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Suzanne Rose
Rick Moggio
Rhianna Ulrich

The definition, history, and core models of the instructional design field.

Educational Technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving
performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources
(AECT, 2004).

This is the most current definition from the Association for Educational Communications and
Technology (AECT). Although this may appear as a condensed version representing an
extraordinarily large field, one must carefully observe the meanings and elements that encompass
each key term within this definition. Each key term encapsulates certain processes that hopefully
further promote the proposed final objectives. Those key words are study, ethical practice,
facilitating, learning, improving, performance, creating, using, managing, appropriate, technological,
processes, and resources. The Definition and Terminology Committee of the AECT covers each of
the key terms with extensive commentary of the intended meaning. These key terms, used in
combination with other key terms, have proven to create a shift from the old definitions once

The first formal definition used by the AECT (Ely, 1963), referred to “the design and use of
messages which control the learning process.” With the current definition, the relationships show a
paradigm shift from what were once educator-based controlled learning strategies to strategies that
are now designed to accentuate students’ learning abilities. To fully understand the definition of the
concept, one point must be kept in mind; technology is systematically ever-changing and ever-
evolving. As theories change, so will the processes in which we learn. Figure 1.1 shows the process
of the key term elements.

Figure 1.1
A visual summary of key elements of the current definition

There are many terms such as Educational Technology, Instructional Design, Instructional
Technology, and Instructional Design and Technology (IDT), used synonymously or in conjunction
with the other terms. Educational Technology is also recognized as Learning Technology. This field
has also been referred to as Instructional Design and Technology.

Although the term “technology” can be observed as a very expansive term in itself, it can encompass
quite different and similar applications. At one end of the spectrum, it can be defined as physical
aspects such as computer hardware, software, and other communication devices (AECT, 2004). At
the other end, it can be defined as organizational methods, systems, procedures, and processes in
which to attenuate the learning process. These definitions demonstrate that educational technology
can be viewed differently. The AECT’s current definition, stated at the beginning of this section, is
one view. Dr. Terry Anderson, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Distance Education (2003),
defines educational technology as “those tools used in formal educational practice to disseminate,
illustrate, communicate, or immerse learners and teachers in activities purposively designed to induce

The current AECT definition of Instructional Technology is “the theory and practice of design,
development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning”
(Seels & Richey). The main objective is a two step process. The first step develops an understanding
as to how people learn. The second step uses that gained knowledge to design and create
instructional systems and the necessary materials in which to best to facilitate learning. Since the
definition of Educational Technology is very close to that of Instructional Technology, the terms are
used interchangeably.

Instructional Design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and
instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning
needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes
development of instructional materials and activities as well as tryout and evaluation of all
instruction and learner activities (Berger, 1996). The process is learning the needs of the learner,
defining the end instructional objectives, designing and developing the systems and materials, and
implementing them to achieve said objectives. The University of Michigan has compiled a list of
definitions demonstrating the comparisons and differences between instruction al design and
technology. It does state that Instructional Technology = Instructional Design + Instructional
Development, where by the Instructional Development being known as the implementation process

The field of Instructional Design and Technology (IDT) is best defined by Reiser (2001). The field
of IDT encompasses the analysis of learning and performance problems, as well as the design,
development, implementation, evaluation, and management of instructional and non-instructional
processes and resources intended to improve learning and performance in a variety of settings,
particularly educational institutions and the workplace. Professionals in the field of IDT often use
systematic instructional design procedures and employ a variety of instructional media to accomplish
their goals. Moreover, in recent years, they have paid increasing attention to non-instructional
solutions to some performance problems. Research and theory related to each of the
aforementioned areas is also an important part of the field. This term is most often synonymously
used for Instructional Technology and Educational Technology.

History of the Field

Instructional Design and Technology has strong roots in anything that we consider teachable
through coaching. This includes everything from learning how to tie your shoes, to studying in-
depth string theory in physics. Since its beginnings are in all education, a narrowing of Instructional
Design Technology is needed. Beyond school textbooks and chalkboards, teaching and instructional
design can be found in museums, through interactive displays, educational videos, corporate
presentations, and interactive computer instruction.

As education techniques evolved, so did instructional technology. One

can deduce that even the first scroll used to aid in teaching was a
beginning spark for instructional design. Although we may see it as basic
and primitive now, the inclusion of illustrations in books, individual
chalkboards in prairie schoolhouses, and Bob Ross’ half hour painting
show on PBS are all leaps in instructional design. Robert Reiser has
included examples such as slides, photographs, films, and charts in
schools throughout history (Reiser, 2001).

The first use of the term Instructional Design began in the 1940’s by the
military (Piskurich, 2006). They created a straight-line model with five
phases (Figure 2.1): analysis, design, development, implementation, and
evaluation. From there, “designers began to realize that although the
phases were a pretty good representation of how instructional design
worked, the straight-line model with a beginning and an end was not
realistic. Evaluation eventually led to more analysis, which created the
need for redesign, and so on.” (Piskurich, 2006) Figure 2.2 shows what
the second revised model looks like.

Figure 2.1 Part of the history of Instructional Technology is the adaptation and
changing of what is considered aids and tools of instructional technology.
First five phase Instructional
Design model
One definition of Educational Technology states that it is a “systematic,
interactive process for designing instruction or training used to improve performance” (Walden,
2005). As society grows and develops, what is needed to improve performance changes. Gone are
the times of the chalkboard and the whiteboard, which in their heyday were considered the height of
information technology. Today is the time of computer e-learning and online instruction.

As instructional design has moved into the more interactive and computer realm, teaching to other
learning styles, beyond book and repetitive learners, has opened many doors to teachers. The
inclusion of online video, webcams, video games, and simulator technology into education has
incorporated visual, tactile, and field learners. Web 2.0 has enabled users and teachers to interact on
a level that has never been possible before. “Web-based communities, hosted services, web
applications, social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies”
(, 2009) are just a few examples of Web 2.0 contributions. Each have been used as
tools to help in teaching.

Incorporating new computer technology is not a complete golden ticket, though. The evolution to
computer learning has created problems such as program compatibility, peripherals, and courses

being taught on a world-wide basis, rather than at a local level. “Courses designed in North America
and imported to other nations often carry American values and cultural assumptions which may not
be shared by another country” (Pickett, n.d.).

Since instructional design is so imperative to enhancing how people learn, and expanding who can
learn, in regards to a corporate setting, William Rothwell and H.C. Kazans have included an entire
chapter on promoting instructional design in their book “Mastering the Instructional Design
Process.” They illustrate how to encourage having instructional designers on payroll and how to
endorse the benefits of
enhanced instructional
design technology. In a
corporate setting,
companies want to know
that using a talented
instructional designer will
create a good return on
investment. “Return on
investment, or ROI, is a
form of evaluation that
allows organizations to
find out if a training
program has been
profitable for the
company” (Adelgais,
2001). For corporations
to consider the use of an
instructional designer,
their ROI needs to be kept
as a number one foresight.
Figure 2.2
An additional benefit to the incorporation of Second five phase
computer and online learning is the ability to Instructional Design model
have a collaborative effort for teaching, as well
as the ability to access a wide and vast database of ideas on instructional design. “Technology has
also improved distance education through increased interactivity and improved feedback processes
that enable a more collaborative environment” (Kirwin, n.d.).

Since Instructional Design Technology is so important to current school learning and corporate
training, it is imperative that designers continue to keep themselves educated on techniques and
technologies involved “…Recent technological advances, new ideas and theories regarding the
learning process, and new views of how to promote learning and performance in classrooms and in
the workplace have all had an influence on the field” (Reiser). Designers cannot hope to excel
without learning themselves. Although Instructional Technology has a rich history that changes
vastly and quickly with the times, designers have a constant struggle to maintain an up-to-date level
of knowledge and a library of data, programs, and techniques.

Core Models

As children, most of us were inquisitive in nature and constantly asked our parents, “Why?” As we
grew older, some of us may have even disassembled our toys to see how they work. Many people
with this type of curiosity have grown into instructional designers. The field demands a strong sense
of analytical thinking; one must investigate a challenge and view it from all sides to create effective
teaching materials. One must also know how to attack challenges and find solutions that can be
carried out by their audiences.

The core of the instructional design field is knowledge. We live in an age of information where
knowledge is valuable and powerful. An instructional designer strives to tame that knowledge and
transfer it to a learner clearly and cohesively. This sounds like a daunting task; there are innumerable
variables dependent on the type of knowledge, the audience, the goal, and more. Psychologists and
educators worked to find a common model that would allow them to transfer knowledge on a
consistent and effective basis.

One of the forerunners was Benjamin Bloom (1956) whose taxonomy of cognitive learning
objectives dominates the field of instructional design to this day. Bloom, and a number of
colleagues, identified three domains of educational activity: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor
(Clark, 2007). The cognitive domain is utilized most often in the field of instructional design because
it refers to the development of knowledge and skills. Bloom’s cognitive domain is divided into six
categories. These categories signify the type of knowledge or skill the learner will have upon

 Knowledge refers to recalling or reciting information.

 Comprehension refers to the ability to grasp the meaning of the material (Hancock, 2007).
 Application refers to the ability to use the learned information while performing tasks.
 Analysis refers to the ability to use the learned information to deconstruct the material and
comprehend its structure (Hancock, 2007).
 Synthesis refers to the ability to combine parts into a new and cohesive whole.
 Evaluation refers to the ability to use the learned information to judge future situations or

Conceptually, the categories are listed in degrees of difficulties from the simplest to the most
complex. According to Bloom and his colleagues, for the transfer of knowledge to occur, learners
must gain proficiency in the each category before they are prepared to move to the next (Clark,

For example, if our goal is to teach someone how to build a shelf, they must first learn what they are
building and comprehend its purpose before they can learn how to build it. If our student were merely
following a list of directions without this prerequisite knowledge, he is more likely to make errors,
and the transfer of knowledge may not occur.

Bloom’s Taxonomy allows learners to gain knowledge and skills, and to also build upon them in an
effective and systematic manner so that the transfer of knowledge can occur.

To illustrate this, the most common visual representation of Bloom’s cognitive domain is a pyramid
(Figure 3.1). Since the simplest category must be mastered first, it resides at the bottom. The next
category builds upon that foundation in the same way that Mayans built their pyramids. The Mayan
pyramids still stand twenty stories high since A.D. 250 (Joil, n.d.). As with all structures that are
designed for strength, durability and permanence, Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives is built
upon a solid foundation while integrating balance.

Figure 3.1
Benjamin Bloom’s Cognitive Dogma

However, instructional design is not theory alone. To work successfully, theory must be balanced
with a strategic and repeatable process of application. The most commonly used process is the
ADDIE model. ADDIE is an acronym for Analysis, Design, Develop, Implementation, and
Evaluation. It refers to the process of creating training material from start to finish.

When beginning a project, we define the problem, identify its source, and determine possible
solutions (, 2009). This includes research, analyzing the needs and tasks
associated with the project, and defining its goals. These tasks are completed during the Analysis
phase of the model.

During the Design phase, we use our results from the Analysis phase to create a plan of action. This
includes selecting a delivery method, writing the objectives, and finalizing the flow of the material
(, 2009). This is typically accomplished through creating an outline or visual

Once we have a solid design, we begin the Development phase. This refers to the elements that
comprise the training material. This includes authoring the content or script, as well as all the
supporting media or documents necessary.

Implementation refers to delivering the material to an audience. This is where the transfer of
knowledge occurs.

Summative Evaluation measures the effectiveness and efficiency of the instruction (about-, 2009). It measures if the transfer of knowledge took place and to what degree. This
can be conducted through assessments as well as comparative observations and data.

Between each phase, there is a Formative Evaluation process to ensure each phase is completed
successfully before moving to the next (, 2009). Without the formative
evaluation phase, we’re more likely to overlook nuances that are more difficult to correct at the end
of a project. In the instructional design field, we accomplish this by sending the project to clients
between each phase for review and approvals.

As mentioned earlier, the military created ADDIE as a linear model that ended once the Evaluation
phase was complete. The model has since been restructured to differentiate between Formative
Evaluation and Summative
Evaluation (Figure 3.2). It is now
considered a cyclical model; by
analyzing the data gathered in the
Evaluation phase, we are beginning
the analysis of further instruction on
the topic as necessary.

Ultimately, the field of instructional

design is defined by both theory and
process. One compliments the
other to create a balanced and
cohesive unit. By combining these
models, we are able to develop
quality training materials that
implement the transfer of
knowledge in a strategic and
repeatable process. Therefore, we
can attain both quality and
efficiency, which are both vital in
the instructional design field. Figure 3.2
Cyclical Instructional Design model


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