Anthony McHugh
Anthony has been working with Lumina since 2016 to help develop digital course materials, manage media creation, and oversee content development in a wide array of subject areas. His work in the design, development, and production of 100+ digital courses, as well as his previous experience as a Product Developer with McGraw-Hill Higher Education, has provided him with a ground-up perspective on creating innovative and engaging educational experiences. From adapting competencies and outcomes into diverse learning environments to translating course design concepts into dynamic interactives, Anthony works closely on every aspect of the course design process to ensure a seamless and successful experience for all students.


    4 instructional design models choosing the right course framework for you and your students
    November 11, 2020

    The development of a well-functioning online curriculum is dependent upon the harmony of each structure in the course design process. Instructional design is the foundation of eLearning curriculum development, from defining the pace of activities and learning resources to setting an assessment framework for the duration of the course. Instructional design requires thoughtful analysis of what a course’s objectives are, as well as careful consideration of how best to facilitate a student’s learning. To assist in the composition of a course’s instruction, designers often utilize set models to guide the strategy of their learning framework.

    There are many models of instructional design to choose from when developing any eLearning project. In researching the form and function of these various models, you—as the designer of the course—will see common threads that emerge in each model. These commonalities will allow you to customize the instructional format of your learning experience to suit the different learning needs of your students and your program.

    We will be conducting a basic overview of some of the most commonly used instructional design methods, including the ADDIE model, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Merrill’s Principles of Instruction, and Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, while also detailing the benefits of each model.

    Let’s get started with one of the most popular instructional design models…


    The ADDIE model walks instructional design along a path with an end goal in mind. It deliberately requires its users to plan specific outcomes and ask the right questions to achieving those outcomes. ADDIE is an acronym that stands for:

    • Analyze
    • Design
    • Develop
    • Implement
    • Evaluate

    Each step of the ADDIE model operates in a sequential pattern that informs one another to create a cohesive and connected instructional experience. The first phase, Analyze, involves considering the learning needs and how those needs can be addressed in the course. The Analyze phase is a jumping off point to gathering the necessary information to begin your Design. You can start by asking questions like:

    • What are the objectives of this course?
    • Who is my intended audience?
    • What resources should I use?

    The Design phase can also be considered the “Idea” phase. This is where all the brainstorming and blueprints for what you want your course to be are collected and formed. Beyond just the structure of the course, the Design phase is where the designer maps the strategy for instruction and assessment. Once this important framework is defined, you can move into Development.

    During Development, instructional designers start putting pen to paper and building the content for the eLearning project. By setting a concrete schedule for creating activities, assessments, instructional language, and learning resources, instructional designers can check off the various boxes in the Development phase to ensure their design goals are realized.

    After the realization of the design goals through the process of Development, it’s time to move onto the Implementation phase, which concerns how the course or eLearning experience is delivered to its desired audience (the details of which should have been considered in the Design phase). Through beta testing or QA of the final product, the Implementation phase can be fine-tuned to ensure the product’s official launch is successful.

    Once you get the course in front of your intended audience and begin to collect data and aggregate feedback, you can begin to Evaluate the processes used and assess whether the objectives of the course were achieved. The data obtained from both instructor and student users is invaluable to the future health of your product. These results should align with the outcomes designed at the beginning of the development process. Meaningful evaluation should carry through all steps of the ADDIE model and tie the design experience together as whole.

    While the sequential order of ADDIE might seem too organized for the often-agile environments of most eLearning projects, this is not always the case. It is important to consider the adaptability of each of these phases and how the fluidity from one to another can be customized for any learning experience.

    Bloom’s Taxonomy

    The next instructional design model is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy (both the original version created in 1956 by a committee of educators chaired by Benjamin Bloom, and the 2001 revised version released by Anderson and Krathwohl) is a hierarchical ordering of cognitive skills that can help instructors establish the depth of student comprehension.

    This model is appropriately shaped like a pyramid, due to the progression of cognition, from baselines to fine points, that is associated with its implementation. Rather than dictating each step of a design process, the Bloom’s Taxonomy works more as a tool to propagate the advancement of skill levels throughout the progress of an eLearning experience.

    The Bloom’s Taxonomy is split into six cognitive categories:

    1. Knowledge
    2. Comprehension
    3. Application
    4. Analysis
    5. Evaluation
    6. Creation

    Each of these categories represents how learners should build their understanding and skills when engaging with content. It begins with the broadest base of Knowledge and Comprehension to set a foundation for more elaborate skills like Application and Analysis of the foundational knowledge. These skills allow the user to manipulate the content and make connections to other material. Finally, learners achieve full proficiency through Evaluation and Creation, where they can defend their understanding of concepts from an authentic viewpoint.

    The Bloom’s Taxonomy categories can be utilized in the design of learning objectives, in the creation of activities, in the structuring of assessments, and in the progression of concepts details in an eLearning experience. The application of Bloom’s Taxonomy to the components of course development can help a designer create a definitive construction of skills and knowledge; starting at its simplest form and evolving to the deepest form of learning.

    Merrill’s Principles of Instruction

    The basis of Merrill’s Principles of Instruction as a model of instructional design begins with a task or problem. This grounding theme creates a relatable, real-world quality to this form of instruction. The Merrill framework, which include five elements or principles, contributes to a holistic learning experience by unveiling knowledge in its own unique format. By doing so, the learner engages with the content from various perspectives and achieves a fuller understanding of the concepts and skills being taught. Below is an explanation of each vantage point of the Merrill framework, including its roles and benefits to the instructional process:

    1. The Problem principle is at the core of the entire framework. It informs and is influenced by the other four principles of instruction. To begin with a Problem is to engage learners from the onset of instruction. The Problem principle can be considered a goal, objective, or task that learners explore as they progress through the course.
    2. The Demonstration principle provides an example for learners to visualize and internalize the subject matter. A sense of connection is set between learners and the objective of the course by showing learners how the content exists in the real world.
    3. The Application principle allows learners to apply their new knowledge to the test through activities or group projects. Employing knowledge that has been gained allows learners to solidify their understanding of concepts by interpreting the material through their own lens. When applying a skill or concept to a proposed problem, learners will be able to see how the two fit together, make mistakes, make adjustments to their understanding, and strengthen their learning.
    4. Learners are not blank slates. They have their own preexisting, foundational knowledge that can fortify the concepts being taught for each individual learner. The Activation principle attempts to tap into this foundational knowledge to emphasize the fact that the concepts being taught are not just static pieces of data, but rather an idea that can be shaped and interpreted in many different ways.
    5. The Integration principle seeks to blend the concepts being taught into the learner’s life and perspective. While activities and assessments are strong at measuring and evaluating a learner’s progress, discussion and interaction with other learners help an individual relate concepts not just to themselves, but to a larger world view. This integration of concepts into a broader context helps the learner adapt their knowledge and skills to fit the evolution of their understanding.

    Incorporating all of these elements into course design allows learners to develop a connected circle of understanding for the entirety of a course and its objectives. The approach begins with a problem, then connects the learner and their previous knowledge to that problem. It then, provides examples and allows for varying perspectives on the topic to evolve the learner’s understanding; letting it come full circle into a tested and realized base of knowledge.

    Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

    Robert Gagne developed an instructional design model centered around the optimal conditions for learning. These conditions were influenced by how learners behave when taking in new material. Gagne created a structured list of nine stages, or “events,” to reinforce learning:

    1. Gain the student’s attention
    2. Inform student of the objectives
    3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
    4. Present the content
    5. Provide learner guidance
    6. Elicit performance
    7. Provide feedback
    8. Assess performance
    9. Enhance retention and transfer to job

    Part I: Events 1–3

    These events set the stage for the instruction of new concepts by creating achievable goals and fostering the inclusion of the learner’s existing knowledge base. By being prompted with meaningful questions and setting expectations of what is going to be taught in a course, the learner can establish a plan and definitive mindset for what they are about to learn.

    Part II: Events 4–6

    With the proper headspace and preparation, learners are ready to begin learning. The next three events in Gagne’s model cover the active learning portion of instruction. Here, learners will be given new information to absorb via whatever medium set by the curriculum designer. A word to the wise: Variation in approach and instructional method allows for all learning types to feel included and acknowledged. Careful guidance is essential during this stage, as a snowball effect can occur just as easily with concepts lost on students as it can with those that are fully comprehended. Activity and assessments are presented in these stages, in order for learners to practice what they learn. 

    Part III: Events 7–9

    Events 7–9 include the evaluation and application portions of the instructional process. With learner performance underway, the instructional path of a course should allow for feedback on how each individual is progressing. This includes identifying areas where further learning or assessment is needed to confirm mastery of concepts. Learners should take an active role in the reflection on their own progress and begin contemplating how to apply what they have learned to their lives.

    While Gagne’s timeline of events describes a progression from one to the next, similarly to the ADDIE model, this instructional model is highly adaptable to suit a variety of learning environments and development processes. Reorganizing these events can help you customize a learning experience to suit your course objectives.

    Choosing What’s Best for You

    So, which one is right for you? Well…it depends. We have analyzed the details of instructional models that chart a path, build a pyramid, complete a circle, or follow a timeline. And while the models are different in their presentation, there is one key similarity: each analyzes learning needs, formulates an appropriate teaching strategy, and evaluates student mastery. What’s important to remember is that each of these instructional design models is a tool—and like any tool, the model is best defined by how you ultimately use it.

    It’s also important to remember that these models do not exist in a vacuum. They can be divided, reorganized, grouped together, or used collaboratively to suit your unique learning environment and needs. The choice of which instructional design model is best for your program begins with considering the balance between what your available resources are and the ideal of what you want your eLearning experience to become. What do you have? And what do you want to achieve? By answering these questions, you can begin to shape your instructional experience and course outcomes, and ultimately decide which of the outlined design models can help get you there.

    Best of luck!

    Interested in learning more about Lumina’s approach to instructional design, or want to discuss the needs of your institution? Email Lumina or visit our website to learn more about Lumina Datamatics instructional design services.

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