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Instructional Design is completing an audience analysis and then designing a program of lessons to fit the audience.

Logic, flow maps, storyboards, and prototypes are types of methods used.


The process of designing instruction begins with having a thorough understanding of the various learning theories and models.  A solid foundation in learning theory is absolutely vital  for Instructional Design. 

  •  Theory - usually defined as a general explanation for an event or an observation that exists over time. It attempts to define and predict behavior and, once established, may be changed as testing and use evolve. If the theory is later disproved, it may be totally thrown away. However, usually it is modified.
  •   A model is usually defined as a mental picture that helps us understand a concept we cannot see directly or experience personally.

The three basic learning theories used in Instructional Design are Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism. Instructional Design in today's world uses more of a cognitive/behaviorist approach.

A brief summary of these theories follows.


Behaviorism describes changes we can observe in behavior. It focuses on repeating a behavior pattern (preferably new and positive) until it becomes automatic.

It dates back to Aristotle and resulted from connections being made between events. Pavlov and his work with classical conditioning of dogs is an example of Behaviorism. Pavlov trained the dogs to salivate merely at the ring of a bell by associating the bell with food that was presented. This is called stimulus and response. Pavlov developed other theories as did a number of Behaviorists.


Cognitivism looks at the thinking behind the behavior. It asks, "What process is happening  that causes this person to act in this manner?"

This theory is as old as Plato and Aristotle and was highlighted through the life of Jean Piaget.  It involves the idea that one could develop a brain or mind map that would control behavior. In other words, one may NOT automatically respond to a stimulus. Or, one may observe another's behavior and emulate it. The individual uses his/her own thinking processes to create a behavior pattern. 

In Cognitivism, the individual can re-organize information and act on that. He/she begins with a "schema" and as new information is added this input  is compared with or associated to that already learned. Once compared, the new info may be discarded or it may replace or modify the old. 

STM or Short-Term Memory is an important facet of Cognitivism. This states the sensory input is transferred from the sensory register to the STM, which has limited capacity, and can be retained if constantly repeated. Also, information may be better learned if chunked into meaning parts. 

Long-Term Memory and Storage (LTM) stores info from the STM. Repetition can force ideas into the LTM. 

Cognitivism also states that meaningful information is easier to learn and remember, learning in series is more effective than trying to learn a piece of data from the middle of something (unless it is extremely different), and categorizing data aids in memory.

Mnemonics are used successfully in Cognitivism (for example, learning to spell Arithmetic by associating it with "a rat in Tom's hat may eat Tom's ice cream").

Advanced outlining is often used to introduce new material to the learner. The data in the outline prepares the student to learn the actual materials. This is more than just a brief outline of the topic using titles, sub-titles, etc.


Constructivism says that we all build or construct our own perspective of the world based on our personal experiences. By placing the individual in various situations, he or she can prepare to solve problems based on THAT situation. 

Actually, this may be more of an interpretation than construction. Most experts in this area believe out personal reality perspective exists within the structure of our society and physical laws. And we all perceive these physical and societal laws in a similar way. 

Various theories have been introduced on all three of these learning systems. 



  • Recognizing how learning occurs and how it is influenced
  • Discovering the behavior objectives associated with learning 
  • Knowing the role of short term and long term memory
  • Determining how to test and evaluate that transfer has been successful


  • Analyzing the situation and setting goals
  • Determining what is important for the learner to know and establishing a process to transfer that information to the learner.
  • Defining whether the audience members learn best in an individual or group setting and setting the proper environment for both types of learners
  • Developing individual tasks that will fulfill the learning objectives
  • Determining what part computer-assisted learning will play
  • Designing a program using whatever means and methods will work most successfully with the specific target audience
  • Evaluating the results to determine if the objectives have been met. 


Accelerated Learning is a learning system that focuses on providing information that involves all the senses. It is another type of multimedia instruction. We can and do include this in the design, when appropriate.

Copyright 2002-2016 Lee Gabor All Rights Reserved