Developing Instruction or Instructional Design

This page presents five theories for developing instruction. The five models should be read first as they provide a framework to build upon and are fairly consistent in their approach. The two main differences are the level of detail that they go into and their semantics.

The sixth section brings the theories together in an easy to follow model for ID design. This is followed by a section of resource of templates.

There are three types of strategies within Instruction Design theories: 

Organizational strategies are broken down on the micro or macro level and deals with the way in which a lesson is arranged and sequenced, 
Delivery strategies are concerned with the decisions that affect the way in which information is carried to the student, particularly, the selection of instructional media. 
Management strategies involve the decisions that help the learner interact with the activities designed for learning. 

Robert Gagné's Nine Steps of Instruction

There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge available to us: observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination. Our observation of nature must be diligent, our reflection profound, and our experiments exact. We rarely see these three means combined; and for this reason, creative geniuses are not common.

Denis Diderot (1713–84), French philosopher. On the Interpretation of Nature, no. 15 (1753; repr. in Selected Writings, ed. by Lester G. Crocker, 1966).

  1. Gain attention. Present a problem or a new situation. Use an "interest device" that grabs the learner's attention. This can be thought of as a "teaser" (the short segment shown in a TV show right before the opening credits that is designed to keep you watching and listening). The ideal is to grab the learners' attention so that they will watch and listen, while you present the learning point. You can use such devices as:
    Presenting a problem to be solved
    Doing something the wrong way (the instruction would then show how to do it the right way)
    Why it is important
  2. Inform learner of Objective. This allows the learner's to organize their thoughts and around what they are about to see, hear, and/or do. There is a saying in the training filed to 1) tell them what you're going to tell them, 2) tell them, and 3) tell them what you told them. This cues them and then provides a review which has proven to be effective. e.g. describe the goal of a lesson, state what the learners will be able to accomplish and how they will be able to use the knowledge.
  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge. This allows the learners to build on their previous knowledge or skills. Although we are capable of having our "creative" minutes, it is much easier to build on what we already know. e.g. remind the learners of prior knowledge relevant to the current lesson, provide the learners with a framework that helps learning and remembering.
  4. Present the material. Chunk the information to avoid memory overload. Blend the information to aid in information recall. This is directly related to Skinner's "sequenced learning events." This allows learners to receive feedback on individualized tasks, thereby correcting isolated problems rather than having little idea of where the root of the learning challenge lies. Bloom's Taxonomy and Learning Strategies can be used to help sequence the lesson by helping you chunk them into levels of difficulty.
  5. Provide guidance for learning. This is not the presentation of content, but are instructions on how to learn. This is normally simpler and easier than the subject matter or content. It uses a different channel or media to avoid mixing it with the subject matter. The rate of learning increases because learners are less likely to lose time or become frustrated by basing performance on incorrect facts or poorly understood concepts.
  6. Elicit performance. Practice by letting the learner do something with the newly acquired behavior, skills, or knowledge
  7. Provide feedback. Show correctness of the learner's response, analyze learner's behavior. This can be a test, quiz, or verbal comments. The feedback needs to be specific, not, "you are doing a good job" Tell them "why" they are doing a good job or provide specific guidance.
  8. Assess performance. Test to determine if the lesson has been learned. Can also give general progress information
  9. Enhance retention and transfer. Inform the learner about similar problem situations, provide additional practice, put the learner in a transfer situation, review the lesson.

Army Research Institute on Behavioral & Social Sciences completed a meta-analysis of the effects of overlearning. 

Overlearning is additional training for the learner that occurs after the learner has reached proficiency on the task. 

The results of the meta-analysis indicate that overlearning produces reliably better retention of the skill than just training to proficiency. Even after thousands of practice trials, performance continues to improve. Apparently, when considering the amount of practice - no amount is ever too much, especially for fundamental skills.

John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design

According to John Keller, there are four steps in the instructional design process - Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction (ARCS).


According to Keller attention can be gained in two ways:
Perceptual arousal - uses surprise or uncertainly to gain interest. Uses novel, surprising, incongruous, and uncertain events.
Inquiry arousal - stimulates curiosity by posing challenging questions or problems to be solved. Stimulates information seeking behavior by posing or having the learner generate questions or a problem to solve. Maintain interest by varying the elements of instruction.

Methods for grabbing the learners' attention include:
Specific examples - Use a visual stimuli, story, or biography.
Active Participation or Hands-on - Involve the learners with role playing, games, lab work, or other simulations that allows them to get them involved with the material or subject matter. Note that  active participation should almost always be included!
Incongruity and Conflict - Pose facts or statements that run contrary to the learner's previous experiences. Play devils advocate while discussing the subject to be covered. 
Inquiry - Stimulate curiosity by posing questions or problems for the learners to solve. It may include such activities as brainstorming or performing team research.
Humor - Break up monotony and maintain interest by lightening the subject. However, too much humor distracts from your main topic. The goal is to hold your learner's attention, not to become a stand up comedian. 
Variability - Combine a variety of methods in presenting material. Foe example, a 15 lecture, watch a video, then divide the classroom into groups to review the material and to answer questions posed by it. Using a variety of methods reinforces the material and helps to incorporate a variety of learning styles. Also see Media.

The first step, "gaining the learner's attention" is normally relatively easy; the key is to then maintain their attention at an optimal level after grabbing them. You have to keep them from becoming bored nor over stimulate them (see Arousal). 


Emphasize relevance within the instruction to increase motivation by using concrete language and examples with which the learners are familiar. They are six major strategies foe accomplishing this:
Experience - Tell the learners how the new learning will use their existing skills. We best learn by building upon our preset knowledge or skills.
Present Worth - What will the subject matter do for me today?
Future Usefulness - What will the subject matter do for me tomorrow?
Needs Matching - Take advantage of the dynamics of achievement, risk taking, power, and affiliation (see Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs).
Modeling - First of all, "be what you want them to do!" Other strategies include guest speakers, videos, and having the learners who finish their work first to serve as tutors. 
Choice - Allow the learners to use different methods to pursue their work or allowing s choice in how they organize it.


Allow the learners to succeed! However, present a degree of challenge that provides meaningful success. 
Provide Objectives and Prerequisites - Help students estimate the probability of success by presenting performance requirements and evaluation criteria. Ensure the learners are aware of performance requirements and evaluative criteria.
Grow the Learners - Every learning journey begins with a single step that builds upon itself. This allows a number of small success that gets more challenging with every step. Learners should understand that there is a correlation between the amount of energy they put into a learning experience and the amount of skill and knowledge they will gain from that experience. 
Feedback - Provide feedback and support internal attributions for success. 
Learner Control - Learners should feel some degree of control over their learning and assessment (see Constructivism). They should believe that their success is a direct result of the amount of effort they have put forth. 


Provide opportunities to use newly acquired knowledge or skill in a real or simulated setting. Provide feedback and reinforcements that will sustain the desired behavior. If learners feel good about learning results, they will be motivated to learn. Satisfaction is based upon motivation, which can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Some basic rules are:
Do not annoy the learner by over-rewarding simple behavior.
If negative consequences are too entertaining the learners may deliberately choose the wrong answer.
Using too many extrinsic rewards may eclipse the instruction.

Notice that satisfaction is closely related to confidence. If you allow the learners to build confidence, satisfaction will follow if the task remains challenging.

B.F. Skinner had a major influence on ID through behaviorism and programmed instruction. He believed the best way for creating a good learning environment was to identify the desired behavior, then create situations in which successive approximations of the behavior would occur and be reinforced.


Merrill's Component Display Theory

Merrill's Component Display Theory (DDT) describes the micro elements of instruction (single ideas and methods for teaching them). It is designed to work in conjunction with Riegeluth's theory.

CDT is comprised of three parts: 

A performance/content dimension comprised of the desired level of student performance and type of content.
Four primary presentation forms
A set of prescriptions relating the level of performance and type of content to the presentation forms.

The theory classifies learning into two dimensions:

Content, which consists of facts, concepts, procedures, and principles. Content ranges from facts, which are the most basic forms of content, to principles. It is the actual information to be learned. The four types of content in component display theory are
Facts - logically associated pieces of information. Some examples are names, dates, and events. 
Concepts - symbols, events, and objects that share characteristics and are identified by the same name. Concepts make up a large portion of language and understanding them is integral to communication. 
Procedures - a set of ordered steps, sequenced to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. 
Principles - work through either cause-and-effect or relationships. They explain or predict why something happens in a particular way.
Performance, made up of remembering, using, and generalities. Performance is classified with remembering as being the simplest form of performance, to finding (generalities) the most advanced. Performance is the manner in which the learner applies the content. The three types of performance are:
Remembering - the learner is required to search and recall from memory a particular item of information, 
Using - the learner directly apply the information to a specific case and 
Finding -  the learner uses the information to derive a new abstraction (concepts, principles, etc.).

By forming a matrix using content and performance, the instructor determines which elements on the matrix are the goals for the learner. 

Simplified Matrix

  Facts Concepts Procedure Principles

The theory also identifies four primary presentation forms: 


And some secondary presentation forms:


The matrix is set up to determine the level of performance needed for an area of content. For each of the categories in the matrix, it can be assumed in CRT that there is a combination of primary and secondary presentation forms that will provide the most effective and efficient acquisition of skills and knowledge available. CRT specifies that instruction is more effective when it contains all the necessary primary and secondary forms. Thus, a complete lesson would consist of an objective, followed by some combination of rules, examples, recall, practice, feedback, helps, and mnemonics appropriate to the subject matter and learning task.

The theory is primarily designed for use by groups of learners. Several components are provided so that a wide variety of learners may participate, however each learner only needs the components which specifically work for her to achieve the goals of instruction.


What is known as "sequencing and organizing epitomes" in Reigeluth's Elaboration theory, is commonly referred to as "chunking." 

For example, "Instructional Design" is chunked or epitomized into:


Each of the above epitomes or chunks are further divided. For example, Development is divided as:

List Learner Activity
Choose Delivery System
Review Existing Material
Develop Instruction (this page)

Developing Instruction (Instructional Design) is divided into several theories and a model (at least on this site). Notice how we took a complex subject and chunked it into small, bite size pieces.

Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory

Charles Reigeluth was a doctorate student of Merrill. He used a sequencing approach that is consistent with Merrill's Component Display Theory (that is, each theory enhances the other). Reigeluth believes that instruction is made out of layers and that each layer of instruction elaborates on the previously presented ideas. By elaborating on the previous ideal, it reiterates, thereby improving retention. This layering has a zoom lens sequencing approach that runs from simple to complex and repeated general-to-specific:

Present overview of simplest and most fundamental ideas
Add complexity to one aspect
Review the overview and show relationships to the details
Provide additional elaboration of details
Provide additional summary and synthesis.

This zoom lens approach first looks at the subject through a wide-angle lens. That is, the subject matter is general and fundamental. This allows us to deal with the core aspects of the subject. Elaboration begins with an overview of the simplest and most fundamental ideas of the subject.

Then we start to zoom in with the lens so that we pick up some details and specifics about the subject matter. We can also observe the relationships between the wide-angle subject shot and the zoom details. This principle as applied to elaboration theory is called a cognitive zoom.

As we continue to zoom, we go into great detail with each iteration or layering. Note that we are primarily concerned with the sequencing of ideas as opposed to the individual ideas themselves. Each zoom that we make is called a sequence. Sequencing in this case relates to fundamental ideas or core principles. The basic ones are presented first, this in turn, leads to a great layer of specifics. Each sequence of ideas or principles are called epitomes in elaboration theory. The epitome serves as a foundation from which more specific information may be developed. 

The Seven Steps in Elaboration

1. Sequence

This simple to complex procedure can take many forms such as an overview, advance organizer, or spiral curriculum. This sequence is one in which the general ideas epitomize rather than summarize, and the epitomizing is organized on the basis of a single type of content:

Conceptual - Concepts are certain sets of objects, events, or symbols that have certain common characteristics. 
Procedural - Procedures are sets of actions intended to achieve an end. 
Theoretical - Principles are changes in something else, generally denoting cause and effect. 

One of these three contents is chosen to achieve the goals of a lesson or course. Epitomizing is structured as follows: 

One type of content is chosen (conceptual, procedural, or theoretical).
All the organizing content in the course is then listed.
The most basic and fundamental ideas are selected and presented at the application level.

This is the subject matter before the first level of elaboration:


Before we epitomize (chunk) the subject matter it is in a state of disarray

This is after elaboration:


We put chaos into order when we chunk (epitomize) the subject matter

From this first layer or epitome, we can then elaborate by organizing (the second step) the content. 

2. Organize

The second step elaborates upon organizing the content in the first level. This process continues in the same way as the first step of Sequence. The relationships that result between the levels are organized according to content. At each level the expanded epitome is used to create a means to elaborate upon the next level.

Epitomes can be sequenced according to the order of steps:

Forward Chaining is presenting them in the order in which they are performed.

Backward Chaining is presenting them in the reverse order (backwards).

Hierarchical Sequencing is presenting all the major substeps separately before integrating them into a step in the sequence.

General to Detailed Sequencing is presented by summarizing.

Simple to Complex Sequencing is presenting them by their shortest paths (procedures) with each successive path becoming more complex.

Each epitome should be examined closely to determine if the learners have the essential knowledge that will allow them to learn the subject matter. If the necessary knowledge is not present, it must be provided.

3. Summarization

In order to systematically review what has already been learned, a summarizer is created. A summarizer provides a concise statement of each idea, an example. Two types of summarizers are used: 

Internal - The summary comes at the end of the lesson and deals specifically with the content of that lesson.

Within-set - This deals with all that has been learned so far in a particular set of lessons. This can include other lessons that coordinate with that lesson.

4. Synthesize

This step integrates and interrelates the ideas taught thus far. The goal is to facilitate deeper understanding, meaningfulness, and retention in regards to the content area.

5. Analogy 

Analogy is the use of a familiar idea or concept to introduce or define a new idea or concept. Analogies aid the trainer in reaching the learner's field of experience. Presenting analogies throughout the instruction helps the learners to build on their present knowledge or skills.

6. Cognitive-Strategy Activator

There are two categories of cognitive-strategy activators: 

Imbedded - Uses pictures, diagrams, analogies, and other elements that force the learner to interact with the sequence and content. 

Detached - Causes the learner to employ a previously acquired cognitive skill.

7. Learner Control

Learner Control deals with the freedom of the learner to control the selection and sequencing of such instructional elements as content, rate, components (instructional-strategy), and cognitive strategies.


Note that this is a macro strategy of instructional design that focus on the organization and sequencing of subject matter content by addressing the four design problem areas: selection, sequencing, synthesizing, and summarizing. 

Elaboration theory is best suited for teaching causal relationships and sequences rather than problem solving or facts. It works in conjunction with component-display theory, which deals with the micro aspects of instruction and works out the details of elaboration.

Constructivist Theory

Constructivism is a learning theory, not an instructional approach, hence it can best be thought of as a way of "growing" or improving instruction. It is greatly influenced by Piagetian epistemology and Lev Vygotsky. 

Constructivists place the learner at the center of the equation; the idea is that the learner constructs knowledge rather than passively absorbs it. Meaning is constructed by the learner, each in her own way. It is based on according to how the learner's understanding is currently organized. An individual's knowledge is a function of one's prior experiences, mental structures, and beliefs that are used to interpret objects and events. 

In many classrooms, the predominant training model is direct instruction, which called instructivism or objectivism (based on information processing theory). The trainer's central role is to transmit knowledge to learners and learner's role is to absorb information (reception and compliance). In this model the trainer's performance is critical. Also, there is a over-reliance on rote memorization, which does not give the learners the skills in how to think and solve problems. 

However, in today's real-world context, the work environment is becoming a learning environment (learning organization). Learners will not make use of concepts and ideas unless they use them through some type of process, that is, learners master only those activities they actually practice. Note that this is an assumption in both constructivism and rote learning environments. 

Both constructivism and instructivism are required as learners need to be able to solve complex problems and be able to understand the reasons or methods they use to reach their conclusions. Note that this follows Bloom's Taxonomy in that it goes from simple leaning to the higher levels of critical thinking.

Strategies for Using Constructivism in Training

Good interactive strategies enhance the cognitive, social, and emotional climate. 

Small Group Activities

In traditional classroom training, small group exercises involves the more conventional notion of cooperation, in that learners work in small groups on an assigned project or problem under the guidance of the trainer who monitors the groups, making sure the learners are staying on task and are coming up with the correct answers (if there is a right or a best answer). This is known as cooperative learning.

Collaborative learning is a more radical departure. It involves learners working together in small groups to develop their own answer through interaction and reaching consensus, not necessarily a known answer. Monitoring the groups or correcting "wrong" impressions is not the role of the trainer since there is no authority on what the answer should be. 

One small group method is "Numbered Heads Together" developed by Spencer Kagan. This method divides the learners in groups of three to six. Each group is assigned a team number and each group member is assigned a number. When the trainer poses a question, group members get together, examine the possibilities, and construct an answer. The trainer then picks a number by drawing a card or rolling a die. The number selected designates the spokesperson for each table group. A second number designates the table group that will respond first. 

Group learning activities cause learners to integrate experiences, knowledge, and beliefs and at the same time, knowledge and beliefs are formed within each learner. While the group activity allows them to gain a new experience.

Learner Developed Instruction

Constructivist learning theory also places importance on the learner's point of view. Make a point of including participant requests in the design process. Although it requires extra work, the payback in engagement and learning is well worth the effort. This is because the learners bring some form of prior knowledge to presentations. These conceptions (and misconceptions) should become part of the design process for the experience you are trying to create. A mind map is a good method for helping a learner to present her current theories. 

Metacognition and Reflection

Metacognition allows the learner to plan, set time lines, allocate resources. Also, metacognition also refers to the ability to reflect on one's own performance. Reflection allows the learners the opportunity to develop, assess, and organize their thoughts.

Other Activities

Ask questions
Identify situations where the learners' perceptions vary
Brainstorm possible alternatives
Have the learners:
Look for information
Experiment with materials
Observe phenomena
Conduct an experiment
Design a model
Collect and organize data
Employ problem-solving strategies
Select appropriate resources
Review and critique solutions

An Instruction Design Model

1. Chunk the material (epitomize)

2. Sequence it into a logical structure

3. Build an Interest Device (Get their Attention)

If you are building this to pass on to another instructor, then they might want to use their own interest device. However, you should always build one for back up purposes.

4. Organize the Objectives 

This is the Task, Condition, and Standard built in the design phase. Normally, the objectives built are too stiff or formal for informing the learners. Reword them.

If at all possible, get the learners' input for the objectives - what do they need to learn that will make their job more effective or efficient. Let them play a part in constructing their learning.

5. Stimulate Recall of Prior Knowledge

Build on what the learners know. 

How does this instruction relate to what they already know?

6. Create Strategies to Foster Critical Thinking and Deeper Understanding

Build activities. Consider needs first; technologies last (see sidebar in media). Your task is to solve real world problems and not to advocate computers or other technologies just for the sake of technology. Technologies can enhance training; they do solve training problems.

We learn what we do.

Relate the information to the learner's interests.

Short lectures are OK, but break them up with active participation.

Point out content relationships.

Ask rhetorical questions.

Ask the learners for examples (this allows them to build upon their experiences).

7. Build Summaries and Relate it to the Next Period of Instruction

Provide regular summaries. Give them time to gather their thoughts.

Build in Reflection periods for deeper understanding

8. Test the learners.

What we get tested on is what we remember the most and the longest.

This should have been built in the Design Phase.

9. Help with the Transfer of Learning


Lesson Plan Template (Word)

Presentation Template (Word)

A Quick Guide To Writing Learning Objectives (HTML)

Hints for using the above templates (HTML)

Notes and Reference

Gagne, Robert M. (1985). The Conditions of Learning and the Theory of Instruction, (4th ed.), New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Keller, J.M., & Suzuki, K. (1988). Use of the ARCS motivation model in courseware design. In D. H. Jonassen (ED.) Instructional designs for microcomputer courseware. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 

Merrill, M. D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. M. Reigeluth (ed), Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview of their Current States. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Reigeluth, C. M. and Stein, F. S. (1983). The Elaboration Theory of Instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth (ed), Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview of their Current States. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Created May 29, 2000. Updated November 4, 2000
ISD - Development