A Brief History of Instructional Design

I’ve been wrapping my head around where instructional design theories and models came from and where they are heading by creating an infographic that includes some of the key players when it comes to instructional design theories.

Instructional design infographic

Infographic created with easel.ly

Of these theorists I am a big fan of Gagne and Sweller but what have the other guys contributed to the development of sound instructional design in the 21st century?  First of all, what did these guys say about instructional design?

Edgar Dale’s (1946) Cone of Learning was a model that explored what people are able to remember/process and achieve.  To look at the model, it appears like a possible pre-cursor to Bloom’s Taxonomy in that the element of the model that looks that the outcomes people can achieve shows a progression from low to higher order thinking.  The model shows that people remember more of the content they engage with if they engage with it in the higher order levels of creating, evaluating and analysing.

B. F. Skinner (1954) made a significant contribution to the world of instructional design with his work The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching.  “Based on his theory of reinforcement the development of programmed instruction and outcome-oriented instruction was born. Characteristics of Programmed Instruction: behavioral objectives, small frames of instruction, self-pacing, active learner response to inserted questions, and immediate feedback regardless to correctness of the response” (from Instructional Design Timeline).

A very big name in teaching and learning is Benjamin Bloom who published an incredibly influential taxonomy in 1956.  Bloom’s taxonomy is described as a classification of learning objectives and the taxonomy divides learning objectives into three domains: cognitive, affective and psychomotor.  To me, the taxonomy demonstrates a progressions from rote learning activities to higher order processing of information to embed it within long-term memory.  It’s a scaffold for planning learning from the early stages of gaining new knowledge, to the later stages of using that knowledge to do something new.

I’ve discussed Gagne’s work before and I’m definitely a fan of his.  Gagne’s work and the Nine Events of Instruction are still very relevant and real today and has been applied to game design as well.  Becker’s (2005) paper How Are Games Educational? Learning Theories Embodied in Games clearly identifies how Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction fit so seamlessly within game design.

The Dick and Carey model (1968) could be compared to Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction perhaps, this could be because Dick and Carey’s model is an iterative cycle made up of nine steps.  These steps systematically guide a learner from goal setting to summative evaluation.  I like the model, however, I believe Gagne’s model is a lot more user-friendly and relevant.

The ADDIE model, refined by Dick and Carey is very similar to the PLANE learning design, which is a taxonomy that goes from explore, contribute, create, implement, share/reflect to mentor.  The ADDIE model stands for analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation and is very much a progressive model that begins with the exploration of new knowledge, however, it’s believed that there is up to 100 different variations on the model.  It’s a broad model that I would apply in combination with another more fleshed-out model I think but it depends on how much scaffolding is desired really.

The 1990s saw the development of Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory (see earlier blog post), which greatly impacts instructional design, and then there came the resurgence of constructivsm.  Constructivism was huge in the 1930s and 1940s classrooms, however, in the 1990s it returned as a major learning on how people learn, thus informing how teachers should design instruction.  The basic premise of constructivism is that teachers design lessons in a way that allows students to guide their own learning and construct their own meaning from their experiences.

Ok, so what does that mean for modern-day instructional design?  Well, I believe these models definitely still have a place in the design of teaching and learning experiences but its about embracing the here and now context in which our students learn and play.  Teachers need to know how their students learn these days and a lot of it is through playing or experimenting with technology, and this should be considered when designing learning experiences.  I strongly believe that game design is the way we should all be heading in our instructional design for the 21st century.


19 thoughts on “A Brief History of Instructional Design

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  5. This is a really great post for someone like me as a budding Instructional Designer to see. I love infographics and you have done a marvelous job of connecting the major theories with the timeline. I found your comments enlightening as well and appreciate your summaries. I can’t help but assume from your final paragraph that you are a fan of constructivist theory. I was introduced to the philosophy of constructivism last week and found this quote most descriptive: “The development of a philosophy typically begins with a definition of reality and proceeds to describe the other entities in terms of that definition. In contrast, constructivism, in general, focuses on the nature of knowledge, setting aside or greatly reducing the role of an external reality in shaping beliefs… That is, constructivism assigns a major role to social processes which serve as the criteria to determine content knowledge.” (Ormrod, Schunk, Gredler, 2009, p. 16) You have stated that we need to embrace the “here and now context in which our students learn and play” which seems to fit quite well with a constructivist philosophy description. Does your belief that game design is the future of ID also stem from your constructivist philosophy? My concern is with the determination of content knowledge; I guess I’m just not comfortable with social processes being the primary determiner. Thanks again for the informative post.

    Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson

    • Hi Bruce, thanks for your thoughtful comments and I love that quote you shared as well. I am definitely a fan of contructivist theory. I first heard of it when I started my teaching degree 10 years ago and the theory confused many of my peers, including myself at first. When I finally caught onto what it is and how it applies I was hooked. I love learning about all types of learning processes and theories and have often used it as a way of engaging myself in the most effective ways that I can learn when trying to master a new topic of interest. Learning theories and instructional design models are still so relevant in the 21st century but how they are used needs to be thought about a lot more intentionally because students of the 21st century do not access information in the same way and interact with new infomration as we may have when we were shool students. When I said we need to embrace the “here and now context in which students learn and play” I was meaning exactly that.

      Educators need to understand how their students currently learn and engage with information in their everyday lives in order to motivate and engage them in the classroom. Game design in education is important because its a natural flow on from how they might be learning new skills in their own time. Whether it be a computer game, console game or social game through a social networking site like Facebook, students are finding this engaging and motivating and it should be embraced. It’s been said many times but who teaches them how to play these games? No one generally teaches students how to play games, they teach themselves and go on a journey of discovery, and that to me is what constructivism is at its best… discovery.

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  13. That is exactly what I was looking for as I am a complete novice in the realm of Teaching English. I always find that all kind of explanation needs to start with a little bit of history, and this Instruction Design Infographic is simple and an outstanding piece of work. Very good job!

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