Activity 2: Exploring Design Models

Exploring Design Models

As a high school teacher, I have often thought about the learning environment I create, and how I am going to help my students engage meaningfully with the material. Beyond the course content I’m teaching, I’ve focused on the physical space of the classroom: seating arrangements, engaging and purposeful wall material, etc; as well as cultivating a social-emotional environment of respect, caring, openness, risk-taking, and trust. Up until now, however, I had not necessarily considered which specific theories informed the decisions I made, or how those theories are used to design a learning environment. In the seven years I have been teaching, there have been massive changes in curriculum and technology use in the classroom. It has felt messy at times, trying to keep up with all of the changes, while still trying to be innovative and always put the needs of my students first. There hasn’t always felt like there was time to explain theoretically the decisions I’ve been making. This week’s activity has allowed me to put a formality behind what I’ve been doing, by helping me understand the role of learning theories in selecting a design model, what goes into making design decisions, and models I’ve found myself drawn to. 

When considering which design model to utilize, it is apparent that learning theories play an important role. Ertmer & Newby (2013) discuss three dominant learning theories, behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, and how they inform design by taking the understanding of how people learn and putting it into tangible materials, activities, and lessons. I agree with their assertion that an understanding of these theories translates into better instruction, as it would give instructors more purpose behind their actions. This is also supported by Merrill’s (2002) ideas of the five principles of effective instruction, which apply to almost all design models to some degree. 

 With all of the massive changes that have taken place in education, especially with the need to quickly pivot and shift to online learning due to Covid-19, an understanding of learning theories and effective instruction principles becomes even more important for educators. While some educators may believe in one learning style and design style over others, I personally see the value in shifting between several. Factors that may influence my decision include course content, mode of learning (in person or online), timing (beginning, middle, or end of the course), students’ needs, assessment requirements, available resources, and personal preferences/teaching style. 

One of the design models that stood out to me in these readings was the PIE (plan, implement, evaluate) model as it seems to sum up what my “go-to” design process is. Not overly complicated, but hits the important steps. It also emphasizes the use and application of technology in instructional design (Dousay, 2017), which is particularly relevant in today’s educational landscape. 

Bates (2015) suggests that there is a need for more “agile” design, due to the rapidly changing nature of education, and that will “enable students to develop and practice the skills and acquire the knowledge they will need in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.” After reviewing many of the design models, there are many facets of this idea I agree with. However, the fact that it is a newer design model and there hasn’t been as much research on it, could be problematic. But to me, isn’t that what innovation is meant to do? Try new ways of approaching learning, even if it may fail? I believe it is worth exploring, and I certainly have a lot more exploring to do in innovation and design!


Bates, T. (2015). Chapter 4.3 The ADDIE Model, Chapter 4.7 ‘Agile’ Design: flexible designs for learning, and Chapter 10 Trends in Open Education. In Teaching in the digital age. BCcampus.

Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.

Dousay. T. A. (2017). Chapter 22. Instructional Design Models. In R. West (Ed.), Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology (1st ed.). Available at

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


7 thoughts on “Activity 2: Exploring Design Models”

  1. Kate, it sounds like you and I have much in common. I too rely on the order in the room and use of wall space. I had to switch classrooms last week and I still feel like it’s move-in day! I am also trying to think about how I would manage fully online learning. How do we manage behaviours? How do we deal with discipline? In the classroom, we switch gears fast. Sometimes constructivism just doesn’t work and we rely on behaviourism. As much as I’d like to teach using new innovative ways, in some classes, I just have to get down to the basics. I’m thinking in K-12, online needs to start with behaviourism and work from there. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Wgrymaloski,
      Moving classrooms.. the worst! I taught fully online last March-June, and it was a difficult transition. My school is linear, so the good part was that I had worked with the students (Gr 10-12) for a long time before we had to make the switch, so I found the behaviors easier to manage as I already had a solid relationship built with them. It would be much more difficult if that wasn’t the case, so I feel for teachers who do their entire course online from start to finish. We were encouraged to stick to the basics by our admin, as it was such a crazy time and quick transition, so I agree that the principles of behaviorism apply most easily and are the most straightforward. I don’t know about you but I’m not eager to teach online again anytime soon!

  2. Bravo, Kate! This is such a well-written blog post. Your first post on the MALAT site? Welcome!

    Like you, I have gone through many years of teaching, making decisions, and changing curriculum without consulting any design theories. It was purely out of my love of the profession and care for the learner’s learning experiences. Luckily, it has worked out so far. With this week’s activity, I have gained so much appreciation for design theories and as an instructional designer, I find myself often advising teachers to be innovative with whichever design theory they chose, but do follow a design as a guideline.

    There’s a saying in Vietnamese that says “Điếc không sợ súng”, translating to “he that knows nothing doubts nothing” describes my experience of pre-design theory days. There was a lot of risk-taking, successes, but there were also many “ooopps that didn’t work out as intended.” 😀

    1. Thanks v2tran! I’m glad I’m not the only one out there who started out without consulting design theories. How have you found your teaching has changed since using design as a guideline?

  3. When reading Ertmer & Newby (2013), what I found they summarized well, was that each of the 3 learning theories has their ‘sweet spot’: behaviorism is best for simple tasks where students have little previous knowledge; cognitivism is best for moderate tasks and moderate previous knowledge; and constructivism is best for more advanced topics where students have the most previous knowledge.

  4. Hi Pguichon,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree I think lessons/units/course can be designed with a flow between the three learning theories as students gain knowledge and experience. Regardless, I do believe some students may take to instructional design based on one learning theory better than the other(s), which is where you as a teacher may need some flexibility in your design process.

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