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Webucator's Free Instructional Design Tutorial

Lesson: Learning Design Concepts

Welcome to our free Instructional Design tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Instructional Design Training course.

The next step of the instructional design process involves learning design concepts. The ID will begin to organize content and think about how it will be best presented so learners get the most out of the instruction.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn how to organize instructional content.
  • Learn about the design plan.
  • Learn about standard instructional design sequencing models.
  • Learn about instructional strategies.
  • Learn about different delivery formats.
  • Learn about layout and course design.
  • Learn how to use pictures, graphics, and multimedia effectively.
  • Learn how to use animations and interactions effectively.

Organizing Content

One of the most important jobs of the instructional designer is to make sure that content is organized appropriately, so learners get the most out of the instruction. This is especially important when there is a large volume of content.

The Levels of Organization

George Posner, a curriculum expert, divided the instructional levels of organization into macro and micro levels, as well as vertical and horizontal dimensions.

Macro and Micro Levels

The macro and micro levels involve the following:

  • Macro: The overall learning, such as the overall course or the program of study. For example, in our hypothetical course on business writing skills, the course itself in its entirety is the macro level of instruction. If the course was going to be part of a larger training program, such as a communication skills program, this could also be considered the macro level.
  • Micro: The micro level of instruction would be on a more granular level. Lessons, activities, and tasks can be considered micro-level instruction. In the business writing course, we may have a lesson on the parts of speech, broken down into topics on verbs, nouns, adverbs, and adjectives. The lesson ends with a quiz on identifying the various parts of speech in business texts. All of these elements could be considered the micro level of instruction.

Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions

Most learning utilizes both vertical and horizontal dimensions. The vertical and horizontal dimensions involve the following:

  • Vertical: The vertical dimension of instruction would be as if we are looking at the training in a linear fashion. In our business writing course, learners will take each lesson sequentially, with a quiz after each lesson and a final assessment to test what was learned. Knowledge will build on itself until the course is completed and ideally the final objectives and goal are achieved.
  • Horizontal: The horizontal dimension refers to linking across topics that are the same level of complexity. In the business writing course example, learners may take a lesson on the parts of speech. The complexity level of these concepts are equal.

Questions to Ask

When organizing content, the ID should keep in mind both scope and sequence.

  • Scope: Will the instruction be delivered over time, in person, such as an instructor-led class? Or will it be delivered as an hour-long online course? How much information needs to be delivered?
  • Sequence: Will learners need to complete certain milestones before learning new milestones? In what order will the information be delivered?

Standard Sequencing Models

There are a number of sequencing models that are standard in instructional design practice. These models can provide an instructional designer with a basis for organizing content.

Known to Unknown

In the known to unknown model of sequencing, learners first review what they are already familiar with and then move on to unknown concepts.

In a course about using Microsoft PowerPoint, the course first teaches how to open the program, which most people are familiar with. Students may even be familiar with opening a new slideshow and adding text or pictures. Eventually, the course moves on to less familiar topics such as animations, adding music, and so on.

Simple to Complex

The simple to complex model begins with simple concepts before moving on to more complex ones.

In a sales course on making phone calls to customers, start by teaching about introductory greetings, which most people are familiar with. The course later moves into complex topics, such as developing and delivering a sales pitch over the phone.

Dependent vs. Supportive Relationship

In the dependent vs. supportive relationships model of instructional design, the learner must master one concept, which is a supportive content to the dependent concept.

In a course on Microsoft Word that is delving into how to merge address labels, the learner must first know how to create and format the document that contains the label information, before it can be merged. The merging concept is dependent on creating the document.

Job Performance

The job performance model moves through steps of a process as it would be performed on the job. In a course about leading effective meetings, the course would first teach how to create an agenda and then move into how to schedule the meeting. Then, it would progress to how to facilitate an effective meeting. Finally, it would cover how to follow up with meeting participants. The sequence of the course are the steps in the process.

Reviewing Standard Sequencing Models and Organizing Content

Duration: 20 to 25 minutes.

In this exercise, you will use your knowledge of organizing content and the standard sequencing models to answer the following questions.

Keep in mind this scenario, from the previous lesson: You are working as an ID in your organization, and the head of human resources has come to your group with a specific need for the group to develop some training on working with difficult coworkers.

  1. Imagine you want to sequence a lesson on strategies learners can use to deal with difficult coworkers. The content that needs to be covered includes using a mediator, negotiation techniques, handling conflict, and formal consequences for inappropriate behavior. How might this lesson be sequenced?
  2. In a lesson on how morale affects turnover, you want to first provide an example of a disgruntled worker and how his attitude affects those around him and then move into how poor morale affects workers. This is an example of which sequencing model?
  3. In a lesson on different forms of communication, you decide to start with verbal communication and then move to other communication, such as nonverbal and cultural. This is an example of which sequencing model?
  4. In a lesson on handling conflict, you first begin with a topic on the different forms of conflict and then move on to how to handle each form. This is an example of which sequencing model?


  1. Answers will vary but may include the job performance model. In this case, you would begin with handling conflict and then move into a more complex topic, which would be negotiation techniques. The logical next step in a process of handling a difficult coworker would be using a mediator. Finally, the formal consequences topic would be appropriate, since this is a logical final step in the process.
  2. This could be the known to unknown model, as learners are likely familiar with disgruntled coworkers and then can move into learning about the theory of morale and the workforce.
  3. This could be the simple to complex model. Verbal communication is the most simple form of communication that most people deal with, moving to more complex communication ideas, such as nonverbal.
  4. This could be the dependent vs. supportive relationship, as the methods for handling conflict depend on knowing which conflict you are dealing with.

Instructional Strategies

When organizing instruction, it is helpful for the ID to be familiar with instructional strategies so that learning can be effectively facilitated.

Learning Environments

The next section will focus on instructional delivery formats and go into more detail on the various ways that instruction is typically delivered. It is important to take into consideration the learner's environment when organizing content:

  • If learners are going to be taking instruction in a classroom setting, it is important to know how many students will be attending. If it is a small group, then small-group activities and other interactive scenarios will likely work. If it is a larger group, the instructional designer may need to think of different ways to foster interaction, perhaps larger-group role-playing situations.
  • If the learning will be facilitated by an instructor, this is called direct teaching. If an instructor is going to be teaching the instruction, it is often useful for the ID to include instructor notes, to help guide the instructor and even point out areas where students may need more instruction.
  • If the learning will be online learning, small-group activities will not work. It would be important for the instructional designer to know ahead of time if all students have basic computer skills and access to a computer or other device. Often in online courses, a "how to navigate this course" section is included, since students often do not have the ability to ask for help in person, unless they have access to IT professionals in their workplace. The same can be said for webinars; students must have computers with Internet hookups to participate. This is something that the instructional designer should consider when designing training.

Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies are how the learners will experience the training. Lecture and demonstration activities are two that most people are familiar with; however, they do not always work best in an instructional design setting.

There are a number of different activities that can be incorporated into the learning by the ID, depending on the learning environment and the instructional goals and objectives that have been developed.

It can help to determine what is being taught, to determine which strategy to use.

The following are the common instructional elements and some strategies to teach them:


Facts are basic elements that need to be learned and remembered. According to Bloom's, they are usually in the knowledge area of the cognitive domain.

The following are some examples of facts:

  • You use the PowerPoint Animation pane to add animations to your graphics.
  • The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is the world's largest stock exchange, located in New York City.
  • The Bcc field in email stands for "blind carbon copy" and allows you to copy people on an email without the other recipients knowing.

The best way to teach a fact is often through repetition, as well as identifying similarities and differences. This can be done through examples and nonexamples.

Facts should be repeated and chunked appropriately, that is, so that it is logically grouped.


Concepts are slightly more complex than facts, usually in the comprehension level of Bloom's taxonomy.

A concept is an idea or a notion.

The following are examples of concepts:

  • The ADDIE instructional design model.
  • Negotiation tactics in dealing with difficult employees.
  • Microsoft Word Track Changes feature.

Teaching concepts can be accomplished through discrimination, having the student determine the concept versus a nonexample, as well as through classification. In classification, the learner notes how things differ and what is similar.


Rules are the relationships between concepts. Rules can be "if, then" or cause and effect, for example.

Examples of rules include:

  • If you misspell something in Microsoft Word, a red line will appear under it.
  • Low employee morale can lead to high turnover rates.
  • Following up with a potential client after a sales call can close the deal.

Rules can be taught with a summary/review process, where the rules are presented, for example, in a list, and then the list is again presented in review as a graphic.


Procedures are made up of steps, and are usually in the application level of Bloom's taxonomy. Procedures are more complex instructional elements. An example of a procedure would be:

  1. Open the Microsoft Word document you want to print.
  2. From the File menu, select Print.
  3. View a print preview and select any options you need to change.
  4. When ready to print, click Print.

Procedures are often taught through practice, introducing the procedure, and then having the learner demonstrate the practice.

Reviewing Instructional Strategies

Duration: 15 to 25 minutes.

In this exercise, you will use your knowledge of instructional strategies to answer the following questions.

Keep in mind this scenario, from the previous lesson: You are working as an ID in your organization, and the head of human resources has come to your group with a specific need for the group to develop some training on working with difficult coworkers.

  1. In the course, you want to introduce learners to the negotiation process. Which instructional element might this be, and how would you teach it?
  2. You also want learners to understand healthy boundaries. Which instructional element might this be, and how would you teach it?


  1. This could be an example of a procedure, since the process likely has steps. Teaching a procedure can be done by listing out the steps and then having learners practice these steps in a real-world environment. If your training were to be in a classroom setting, students could role-play the steps of the negotiation process, for example.
  2. Healthy boundaries is most likely a concept, since this is an idea. Teaching concepts can be accomplished through discrimination. Perhaps you would have an exercise where students would determine if scenarios display healthy boundaries or not.

Delivery Formats

There are a number of different common formats for instruction.

Instructor-Led Training (ILT)

Instructor-led training, or ILT, is instruction via an instructor, or facilitator, to a learner or a group of learners. This learning usually happens in person, but more and more, participants take courses virtually, via teleconferencing tools such as WebEx and Skype.

For example, a company may provide ILT to employees on how to use a new software program. The employees would be in a classroom-like environment, being presented the learning by a facilitator.

Advantages of ILT include:

  • Ability of learners to ask questions.
  • Facilitator can provide real-time demonstrations.
  • Learners can participate in group activities with others, enhancing their learning experience.

Disadvantages of ILT include:

  • Scheduling can be difficult.
  • If the learning is to be delivered in person, travel costs may become a factor for an organization.
  • Learners are restricted in terms of when they can take the learning.

Self-Paced Learning

Self-paced learning usually consists of online courseware sometimes including video tutorials that learners access by themselves at their own pace. Learning happens via computer.

Advantages of self-paced learning include:

  • Learners can take instruction at their own pace and when it is most convenient.
  • This type of training may provide cost savings to an organization, since they do not have to pay for travel costs for an instructor.
  • Learning can happen anywhere and at any time.

Disadvantages of self-paced learning include:

  • Some self-paced learning does not include the ability of learners to ask questions.
  • Learners may "tune out" more than in a class with an instructor.
  • Requires computer equipment and that all users have a certain level of technical knowledge.

Virtual Classroom Learning

Virtual classroom learning is ILT that takes place via computer, in what is known as a "virtual classroom." Students are able to interact with instructors and other students via web chats and even with voice in certain situations, via a phone or computer (with Voice over IP).

Virtual classroom training can take place over the course of a few hours, a day, or many days. It requires students and the instructor to have web-conferencing software, such as WebEx or GoToMeeting.

Advantages of virtual classroom learning include:

  • Training usually can happen at the convenience of the learner.
  • Even though it is not face-to-face learning, users can still participate and interact with the instructor and other students.

Disadvantages of virtual classroom learning include:

  • If the online classrooms become large, students and instructors may have difficulty interacting with each other.
  • Computer access and a certain level of technical skill are required.
  • A lack of face-to-face interaction unless video conferencing software such as Skype is used. Students may not have this software.

Blended Learning

Blended learning combines instructor-led training and online training. Face-to-face, instructor training is combined with computer

Advantages of blended learning include:

  • Combination of face-to-face interaction with some self-paced can make learning more interesting to students.
  • Ability to ask questions of the instructor or other learners.

Disadvantages of blended learning include:

  • Classroom management can become an issue for instructors, due to the multiple modalities.
  • Instructor preparation for class is often more involved and time consuming.


Webinars can be either live or recorded online events where participants usually participate via web-conferencing software and sometimes a phone connection. Training is delivered to large numbers of people, sometimes in the thousands.

Some training organizations use webinars to allow participants to hear from experts. Often a chat feature is enabled, allowing participants to submit questions and comments.

Advantages of webinars include:

  • A large number of students can participate in learning.
  • Students can be located anywhere geographically.

Disadvantages of webinars include:

  • Technology issues sometimes arise, especially if the webinars have a large number of participants.
  • They are somewhat impersonal and often have a lecture-type feel.

The following table, based on Cindy Huggett's book Virtual Classroom, illustrates the differences in the formats.

Reviewing Delivery Formats

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will use your knowledge of delivery formats to answer the following questions.

  1. The graphic design department of your company is purchasing a new design software next month. They have a group of 12 designers in offices across the United States who need to be trained on the software quickly. It's essential that each student come away from the training fully ready to use the new software so that productivity will remain consistent during the transition. Which delivery format should be used to train the designers?
  2. The sales team at your multinational company is based in the United States, the UK, and Japan. There are 85 members of the team across these three locations. A new sales-tracking web-based program is being rolled out next quarter, and the sales team needs to receive training, which is expected to be three hours in length. Which delivery format should be used to train the sales team?
  3. You have been hired by a restaurant chain to help design training on a new register system that the restaurant is going to start using. All servers and managers, 25 in total, are going to be attending a kickoff meeting on the new system at the restaurant's headquarters. Which delivery format would you recommend to train the restaurant workers?


  1. Virtual classroom learning. The group is dispersed, so it's most cost effective to complete the training online. Since time and accountability are factors, it's important to complete the training with a live instructor, who can guide them through the material quickly and ensure that all students are paying attention.
  2. Self-paced training. Since the team is large and dispersed across three different countries that are also in different time zones, self-paced training would be beneficial to use in this situation, as well as a cost effective training option, since the training itself will be fairly brief. Each sales team member would be required to complete the training on his or her own, via computer, within a certain timeframe.
  3. Instructor-led training (ILT). Since the group will be meeting at the restaurant's headquarters and is moderately sized, it would make sense to have them receive the training in person, from an instructor who is knowledgeable and skilled in the new system.

Layout and Course Design

When working with creating course materials, it is likely that IDs will use illustrations of some sort; they may be photo images, graphics, graphs, animations, and so on. There are some basic design best practices that can help instructional designers create meaningful courses.

There are studies that show that the majority of learners need to see information in order to learn it. For example, using illustrations can help learners see how things are related, grouped, and organized.

Visual Design in Instructional Design

There are a number of visual elements that instructional designers use to enforce learning.

  • Timeline: Used to show a sequence of events.
  • Flowchart: Can illustrate a procedure or set of ordered steps.
  • Diagram: Useful for explaining a system.
  • Photograph: Used to show a real-world example.
  • Chart: Visual way to represent relationships in quantity.
  • Screen capture: Useful when illustrating computer procedures.

Using Pictures, Graphics, and Multimedia

Graphics, pictures, and multimedia elements can enhance instruction, no matter its format.

Basic Design Concepts

There are a number of design concepts that can make instruction more engaging for learners.

  • If designing online training, if possible, present one item per screen. Do not overwhelm the learner with multiple learning elements per screen.
  • Use visuals that are appropriate. Do not clutter the screen or the page with unnecessary visuals. This will distract learners.
  • When utilizing text, be sure to use a common typeface and be consistent. Do not mix typefaces.

What Visual Elements Work Best in Instructional Design?

There are some best practices to follow when designing instruction involving which design elements work best.

  • Graphics: Graphics are useful for illustrating ideas or concepts. For example, when discussing different countries' GDPs, students might be more apt to remember the figures if each country's flag was shown on screen with the GDP number.
  • Video: Video might be utilized when you want to showcase an expert on a topic. This could be in an online course or in a classroom setting, when the person cannot be there in person. Use short clips if possible, to hold the learner's attention (unless the entire course is video based). If you were creating a sales course and had access to a video clip of a well-known salesperson sharing tips, it would be useful to add it to the course.
  • Infographics: Infographics can help visually illustrate a process, especially one with many steps. A flowchart is an infographic that could be used to show the steps in the process of creating a formula in Excel.
  • Animations: Animations can be useful in online courses to show dynamic content, for example, how to edit a photo with photo-editing software.

Visual Design Best Practices

One of the most basic best practices for visual design is the acronym CRAP. CRAP stands for:

  • Contrast: Avoid using elements that are too similar, for example, the same size font, the same color shapes, or the same line widths. Contrast can help your learner differentiate between different text and graphic elements. Contrast shows the learner the element that is clearly dominant.
  • Repetition: Be sure to repeat certain elements throughout the learning, to provide coherence. For example, if you are using yellow boxes to show learner tips, repeat the use of yellow boxes throughout the course; don't suddenly switch to green boxes. In the same way, using a color, shape, or font theme throughout the learning can help organization of your content. Learners will recognize that certain elements represent certain things, such as the yellow box representing tips.
  • Alignment: In both text and graphic placement, be sure that every element on your screen or page is intentionally placed. If text on one screen is left-justified and on the next screen it is centered, this can cause learner confusion.
  • Proximity: When placing similar items on a page, especially graphic items, group them together so that they become "one unit." Proper proximity can help organize information for the student.

It is important to make conscious decisions when creating content, whether it be text-based or graphic content.

Using Animation and Interactions

When developing online training, instructional designers are often called upon to utilize both animations and interactions: tools that can help keep learners engaged in the instruction.

Some popular design software for online courses includes Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Articulate and Captivate. All of these programs allow instructional designers to animate content and create interactions.

Animations and Interactions: Best Practices and Tips

When creating animations and interactions for an audience, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  • Minimize the use of special effects. It is often tempting to utilize a lot of bells and whistles, but too many special effects can be distracting for learners.
  • Use interactions intentionally. Users will likely have to click through or otherwise interact with this feature, so having an interaction on every page could become tedious and distracting. On the flip side, sprinkling interactions throughout an online course can help keep learners' attention.
  • More audio and less text may work better in animations and interactions. That way, the learners' attention will be on the visual and audio content, versus trying to read text as well as take in what is going on on screen.

Reviewing Course Design Multimedia Concepts

Duration: 15 to 25 minutes.

In this exercise, you will use your knowledge of design elements to answer the following questions.

Keep in mind this scenario, from the previous lesson: You are working as an ID in your organization, and the head of human resources has come to your group with a specific need for the group to develop some training on working with difficult coworkers.

  1. What does the acronym CRAP stand for?
  2. In the HR course, you would like to use some video clips of experts speaking about morale and other concepts. What should you keep in mind?
  3. You want to show the steps for providing constructive feedback to employees. What visual element might you use to visually represent this?
  4. You are demonstrating a computer programming concept and need to show the code that the user should enter. What visual element might you use to represent this?
  5. You are designing a photography course would like to show a brief history of photography through the past 100 years. What visual element might you use to represent this?


  1. Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity
  2. The clips should be short, so that they hold the learner's attention and do not overwhelm him or her with information.
  3. Answers will vary, but you could use a flowchart to illustrate the steps in the process, moving from restating the message, to offering criticism, to focusing on goals.
  4. Answers will vary, but it would be useful to use a screen capture to show the code on screen.
  5. Answers will vary, but you could include a timeline to show the sequence of events over the past 100 years.

The Design Plan

The design plan is often the first element that the ID will create, often with the help of the SME, on the way to organizing and ultimately creating and delivering instruction.

Define the Design Plan

A design plan, sometimes, known as a design document, is a preliminary document that lays out various information that has been collected, as well as the plan for the design of the instruction.

The following elements may be included in a design plan:

  • Results of the learner analysis: intended audience.
  • Results of the needs assessment and task analysis.
  • Instructional layout.
  • Timing of lessons.

When constructing the design plan, the instructional designer will take into account how the information will be sequenced and organized.

The following is the beginning of the design plan for our hypothetical course on business writing:

How Is it Used to Construct Learning?

After the design plan has been reviewed by any potential stakeholders, if necessary, it becomes the basis for creating the instruction. It is the "bones" of the instruction, providing a framework for the creation of, for example, the lessons, tasks, activities, quizzes, and assessment that a course will contain.

Reviewing Design Plans

Duration: 20 to 30 minutes.

In this exercise, you will use your knowledge of design plans to answer the following questions.

Keep in mind this scenario, from the previous lesson: You are working as an ID in your organization, and the head of human resources has come to your group with a specific need for the group to develop some training on working with difficult coworkers.

  1. Use the blank design plan template to create a design plan for the course. Add more topics and lessons if need be. To access the table template, open Design Plan.doc
  2. Who might review the design plan before you proceed with developing the course?


  1. Answers will vary. To see an example of a filled-in design plan, open Design Plan-HR course example.doc.
  2. HR should review the design plan, since they requested the training. There may be other stakeholders who should review, such as management. As an ID, you should determine who needs to sign off on the plan.