Instructional Design Models


Instructional Systems Design Models


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. Traditional models tend to track these steps linearly; more current models tend to engage them cyclically or iteratively. Typically, Instructional Design Models rely on an assumption of distinct disciplines:
  • Disciplines Thesis – the proposal that all knowledge can be unproblematically divided into discrete domains of 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
A sampling of 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.
  • 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 (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.
  • 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.
  • Transactional Distance Theory (Michael Moore, 1997) – Model of distance education that sees “distance” as multi-faceted – e.g., geographic separation, role separation, conceptual separation – calling for multiple theories.
  • 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.
  • 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 (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).
  • 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.


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.

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
  • ARCS
  • Backward Design
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship
  • Component Display Theory
  • Conditions of Learning
  • Criterion Referenced Instruction
  • Dick and Carey Model
  • Disciplines Thesis
  • Elaboration Theory
  • Empathic Instruction Design
  • Forms of Knowledge
  • 4C-ID Model
  • Gerlach-Ely Model
  • Goal-Based Scenarios
  • Hannifin-Peck Model
  • Integrative Learning Design Framework for Online Learning
  • Kemp Design Model
  • Knirk and Gustafson Model
  • Minimalist Theory (Minimalism)
  • Model-Centered Instruction / Design Layers
  • Organizational Elements Model
  • Personalized System of Instruction
  • Rapid Instructional Design
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Realms of Meaning
  • Response to Intervention
  • Rothwell and Kazanas Instructional Design Model
  • SOLO Taxonomy
  • Spiral Model
  • Transactional Distance Theory

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Instructional Design Models” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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