Do you take instruction well? Don’t worry. We’re not about to launch into a military-style discussion on whether you fold your socks crisply enough. We’re here to have a what about instructional design, what it is and how it works. To build great houses, you need a great architect, great movies require fantastic directors, and instructional design is designing and developing educational products. 

What is Instructional Design? 

Right off the bat, some of the terms you may find using interchangeably with instructional design are:

  • instructional technology
  • learning experience (LX) design 
  • curriculum design 
  • instructional systems design (ISD) 

All of them do generally mean the same thing. Instructional design is the science and art of creating meaningful, engaging learning experiences. At its core, it is the systematic process of planning and organizing resources used for learning. A good instructional designer will take learning and development up to the next level. Companies often vastly underestimate the need for good instructional design, with almost half not making use of the field at all. 

  • What does an Instructional Designer Do? 

Figuring out a neat and concise way to explain everything an instructional designer does is a little bit complicated. If you’ve ever read a job advert description, you’re well aware. Please bear with me as I try to bullet point their responsibilities:

  • Plan and design instructional management systems (IMS)
  • Evaluate existing edTech 
  • Create learning materials such as podcasts, videos, and courses
  • Design and renew learning models 
  • Implement any feedback from both learners and management when doing program reviews 
  • Train learning instructors on delivery and implementation
  • Research innovations in learning and development 

The Basics of Instructional Design 

  1. Efficiency is vital in learning.
  2. Consider what your learner’s abilities look like before designing a new course. 
  3. Offer some extra learning materials for those learners who need to go for more of an in-depth approach.
  4. Be able to drop things down a notch for those needing a different direction or maybe coming to a topic brand new. 
  5. Most students benefit from clear paths and organization in learning. 
  6. Keep referring back to other building blocks.
  7. Examples are your friend. 
  8. Make use of the community of learners, fellow employees, and colleagues. 

Research Concepts of Instructional Design 


We love an acronym here. ADDIE stands for the five critical stages of the content development process. It was one of the first design models, and while there has been some discussion about how well equipped it is to handle today’s learning processes, most Fortune 500 companies are still using it. 

The ADDIE model has been criticized for separating design, development, and implementation so significantly. This makes it run the risk of making assumptions at a later point. It would be unfortunate to make additional discoveries later on and need to run straight back to the storyboarding segment. 

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction (MPI)

Doesn’t that sound like the title of a big, leather-bound book with gilded lettering? Hopefully, it isn’t too dusty because educational researcher David Merrill created it in 2002. After looking at various models, Merrill narrowed it down to 5 principles of creating an effective instructional design.

  1. Problem-centered: learners are more likely to come away with long-term understanding and knowledge when real-world problems are solved. 
  2. Activation: Learning becomes more accessible when existing knowledge is activated when introducing existing knowledge. 
  3. Demonstration: Most learners can access new information more quickly when they are shown how to. “Show me.”
  4. Application: Allowing learners to apply newfound knowledge cements it further in their minds. “Let me.”
  5. Integration: Additional learning is promoted when learners find ways to connect their newfound knowledge with their personal lives. 


Hopefully, this has been a useful intro to instructional systems design. Do you now feel more able to conquer that big project at work? Next time the necessary homeschooling drives you and your kids up a wall, try implementing some of these techniques.