This article was written as an assignment in EME6606 Advanced Instructional Design at the University of Florida in Fall 2014.

What is the nature and functions of instructional design theory. What is their purpose and what are their characteristics?

Smith and Ragan (2005, p. 4) defined Instructional Design (ID) as “the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources and evaluation”.  Reigeluth (1983, p. 7) defined ID as “the process of deciding what methods of instruction are best for bringing about desired changes in student knowledge and skills for a specific course content and a specific student population”.  These two definitions concentrate mostly on the process of developing instruction and learning environments, but they do not focus on the larger process of determining what or even if instruction is desirable.  This brings to mind the question of the scope of instructional design.

Models such as ADDIE (Analysis Development Design Implementation & Evaluation) include the process of determining what and if instruction is needed (Analysis), and also include the process of determining if the instruction was effective in meeting the original goals (Evaluation).  In my experience in academia, we are not always involved in the process of determining what should be taught, or evaluating its effectiveness, but rather tasked with determining how we can most effectively teach an already determined set of skills.   With this in mind, it seems the question of scope of instructional design is dependent upon the environment for which the instruction is being designed.

We can almost describe a smaller subset system of instructional design inside a larger more comprehensive system of instructional design.  In this system, the process of analysis and evaluation may be performed by entities outside of the process of instructional design as indicated by the figure below.  This smaller subset of instructional design is more involved with the six content domains as described in (Smith & Ragan, 2005, p. 3). 

Describe the components of a system by using an example you are comfortable with from your previous experiences (e.g., healthcare system, K-12 system, etc.).

A simple system takes inputs, subjects them to some sort of process and produces outputs.  For my example, I’d like to take a look at the academic system.  In its simplest form, the academic system takes students, subjects them to education, and produces graduates.  One could argue that academia is simply a subsystem of a larger system.  The suprasystem would be that of the larger economy, or even society itself.  Academia is just one system that provides an educated workforce, or citizenry for the larger societal need of a thriving economy.  The economy, or society in general, is also the environment in which the academic system operates, and must be responsive to.

In order for the system to work, it needs resources (academic institutions, teachers, curriculum, etc.), persons (students, teachers, administrators, staff, etc.), objects (books, computers, classrooms, whiteboards, projectors, etc.) and information (content, discussions, lectures, etc.).  In turn it is bound by constraints (time, money, location, prior knowledge, etc).  It produces outputs, primarily graduates, who may then become inputs to start the process all over again.

The quality of the inputs (persons, teachers, administration, etc.) largely determines the quality of the outputs.  If students are subjected to poor quality instruction, or curriculum, or resources, the quality of the graduates will falter.  The academic system is also a suprasystem.  We can define many subsystems within the academic structure.  All of which are dependent upon outputs from other systems.

How has systems theory and thinking shaped the field of instructional design over the past few decades?

Systems theory gave us a common language and models that helps us to describe what we do and to communicate with each other about how we do instructional design. Instructional Systems Design (ISD) models are essentially a development and application of general systems theory (GST) to instructional design (ID).  One of the early applications of GST to ID was used in the military where a systematic approach was needed to train large numbers of military personnel.  The systems approach allows us to apply order and planning to create new structures and solve problems.  It also give us a language and a visual imagery which allow us to describe processes and projects to design teams, clients, and other stakeholders.  Many of the instructional design models we currently used are based on a systems approach.  This includes the ADDIE model.


Morrison, G., Ross, S., Kemp, J., & Kalman, H. (2012). Designing effective instruction. New York, New York: Wiley.

Reigeluth, C. (1983). The elaboration theory of instruction. In C. Reigeluth, & T. Frick, Instructional design theories and models: An overview of their current status. (pp. 335-381). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Smith, P., & Ragan, T. (2005). Instructional Design (3rd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.