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Instructional Design (ID): A Guide To The Top ID Models Used In eLearning

eLearning is a vast domain with several theories, models, frameworks and processes, some of which have gained popularity in recent times. Many of these frameworks are used in some form or another to develop training and development courses for many learner segments – existing employees, accountants, teachers, expats, sales teams, managers, college students, new joinees and more.

There are, however, four widely used, fundamental Instructional Design models that are essential to know and understand in order to become a great ID and succeed in the elearning field. These models are widely recognised by elearning professionals as the necessary nuts and bolts to creating training programs.

Note to the discerning ID: It is very important to mention here that while the following models qualify as elearning models, each has a differently unique application and must not be loosely interchanged with each other. More on this later. For now, let’s dig deeper into each one and understand the basics.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Created by Benjamin Bloom in 1956, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical model that classifies the thinking skills of learners. Bloom’s framework comprises six categories:

  1. Evaluation: Involves assessing theories, comparing ideas, and evaluating outcomes
  1. Synthesis: Refers to coming up with new ideas based on old concepts
  1. Analysis: Identifying and understanding patterns and trends
  1. Application: This stage involves using problem-solving skills and applying knowledge
  1. Comprehension: Involves understanding, discussing, summarizing, and demonstrating
  1. Knowledge: In this stage, learners recall information and make observations

This was later revised in 2001 by his collaborators Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl as represented in the graphic below. A powerful tool, this model not only helps trainers identify the cognitive performance of learners but also fosters critical thinking among learners and develops their decision-making skills. 

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction (MPI)

In 2002, David Merrill came up with five principles of learning: Task-centered principle, Activation principle, Demonstration principle, Application principle, and Integration principle.

According to this model, learners should be given relatable, real-world problems and tasks, the course should activate and leverage the learners’ existing knowledge base, the course should demonstrate the information visually and through storytelling for better retention, and it should allow learners to apply their newfound knowledge. The final principle states that the course should enable learners to integrate their knowledge through discussion, reflection, and/or presentation. 

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

Proposed by Robert Gagne, this is a flexible ID model that can be tailored to suit different learning environments. The nine steps are to:

  1. Gain the attention of learners with new ideas or questions that stimulate critical thinking
  1. Inform learners of the objectives and expected learning outcomes
  1. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge base, as it can act as a foundation for new knowledge
  1. Present the stimulus or content in easy-to-digest chunks
  1. Provide guidance with the help of case studies, real-world examples, etc.
  1. Elicit performance with activities that help learners remember and use their knowledge
  1. Provide immediate feedback to cement knowledge
  1. Assess performance to evaluate their grasp on the new knowledge
  1. Enhance retention and transfer with the aid of retention strategies such as rephrasing, summarizing, concept maps, etc.

The ADDIE Model

Created for the army in the 70s yet still extensively used today, ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. 

Step 1 – Analysis: IDs examine the existing learning environment to understand the target audience’s current knowledge and skill sets and identify gaps. 

Step 2 – Design: They choose their instructional strategy, set learning objectives, and select the right media and delivery methods.

Step 3Development: Based on the Design phase, IDs create and develop course materials. 

Step 4Implementation: They roll out the course to the target audience via instructor-led training, videos, elearning courses, etc.

Step 5Evaluation: IDs work closely with the client, and based on surveys, learner feedback, and analytics, they monitor and assess the impact of the course design.

Now that you’re familiar with the most commonly used ID models, let’s circle back and understand their unique applications.

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses on developing the learning objectives. It’s an extremely powerful tool as it maps the learning process in a logical manner. In other words, in order to understand a concept you have to first remember it, to apply a concept you must first understand it, you have to analyse a concept to evaluate it, and only after a thorough evaluation can you craft a conclusion. Makes sense, right?
  • ADDIE focuses on the course development process. Using the five steps, this model provides critical insight into the necessary components that must be included in the course.
  • Gagne’s model focuses on the course structure. It serves as a useful guide as it aligns with the natural manner in which people process and retain information and acts as a checklist to ensure the learning content is structured in a manner to grab the learners’ attention.

While we have thoroughly studied four commonly used models in this article, they’re not the only ones. Dick and Carey, SAM, ASSURE, etc. are a few of the newer models that have been developed over the years. But it’s interesting to note that while each model is unique, there are five phases that are common to all. These are: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. So regardless of the ID model you choose for your course, these five phases are the essential pillars of the training framework.

You’re now aware of the most widely used ID models and their applications. So now you’re wondering which one should you select for a specific training program? Well, it would be incorrect to say that one of them should be used for a particular program because in reality, since each focuses on a different learning areas, a combination of all of them would need to be used. Consider this. You’ll need ADDIE to ensure all the components have been included. You’ll have to apply Blooms to ensure the learning objectives have been listed correctly. And Gagne’s model will ensure your course content and structure is engaging enough to achieve an effective learning process.

Critics of ID models feel that a rigid compliance with models is a tedious process and that some models are too layered to meet today’s agile training challenges. However, a good Instructional Designer who is familiar with the various elearning models would be able to draw upon their intuition and combine elements of different ID models in a creative manner, and mould the design to the demands of the course.

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