What is an instructional-design theory?
Gagné and Dick (1983) described the characteristics of instructional
theories in terms their functions and foundations.
- Functions: Instructional theories are prescriptive in nature. They relate
specific instructional events to learning processes and learning outcomes,
identifies instructional conditions that optimize learning outcomes, and provides
a rational description of causal relationships between procedures used to
teach and their behavioral consequences in enhanced human performance.
- Foundations: Instructional theories are derived from learning research and
Reigeluth (1999) used the term 'instructional-design theory', which is defined
as a theory that "offers explicit guidance on how to between help people
learn and develop. The kinds of learning and development may include cognitive,
emotional, social, physical and spiritual."
Reigeluth (1999) explain instructional-design theory from several aspects:
Reigeluth (1999) described four major characteristics of instructional-design
- It is design-oriented: it focuses on means to attain given goals for learning
or development à it provides direct guidance on how to achieve their
goals. Design-oriented theories are very different from descriptive theories,
which describes the effects that occur when a given class of causal events
occurs, or which describes the sequence in which certain events occur
- It identifies methods of instruction, i.e. ways to support and facilitate
learning, as well as the situations in which those methods should and should
not be used.
- In all instructional-design theories, the methods of instruction can be
broken into more detailed component methods, which provide more guidance to
educators about different components and different ways to perform the methods;
different kinds of methods; offering criteria that methods should meet.
- The methods are probabilistic rather than deterministic: focusing on control
instead of description and explanation à In other words, instructional-design
theories intend to control variables in the learning environment to achieve
There should be two major components in instructional-design theory:
- Methods of instruction: methods for facilitating human learning and development
- Instructional situation: indications as to when and when not to use those
methods and descriptions of the conditions under which the instruction will
- The nature of what is to be learned
- The nature of the learner (prior knowledge, learning strategies, motivation)
- The nature of learning environment
- The nature of the instructional development constraints
Its focus on value for decision making
Both values and empirics are important for making decisions about how to teach
as well as what to teach. All the instructional-design-theories state explicitly
what values guide their selection of goals and what values guide their selection
It provides guidelines for practitioners. It transforms descriptive theory into
methods of how to work, developing techniques and determine implementation details
that are applicable to most conditions
Reigeluth provides (1999) three questions to examine what an instructional-design
theory can offer:
- What methods best facilitate learning and human development under different
- What learning-tool features best allow an array of alternative methods to
be made available to learners and allow them to make decisions (with varying
degrees of guidance) about both content (what to learn) and methods while
the instruction is in progress?
- What system features best allow an instructional design team (that preferable
includes all stakeholders) to design quality learning tools?
What instructional-design theories are discussed?
The instructional theories discussed in this knowledge base are classified
as follows based on the different theoretical foundations about learning.
Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models:
An new paradigm of instructional theory, Volume II.. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence