Category Archives: LRNT 524

Instructional Design Principles

Now that I have been exposed to instructional design in some detail, have had an opportunity to explore a variety of models, and have gone through the design process with a partner, I feel like I am ready to develop a set of my own design principles.  The intention of these principles is guide my design process and to remind myself of the elements I have recently grown to value.

1. Outcomes Come First

In order to develop an instructional artifact that accomplishes its goal of providing learners with a specific skill or knowledge, a designer should always begin with a focus on the learning outcomes.  Curry et al. (2020) pointed out that outcomes can be categorized into a series of five domains, including cognitive strategies and motor skills, amongst others, and that each require their own approach in terms of instruction.  Considering that concept, it would be wise to begin with an understanding of the learning outcomes in mind, the domain in which they fall, and to ensure that the pedagogy aligns with the outcomes.  Looking back, I believe I have often approached instructional design in this manner, but without intentionality.  I have also only designed instruction associated with the topic of my expertise.  If I am to pursue instructional design as a profession, a more grounded understanding of learning domains would be beneficial.

2. Know Your Audience

Analysis of the learners who will make use of an instructional artifact is crucial to ensure that the content is curated and presented in a manner that is suitable for them.  Stefaniak and Baaki (2013) asserted that “a learner analysis should include a description of the learners’ entry behaviours, attitudes, motivation, learning preferences, and group characteristics” (p. 6).  Through such an analysis, the designer positions themselves well to increase the suitability of content, assignments, and delivery method to the specific needs of the learners.  As a marketer, I have long understood that a deep understanding of the audience with whom you are communicating is essential for the development of a compelling message that motivates them into action.  Instruction, I have learned, is no different.

3. Teach Less to Learn More

Two of the hallmarks of good design, as indicated by Mathur (2018), are simplicity and clarity.  Both of these qualities are applicable to instructional design when employed to increase focus in the course material and a reduction of cognitive load.  Jenkins et al. (2013) indicated that “when designing learning materials, extraneous cognitive load should be minimized so that learning can occur” (p. 62).  They went on to argue that overcomplicated presentations can “expend users’ working memory”, which can reduce the likelihood of achieving the objectives of the course (p.62).  On a similar subject, Peterson et al. (2020) recommended identifying the “core competencies” that are the foundation of the curriculum and allow the rest to be dropped (p. 3).  The benefit of this approach is a more focused course, and the educator can spend more time on the meaning-making of the required learning objectives.  I now recognize that I have had a history of including too much content in my courses.  I find the subject that I teach fascinating, and I often feel the need to share as much as possible with my students.  Looking back, I see the result was a series of courses that lacked focus and efficiency.  This is something I look to correct in the future.

4. Technology is Supportive

Technology’s continued inclusion in instructional design seems like a foregone conclusion.  Having said that, it is important to remember its place in education, which is in a supportive capacity to other instructional methods.  It was Clark’s (1994) position that media was not the driving force in learning methods, but rather that it could increase the accessibility or efficiency of those methods.  As a result, technology should be chosen to increase the effectiveness and cost of instruction but should not replace methods as the central theme.  Additionally, Morris (2018) recommended a figurative return to the foundational decision-making that took place to include technology in instruction to ensure that when we do include it, we do so with intentionality.  This principle is included to remind me that I should not choose to include a piece of technology to entertain myself or my students, but rather for what it brings to the instructional artifact and how it improves learning in a cost effective and accessible manner.

5. Present the Problem

In order to improve motivation and increase engagement in course content, learners need to have an understanding of why they are being taught a certain skill or concept.  The first of Merrill’s Principles of Instruction is the presentation of the problem.  In his own words, Merrill (2002) asserted that “learning is promoted when learners are shown the task that they will be able to do or the problem they will be able to solve as a result of completing a module or course” (p. 45).  In my own practice, I have occasionally overlooked this critical step.  I include this design principle here to decrease the likelihood that I will do so again.

6. Feedback is Formative

Learners need to receive feedback throughout their development so they can make any necessary corrections to their behaviour or thinking.  Formative assessment is an important step in any instructional artifact and should not be dismissed.  It is beneficial for both the learner and the educator.  Lau (2016) observed that students benefit from being involved in the construction of their own education and the development of their own sense of judgement.  They can only do this if they have access to the educator’s constructive feedback.  On the other hand, in terms of the educator, Bloom (1968) pointed out that if one were to track the results of formative testing over time, they could determine the efficacy of certain instructional methods and iterate their practice accordingly.  In my own practice, I have almost exclusively engaged in summative assessment.  While I have regularly provided my students with informal feedback, I look forward to formalizing this important step in my practice with the use of formative assessment.

7. Keep Evaluations Authentic

Assessments should reflect, as closely as possible, a learner’s ability to perform the skill or solve the problem at hand in a real-world scenario.  Supportive of this idea was Koh’s (2017) assertion that “authentic assessment is an effective measure of intellectual achievement or ability because it requires students to demonstrate their deep understanding, higher-order thinking, and complex problem solving” (p. 1).  It is through these authentic assessments that students are able to demonstrate the synthesis of their new knowledge by applying it to real problems in their own context.  My previous experience with executing summative assessment has been through a requirement for my students to regurgitate my own interpretations and perspectives back to me.  This superficial and rote memorization has little value.  What really matters is the student’s ability to assimilate the information presented in the course and synthesize it with existing knowledge.  In this way it becomes a schema they can apply to new situations and from which they can benefit in their own contexts.

8. Open When Able

Finally, when the opportunity is available, the inclusion of Open Education Practices (OEP) can be used to increase learner agency and engagement.  Baran and AlZoubi (2020) observed that “the greatest value of open pedagogy is that it promotes student agency and provides open access awareness” (p. 232).  They further pointed out that students who had a higher sense of agency through exposure to OEP “were engaged and excited to act on their own goals in open pedagogy practices” (p. 239).  Student agency is something that has been absent from my previous courses.  I recognize that my attempts to bring structure and objectivism to my curriculum has prevented my students from taking ownership of their learning, which results in less engagement.  If I want my students to take control of their education and learn to learn, they must be given opportunities to explore those skills.

In conclusion, my exposure to instructional design, learning theory, and the design process has been invaluable.  It has given me a new perspective on how I will approach education and design my courses.  Critical for me is a sense of intentionality, purpose, and direction as opposed to blindly throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.  I look forward to making use of these design principles in my practice when I return to teaching.


Baran, E., & AlZoubi, D. (2020). Affordances, challenges, and impact of open pedagogy: examining students’ voices. Distance Education, 41(2), 230–244.

Bloom, B. S. (1968). Learning for Mastery. Evaluation Comment, 1(2), 1–12.

Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29.

Curry, J. H., Johnson, S., & Peacock, R. (2020). Robert Gagné and the systematic design of instruction. Design for Learning: Principles, Processes, and Praxis, 1–12.

Jenkins, J. L., Durcikova, A., & Burns, M. B. (2013). Simplicity is bliss: Controlling extraneous cognitive load in online security training to promote secure behavior. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing, 25(3), 52–66.

Koh, K. H. (2017). Authentic assessment. In Oxford research encyclopedia of education.

Lau, A. M. S. (2016). ‘Formative good, summative bad?’ – A review of the dichotomy in assessment literature. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 40(4), 509–525.

Mathur, G. (2018). Simplicity, clarity, and elegance in digital product design. Myntra UX Design.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59.

Morris, S. M. (2018). Critical instructional design. An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Design Pedagogy, 1–14.

Petersen, C. I., Baepler, P., Beitz, A., Ching, P., Gorman, K. S., Neudauer, C. L., Rozaitis, W., Walker, J. D., & Wingert, D. (2020). The tyranny of content: “content coverage” as a barrier to evidence-based teaching approaches and ways to overcome it. CBE Life Sciences Education, 19(2), 1–10.

Stefaniak, J. E., & Baaki, J. (2013). A layered approach to understanding your audience. Performance Improvement, 52(6), 5–10.

Design Superpowers

The Coffee-Filled Collaborator

This week I’ve been tasked with coming up with a list of the tools and superpowers I employ during my design.  This was difficult at first, as I haven’t considered myself a designer.  Having said that, the more I reflect on my experience both as an educator and a media professional, I see that I’ve certainly employed design techniques at times.  So, the next series of sections are what I consider my design superpowers and how and why I use them.

Mega Organized

I haven’t always been organized, but it’s a skill I’ve developed through necessity.  Now it’s something I take very seriously.  When pursuing design and other complex tasks, I’m quite convinced that the amount of information we’re required to consume and consider in our current culture is physically unmanageable.  For that reason, I rely on the tools at my disposal to make up for my shortcomings.  I make strong use of a calendar to organize my time, note-taking programs like Notes  and OneNote, and I create folder systems on my computer to make sure I can find what I need efficiently.  I now incorporate organizational skills and time management into my sales courses as I find the young people coming through our program have mostly not developed those skills… and they’re essential to be successful.

Fabulously Enthusiastic

I love what I do.  I love media… I love teaching… I love spending time with my colleagues and students.  I honestly really enjoy it.  This helps immensely when it comes time to be developing solutions to problems, educational or otherwise.  There are few things that get me more excited than having a problem to solve.  One of the tools I use to accomplish those problem solving tasks is Excel.  I learned to use Excel from a colleague years ago and it’s been invaluable.  In sales and marketing, we’re frequently presented with moderately complex math problems and it’s great tool to have in your utility belt.

Righteously Resourceful

When I’ve been presented with a design problem in the past that I haven’t had the tools or knowledge to solve… which is, frankly, frequently… I have to go hunting.  Without question, the greatest resource at my disposal is the knowledge and experience of my colleagues.  I work with an excellent team and our experiences and strengths compliment each other nicely.   We rely on each other every day to solve problems and collaborate on our shared goals.

Terrifically Tech Savvy

I’ve always been a proud geek and am fascinated by technology and how its application reveals opportunities.  In terms of design, I’m fortunate to have worked many years in the broadcast industry which has  provided me with a wealth of multi-media skills, which I rely on frequently.  I regularly work with tools such photography, videography, graphic design, editing, animation, sound design, and more.  These are valuable tools and I enjoy putting them to use.

Super Listener

One of the main tools I use on a daily basis is my listening skills.  Both in sales and in an interview setting, it’s important to be able to actively listen to your clients and collaborators.  In an effort to establish an understanding of their needs, one must listen carefully for what’s being said, and frequently what’s not being said, which can lead to probing questions to get more information.

Incredibly Creative

I believe my creativity actually stems from a character flaw I possess.  I get bored easily.  This assists me in my design as I put myself in the position of coming up with new solutions to problems.  Sometimes the difficulty comes in curbing the urge to be creative.  In many situations, old solutions work well.  I have to remind myself not to apply creativity to a problem for creativity’s sake, but to reserve that skill for when it’s appropriate.

Compassion Power

Compassion is essential.  If you don’t care about the people for whom you’re building solutions, you won’t have any longevity.  One of the greatest joys of my job is seeing the people I work with become successful, at least in part, because of my contributions to their success.  This is true for both my students and for the clients of my radio station.  A genuine caring for the people with whom I work allows me to dig a little deeper and come up with solutions that benefit them in the long term.

Magnificently Methodical

Finally, one last skill I rely on frequently is my methodical nature.  I like to develop systems for completing projects.  With that in mind, I look forward to learning more about instructional design models in order to find a place to fit that new tool in amongst these others.

The Revelation of Instructional Design

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The Blind Expert

I was introduced to education by accident.  After being continuously employed in the broadcast industry in Winnipeg, Manitoba for ten years, I moved to London, Ontario for family reasons and found myself without work.  I spent a couple of months applying to every job that I felt I was qualified for, until I saw an opening as a “Broadcast Support Advisor” at Fanshawe College… a fairly ambiguous job title.  After reading the job description, which included mention of mentoring student broadcasters in the field of sales and promotions, I saw that it was something that I could do and applied.  Upon getting the job, I quickly learned that it was far more than mere mentorship, and that I was a teacher of sorts.  After about a year, upon realizing that I wasn’t completely incompetent, my employers asked if I would like to teach a course on marketing and then it was official… I was an educator… and have been now for eight years.  So, my introduction into teaching wasn’t something that I pursued and I basically fell backwards into it.  Something that surprised me… I love it.  Something that’s less surprising… I didn’t know what I was doing.  My recent time spent pursuing a master’s program in learning and technology has solidified my understanding that while I have a skill for making my subject matter entertaining and can engage with my students on a personal level, I have much to learn about learning theory and instructional design.

A Revelation

I’ve built courses from scratch, created lessons, taught face-to-face and online, but have never used a design model in the creation of my courses.  Any process guiding my decision making in developing courses has been influenced by practical experience, intuition, and a profound sense of responsibility to my students.  My reading this week has been a real revelation.  It’s so exciting to learn about the research and theory behind concepts such as the ADDIE design process, and while I’ve put my teaching on hold to pursue my own education, I’m enthusiastic to get back to it so I can apply what I’ve learned.  But how might I do that?  There are so many models!  Dousay (2018) recommended that when deciding which model to use, it’s wise to begin with considering the delivery method (p. 7).  Is the course you’re developing going to be delivered in person?  Is it going to be online?  Will it

be synchronous or asynchronous?  Additionally, Dousay suggested considering the environment in which the course will be taught.  Will it be in a classroom, or are you developing it as an instructional tool for some other group?  There are many things to consider, and each situation has a suitable model.

Of everything I read this week, I was most excited about the Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction (Merrill, 2002).  A lightbulb went off for me while going through the article and it occurred to me that I’ve been approaching teaching from the wrong direction.  Merrill’s principles, including Activation, Demonstration, Application, and Integration were eye-opening for me and put many other learning models into perspective. While I know that I wouldn’t have been able to manage working full-time, teaching part-time, being a dad, and pursuing this program… there’s a part of me that really regrets temporarily giving up teaching.  I’ll now have to wait to put these extremely valuable lessons into practice.


Dousay, T. A. (2018). Instructional design models. In R. E. West (Ed.), Foundations of learning and instructional design technology. EdTech Books.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development 50(3), 43-59.