Improving Education: An Overview of 4 Instructional Design Models

Technology is now a focal point for how students learn. This is especially true with online learning, one of the fastest growing segments in higher education. Eduventures reports that 3.5 million students enrolled in online degree programs in 2016 and projects an increase to 5 million by 2020.

These changes point to the need for a learning experience that reaches students in all environments. The instructional design field could be the solution.

Defining Instructional Design

Instructional design refers to the systematic process for designing, developing and delivering instructional materials. It centers on improving learning through technology, and can involve related terms such as learning experience design, instructional systems design and educational technology.

According to design studio and strategy consulting firm Intentional Futures, most instructional designers have the following categories of responsibilities:

  • Design instructional materials and courses, especially for digital delivery.
  • Manage faculty, administration, IT and other instructional designers to enhance student learning.
  • Train faculty to use technology and implement pedagogy effectively.
  • Support faculty members when they face technical or instructional challenges.

4 Instructional Design Models

The following models are used by some instructional designers.

1. Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE)

The ADDIE model is a flexible and common instructional design model. “Most of the current instructional design models are spin-offs or variations of the ADDIE model,” according to educational technology experts Greg Kearsley and Richard Culatta at There are five phases in the ADDIE model.


ADDIE Instructional Design Model


  • Analysis: Establish instructional goals and objectives. Other topics include the audience, delivery options, pedagogical considerations and the timeline.
  • Design: Document the strategy, apply instructional strategies, create storyboards, design the user interface and user experience, create prototypes and apply visual or graphic design.
  • Development: Create and assemble the content assets that are created in the design phase.
  • Implementation: Deliver the course and its equipment, such as multimedia needs and the website. Develop a process for training the facilitators and the learners.
  • Evaluation: Measure whether the course provides the expected results.

An important part to the ADDIE model is continual or formative feedback. Throughout each phase, the model stresses the role of feedback in catching problems while they are still easy to fix, which can save time and money.

2. Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles that gives all individuals an equal opportunity to learn. “UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone—not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs,” says the National Center on Universal Design for Learning.

Universal Design for Learning Instructional Design Model


UDL is based on the following guidelines.

  • Engagement (the why of learning): For purposeful, motivated learners, provide options and encourage effort, persistence and self-regulation.
  • Representation (the what of learning): For resourceful, knowledgeable learners, present information and content in different ways.
  • Action and Expression (the how of learning): For strategic, goal-directed learners, differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.

3. Master Course Philosophy

A Master Course Philosophy is an online curriculum management approach for institutions, which centers on maintaining one master copy of each online course. Each time a course is taught, the master course is duplicated and used as a template.

Using a master course maintains course integrity, regardless of who teaches it. It helps ensure that courses reflect the most recent updates to an institution’s curriculum. “The Master Course Philosophy results in a customizable, consistent and accessible course each time,” says Tyler Hart, Senior Instructional Designer for Southeastern University.

Another benefit of the Master Course Philosophy is that it aids in curricular improvement. This strategy allows institutions to successfully report on student achievement, and produce valid and reliable data. The Master Course Philosophy eliminates variations in course outcomes and assessments from teacher to teacher and from term to term.

4. Understanding by Design

Understanding by Design (UbD) is a framework for improving student achievement. It was created by educators Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The framework utilizes backward design, in which outcomes are analyzed to design curriculum units, performance assessments and classroom instruction. UbD is based on seven key tenets.

  1. Learning is enhanced when teachers think purposefully about curricular planning.
  2. Curriculum and teaching focus on developing student understanding and transfer of learning.
  3. Understanding is revealed when students autonomously make sense of and transfer their learning through authentic performance. “Six facets” help teachers better assess student understanding: the capacity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize and self-assess.
  4. Effective curriculum development reflects a three-stage “backward” design process (Desired Results, Evidence and Learning Plan). This avoids the common problems of using the textbook as curriculum rather than a resource, or activity-oriented teaching that doesn’t involve clear priorities and purposes.
  5. Teachers are coaches of understanding who focus on ensuring that learning happens.
  6. Regularly reviewing units and curriculum against design standards enhances curricular quality and effectiveness, and provides engaging and professional discussions.
  7. The UbD framework reflects a continual improvement approach to student achievement and teacher craft.

Professional Development

As a result of the expansion of educational technology and online learning, instructional designers are needed to fulfill the demand for a more rigorous learning experience. There are at least 13,000 instructional designers in the United States alone, according to Intentional Futures, and 87 percent have a master’s degree. Seventy-two percent have a master’s title related to education.

Southeastern University’s online graduate programs in education prepare students for advancement and new career opportunities inside and outside the classroom. Master’s degree programs and a Doctor of Education degree are available fully online, allowing educators to study while maintaining their current work and personal schedule.