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Influential Instructional Design Theories and 5 Others You Should Know

Damian Hehire-learning

4 Influential Instructional Design Theories and 5 Others You Should Know

Instructional design is the systematic process of creating training courses that lead to efficient, effective, and engaging learning experiences. The core idea behind instructional design is to apply a defined methodology to the creation of e-learning courses and other instructional materials to ensure learning objectives are met.

There is no single approach or method of instructional design but there are a number of theories that can provide a framework for the instructional design process. Here are four of the most influential and five others you should know about.

1. Merrill’s Principles of Instruction

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction provide a holistic approach to instructional design, emphasizing the importance of grounding instruction in real-world tasks and providing opportunities for active learning and participation. There are five principles in Merrill’s instructional design theory:

  • Task-centred
  • Activation
  • Demonstration
  • Application
  • Integration

2. Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction

Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction framework offers a systematic approach to designing learning experiences. The nine events are based on cognitive psychology and are intended to be used in sequence, although they can be adapted based on specific learning contexts. They are:

  • Gain attention.
  • Inform learners of the objectives of the training.
  • Stimulate prior learning.
  • Present the content.
  • Provide learning guidance.
  • Give learners the opportunity to practice.
  • Provide feedback.
  • Assess performance.
  • Enhance retention and transfer of knowledge.

3. The ADDIE Instructional Design Model

Like Gagne’s framework, the ADDIE Instructional Design Model provides a systematic structure for creating learning experiences. It is also iterative, so feedback from each phase can lead to revisions in previous phases. While it provides a linear sequence, revisiting earlier stages based on insights or challenges is common. The five phases are:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

4. Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical instructional design model that classifies learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. It originally had six levels representing the cognitive domain, but it has since been revised to make the six levels more actionable. The six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are:

  • Remember
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyse
  • Evaluate
  • Create

Other Instructional Design Theories

There are a number of other instructional design theories that are often not as well known as the four presented above, but which are still used by trainers and educators.

5. SAM Model

SAM stands for Successive Approximation Model. It is a more modern instructional design theory that emphasizes iterative development, collaboration, and efficiency. The SAM model focuses on agility and continuous improvement, and it can be useful in the rapid development of new e-learning materials.

6. The Dick and Carey Model

The Dick and Carey Model provides a systemic approach to e-learning design where each component or step is interconnected. It is also iterative, where ongoing evaluation and feedback loops ensure continuous improvement. The main components include:

  • Identify instructional goals.
  • Conduct an instructional analysis.
  • Analyse learners and contexts.
  • Write performance objectives.
  • Develop assessment instruments.
  • Develop an instructional strategy.
  • Develop and select the instructional materials.
  • Design and conduct a formative evaluation.
  • Revise the e-learning course.
  • Conduct a final evaluation.


The ASSURE model is an acronym that stands for:

  • Analyse
  • State objectives
  • Select methods, media, and materials.
  • Utilise media, materials, and methods.
  • Require learner participation.
  • Evaluate and revise.

ASSURE offers a systematic framework for the development of e-learning courses and is particularly effective at ensuring various forms of media are integrated – integrated strategically and thoughtfully rather than simply included.

8. Backward Design

As the name suggests, the Backward Design instructional design theory starts at the end. So, instead of starting with content and planning the framework of an e-learning course, you focus first on the desired results and outcomes. From there you work backward with the aim of keeping the priority on outcomes rather than content or process.

The main Backward Design phases include:

  • Identify the desired results, i.e., what do you want learners to do or know at the end of the course?
  • Determine how you will assess whether the desired results have been achieved.
  • Now you know where you want learners to end up and how you’ll measure knowledge/skills, you can plan the required learning experiences, content, and materials that will get you there.

9. Kemp Design Model

The Kemp Design Model of instructional design takes a more holistic and flexible view of the design process, where the emphasis is on interconnectedness and iteration. It is non-linear, so there is no sequence to the steps, making it a framework that is highly flexible and adaptable. A key element is to place the learner at the centre of instructional design.

The main components of the Kemp Design Model include:

  • Identify the instructional problems and specify goals for the design.
  • Analyse the characteristics of learners.
  • Analyse the tasks that learners need to learn and determine the content that is required.
  • Define the objectives.
  • Organise the content into a sequence that facilitates learning.
  • Decide on the training strategy.
  • Plan the message and how it will be communicated.
  • Develop assessment tools.
  • Identify or develop materials and other resources that support the learning process.

Some Differences with a Lot of Similarities

The differences between the instructional design theories outlined above are clear to see, but there are also key similarities that run through each one. Keeping the learner at the centre of the process is the most important. Making sure the instructional design process is goal oriented is essential too, as is keeping the focus on outcomes.

Whatever method is used, learner-centric, goal-oriented, and outcome-focused are the pillars of good instructional design.