engagement by specifying a goal that involves a sequence of steps.
  • Whole–Part–Whole Learning (Richard Swanson & Bryan Law, 1993) – an instructional approach of topics that begins with preparing learners by situating the topic as a whole (e.g., linking to what is known; contextualizing), proceeds by developing parts (i.e., components of the whole), and culminates in consolidating a second whole
  • Interpretation Construction Design Model (ICON Design Model) (John Black, Robbie McClintock, 1995) – a mash-up of several other Instructional Design Models, focused on meaningful tasks through which learners collaborate to develop defensible interpretations under the guidance of a teacher
  • Rothwell & Kazanas Instructional Design Model (William J. Rothwell, H.C. Kazanas, 1998) – Ten-element cycle: needs assessment, learner characteristics, work characteristics, job/task analysis, performance objectives, performance measurements, sequence of expectations, instructional strategies, instructional materials, evaluation of instruction.
  • Teaching for Understanding (David Perkins, Chris, Unger, 1999) – a framework for instructional design founded on the assertion that there’s a difference between learning and understanding. Emphases include application, problem solving, and public displays of knowledge.
  • Rapid Instructional Design (Dave Meier, 2000) – Model aimed at substantial engagement, practice, and feedback that is based on four phases: Preparation (arousing interest), Presentation (contextualizing new content), Practice (integrating content), Performance (applying new knowledge).
  • Model-Centered Instruction / Design Layers (Andrew Gibbons, 2001) – Model assumes several, quasi-independent layers of simultaneous design – e.g., the model/content layer, the strategy layer, the control layer, the message layer, the representation layer, the media-logic layer, and the management layer.
  • 4C-ID Model (Four Component Instructional Design Model) (Jeroen van Merriënboer, 2002) – Model concerned with complex skills and real problems. It is focused on integration and coordinated performance; it distinguishes between supportive information and just-in-time information; it advocates a blend of part-task and whole-task practice.
  • Gerlach-Ely Model (Vernom S. Gerlach, Donald P. Ely, 2003) – Model that mixes linear activities (five steps: content/objectives, pre-requisites, planning, evaluation, post-analysis) and concurrent activities (five simultaneous tasks: strategy, groupings, timing, space, resources).
  • Task-Based Learning (Task-Based Instruction; Task-Based Language Learning) (Rod Ellis, 2003) – a language-learning lesson structure, comprising three elements: (1) Pre-Task, to set expectations and provide instructions; (2) Task, aimed at fluent language-use in small groups; (3) Review, involving honest (and preferably peer-based) assessments of performance
  • Response to Intervention (RtI) (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 2004) – a system involving universal screening and ongoing assessment aimed at identifying and supporting learners at risk through early, tailored, and intense support. RtI identifies three tiers of instruction: Tier 1 – Universal, Core Classroom Instruction (~80% of students); Tier 2 – Targeted, Specialized-Group Instruction (~15% of students; sometimes split into two subgroups, depending on whether the intervention involves pull-out from the classroom); Tier 3 – Intensive, Individualized Intervention (~5% of students).
  • Dick and Carey Model (Walter Dick, Lou Carey, 2005) – Nine-stage model: 1. Goals. 2. Instructional analysis. 3. Prerequisite knowledge. 4. Performance Objectives. 5. Criterion-references test items. 6 Instructional strategy. 7. Formative evaluation. 8. Summative evaluation. 9 Reflection.
  • Integrative Learning Design Framework for Online Learning (Nada Debbaugh, Brenda Bannan-Ritland, 2005) – Three-phase model: exploration (gathering information on context), enactment, and evaluation.
  • Empathic Instruction Design (merlijn Kouprie, Froukje Sleeswijk Visser, 2009) – Model that asserts the ability to empathize with learners is essential.
  • Kemp Design Model (Gary R. Morrison, Steven M. Ross, Jerrold E. Kemp, 2010) – Nine-step model: problems/goals, learner needs, subject content, objective, sequence, strategies, lesson, evaluation, resources.
  • Multiple Approaches to Understanding (Howard Gardner, 2010) – a compilation of advice for bringing Multiple Intelligences (see Social Model of Dis(Ability)) to bear in classroom teaching. Matters addressed include selecting topics for study, designing effective introductions, using multiple representations alongside powerful metaphors and analogies, varying modes of engagement – all in manners consistent with principles of Multiple Intelligences.


The immediate and obvious criticism of Instructional Design Models is presented in their shared title. Almost every one of them is an Instructivism, and so few are associated with current insights into learning. We have attempted to illustrate this point with the map (at the bottom of this entry), locating some of the more prominent discourses associated with Instructional Design Models.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Instructional Design Models are not theories of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Instructional Design Models are theories of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Instructional Design Models are perhaps better classified as “good advice” than “scientific theories.” They offer useful checklists and sequences to assist educators in thinking through and preparing for the many and diverse demands associated with teaching. However, they all fall well short of our criteria for scientific theories.


  • ADDIE Model
  • Algo-Heuristic Theory
  • Analytical Learning (Explanation-Based Learning; Knowledge-Based Learning)
  • ARCS (ARCS Model of Motivational Design)
  • Backward Design
  • Branching Program
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship
  • Cognitive Task Analysis
  • Component Display Theory
  • Concept Analysis
  • Conditions of Learning
  • Criterion Referenced Instruction
  • Dick and Carey Model
  • Disciplines Thesis
  • Elaboration Theory
  • Empathic Instruction Design
  • Forms of Knowledge
  • 4C-ID Model (Four Component Instructional Design Model)
  • Gerlach-Ely Model
  • Goal-Based Scenarios
  • Hannifin-Peck Model
  • Integrative Learning Design Framework for Online Learning
  • Intended Learning Outcome (ILO)
  • Interpretation Construction Design Model (ICON Design Model)
  • Kemp Design Model
  • Knirk and Gustafson Model
  • Landamatics
  • Linear Program
  • Minimalist Theory (Minimalism)
  • Model-Centered Instruction / Design Layers
  • Multiple Approaches to Understanding
  • Organizational Elements Model
  • Outcome-Based Assessment (Outcomes-Based Assessment)
  • Outcome-Based Education
  • Personalized System of Instruction
  • Rapid Instructional Design
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Realms of Meaning
  • Response to Intervention
  • Rothwell and Kazanas Instructional Design Model
  • SOLO Taxonomy
  • Spiral Curriculum
  • Spiral Model
  • Task Analysis
  • Task-Based Learning (Task-Based Instruction; Task-Based Language Learning)
  • Teaching for Understanding
  • Whole–Part–Whole Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2022). “Instructional Design Models” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List