Taking a logical and structured approach to the process of developing, delivering, and evaluating instruction and instructional materials has been popular among scholars and practitioners for over a century. Several models have been developed to help explain the processes of instruction as well as the process of designing and developing materials for instruction. This chapter provides an overview of instructional design from its beginnings in the late 19th century, through its blossoming in conjunction with the development of general systems theory, up to a present-day postmodern look at how instructional design (ID) continues to develop. This chapter also describes the essential processes of instructional design as they are articulated through traditional ID models and examines the potential of nontraditional models, describing rapid prototyping in particular as an innovative ID approach.
A Historian’s View of Instructional Design
No particular event or date marks the beginning of a modern science and technology of instruction. Yet it is clear that at the beginning of the 20th century there occurred a series of related events that together might be interpreted as the beginning of a science of instruction.
William James (1842–1910), for example, in his book, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, makes one of the first distinctions between the art and the science of teaching, calling for a scientific approach to instruction. Similarly, also in 1901, John Dewey (1859–1952) interpreted a method of empirical science in educational terms, viewing the classroom as an experimental laboratory. In 1902, Edward Thorndike (1874–1949) offered the first course in educational measurements at Columbia University and became the first to apply the methods of quantitative research to instructional problems. G. Stanley Hall (1846–1924) published his Adolescence (1904), a landmark in the scientific study of the child. The French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1911) and Théodore Simon, his collaborator, published A Method of Measuring the Intelligence of Young Children (1905). Moreover, a true science of behavior, and especially of learning theory, began to emerge, no longer based primarily on metaphysical or philosophical speculation. This new science and learning theory would eventually be applied to a technology of instruction.
Paul Saettler The Evolution of American Educational Technology (1990, p. 53)
The ritual dance around the fire at the front of the cave depicting the hunting and killing of a large animal may be one of mankind’s earliest forms of designed instruction. The hunters of the group had to find ways to teach other potential hunters the process of stalking and bringing down a large animal. Creating a dramatic display that described the procedures for the hunt in a ritualized fashion captured the group’s attention and provided them with a stylized presentation of how hunting worked. This type of instructional design—based on inspiration and creativity—remained prevalent for millennia. However, the science of instructional design is relatively new.
Throughout history, a number of individuals gave careful thought to the design of instruction. For example, the scholar Comenius (1592–1671) was among the first to plan for the use of visual aids in teaching. Comenius’s Orbis sensualum pictus (The Visible World Pictured) was the first illustrated textbook designed for children’s use in an instructional setting (Heinich, Molenda, Russell, & Smaldino, 1996). Until the late 1800s, however, there was no organization that gathered this kind of work together, offered like-minded individuals a forum for discussion on the topic, or sought to continue its development.
At the beginning of the 20th century, John Dewey—one of our most influential educators—called for a linking science between what is known about how people learn and the practice of delivering instruction (Dewey, 1900). At the time, this was a radical thought. Before the mid-1800s, there was no educational science with which to link.
There had been no organization devoted to the study of how people learn or how to study methods of delivering instruction. Although there had been scattered attempts to improve instruction throughout history, no specific discipline had emerged to guide these efforts. Education-oriented organizations existed to protect and direct the curriculum and content of the instruction, but very little attention was paid to how instruction might be made more effective. The psychology of education—how the learner learned—was a school of thought in search of an organizing body. With the formation of the American Psychological Association in 1892, the discipline of educational psychology began.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, education was still very much the province of those with religious backgrounds and training (Berliner, 1993). It is important to keep in mind that teachers were originally members of the clergy and that, prior to World War I, one of the main purposes of education in the United States was to ensure that people could read passages from the Bible. It was not easy to convince those who believed education to be a moral and philosophical endeavor that scientific methods might be employed to improve educational processes. With the establishment of the discipline of educational psychology, however, educators interested in improving instructional practice through scientific means found both a home organization and like-minded fellows to report to and hear from.
With the formation of the land-grant universities in the late 1800s (each state was entitled by the federal government to form its own university within the state’s borders) and the subsequent need to determine what constituted college readiness on the part of an individual, educational psychologists were called on to develop valid and reliable tests and measures of academic achievement. For example, the Scholastic Achievement Test (or SAT, now known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test) was first offered in 1901 and is to some extent an indicator of a trend toward the scientific testing of the learner to determine the appropriate next course of action in his or her education.
By 1915, the application of scientific methods to the solution of educational problems had won out among the leaders in American education, setting the stage for the development of Dewey’s linking science, which scholars such as Snellbecker (1974) suggest is the discipline of instructional design. Educators began to develop an experimental view of instruction. Along with testing students to see what they knew, the newly organized discipline of educational psychology devised tests for the purpose of discovering whether the instruction worked. The traditional approach had been for an educator to focus completely on the information that should be included in the lesson; instructional design demanded that the educator add to that some consideration for how the information was to be organized and presented based on what is known about the learners and their abilities.
As the century progressed and more scholars focused their attention on the science of designing instruction, educational psychology blossomed into university departments and international organizations that reported and discussed research in the field. The discipline of instructional design is directly descended from educational psychology. In the 1950s, the discipline was more completely articulated as part of a concerted effort to professionalize the audiovisual field. At this time the scholar Jim Finn described the modern instructional design profession as something separate from both educational psychology and audiovisual specialists (Sugar, 2014). Although some scholars argue that it is not actually a field of its own but rather a sub-activity within educational psychology, instructional design can point to its own university departments and international organizations as indicators that it is now indeed a separate and distinct discipline.
As a linking science, instructional design is a discipline that constantly looks to the findings of other disciplines (e.g., cognitive psychology, communication) to study and improve methods of developing, delivering, and evaluating instruction and instructional practices.
According to Smith and Ragan (2005, p. 4), instructional design may be currently defined as “the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation.”
The Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University is attributed with developing a four-part definition of instructional design (University of Michigan, 2003).
Instructional Design as a Process
Instructional design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes development of instructional materials and activities, and tryout and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities.
Instructional Design as a Discipline
Instructional design is that branch of knowledge concerned with research and theory about instructional strategies and the process for developing and implementing those strategies.
Instructional Design as a Science
Instructional design is the science of creating detailed specificatio...