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What is Instructional Design? Our Guide to Everything you Need to Know

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Instructional design is the art of creating engaging training experiences. It helps make information more digestible and improves the efficiency of learning. Instructional design is the difference between delivering training experiences and hoping your audience will extract the relevant learning from it, and guiding your learners through your content in a clear structure such that they can’t help but glean the information you want them too.

When producing training programmes you can cross your fingers and hope that your learners will come away with the right information, or you can put your instructional design hat on and make it happen!

This is important, after all, when learning is easy, it means your people (whether they are employees or staff) are able to learn more, in less time. If learning is enjoyable, it means your people will proactively seek out training. This helps ensure knowledge is retained and behaviour is changed.

When you put it like this, it’s clear that instructional design can be a tool for changing the culture of your organisation. In our guide to instructional design, we’ll cover everything you need to know:

What is an Instructional Designer?

Instructional design matters. Just think, what would you do if you had the power to change the culture of your organisation?

Instructional design can help you reach that goal. This makes it one of the very best investments an L&D team can make! And yet, it might surprise you to find out that only 49% of organisations have the instructional design resource they need.

With everyone wanting to get in on the action and hire an instructional designer, it’s worth asking: what are they and what do they do?

Well, they’re trained professionals with a keen understanding of educational psychology (just like ninjas – probably). This means they understand how people learn and they put that knowledge to good use by creating killer training content that is engaging and effective.

Of course, this isn’t all they do. In fact, they oversee the design process from start to finish. Most will start with a training needs analysis to work out what organisational knowledge is missing, then they’ll work through a series of steps until the learning campaign finishes with an evaluation that checks knowledge intake and application.

To get a better understanding of what these learning champions do, we’ll look at the ADDIE framework.

What is ADDIE? A Framework for the Design Process

There are lots of instructional design models to choose from, but ADDIE is, without doubt, the most popular. Just like flares and disco, it’s been around since the 1970s and outlines the five different stages every training campaign goes through. They are:

An infographic showing the different stages of Addie. An instructional design framework.

        1. ANALYSIS

Before you do anything else you need to analyse two things. Firstly, who is your target audience? Secondly, what do your audience need to know? This is known as a training needs analysis.


Now that you know who your training is for, what it will teach them and why – you need to work out how. What will you do to create a learning experience that will be both irresistible and instructional?


It’s time to put your plan into action. This might involve storyboarding content, scripting videos, planning classes and requesting assets. Then you will need to create your online learning using an authoring tool like Genie.  


Before releasing your training, get learners excited about what’s coming with an internal marketing push. Once learners are desperate to know what’s going on, release your training to a tidal wave of logins.


Even though it can be mathematical and seemingly uncreative, you can’t ignore training evaluation. Evaluations give you the recipe to make training even better. Learner feedback is invaluable, helping you sort out problems as soon as they appear.

darth vader learnerWhat Makes a Great Instructional Designer?

Every job draws on a wide pool of skills. The development of instructional materials is no different. It could mean project management one moment and graphic design the next.

There is a lot that instructional designers need to know. But which qualities make an instructional designer great? The following traits indicate an instructional designer will inject some horsepower into your campaign for behaviour change:


Even instructional designers don’t know everything. Instead, they need to build relationships with subject matter experts so that they can hoover up all the information they have to offer and transform this into content that will be easy to digest and understand.


Every writer needs to understand their audience. Instructional designers are no different. No two sets of learners are the same, so it’s important that instructional designers can tailor their content to their audience.


When you hire a professional, you trust that they know what they’re doing and are not just going with their gut. Instructional designers should have a developed understanding of educational psychology and instructional design best practice. They should know their terminal leaning objectives from their enabling learning objectives!

What are the Big Learning Theories You Need to Know?

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a model which categorises different skills into a hierarchy. As learners become more confident, they make their way up the rankings. Learners who are new to a topic will start off remembering information. As their understanding develops and they build a trunk of knowledge, they’ll be able to work with information in increasingly creative ways.


Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

Gagne’s research found that the very best training experiences all include nine stages:

  • Gain the attention of learners
  • Tell them what they’re going to learn
  • Ask what they already know
  • Present the content
  • Provide support
  • Test them
  • Provide feedback
  • Assess them
  • Encourage behaviour change

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a pyramid which explains human motivations. It will help you understand what drives your learners.

According to Maslow, we focus on satisfying our most basic needs first. As they’re fulfilled, we work our way up the hierarchy until we reach the very top. Once your learners make it here, they’re focusing on self-actualisation. This means your training should support learners in their journey to be the person they really want to be.

Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that people forget most of what they learn shortly after learning it. More importantly, he found that regular reinforcement is the best way to combat his forgetting curve.

What are the Challenges Facing Instructional Design?

The world of L&D is developing at breakneck speed. This means that new challenges are popping up all over the place. So, what are the challenges that instructional designers should be ready to face?


The world is changing faster than ever and the world of L&D is changing with it. Instructional designers need an increasingly diverse skill set to keep up.

They might need to know any or all of the following:

  • Project Management
  • Research
  • Evaluation and Data Handling
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Learning Theory & Instructional Strategies
  • Learning Design
  • Coding
  • Graphic/Video/Game Design

The Solution?

Finding someone who can spin each of these plates is near impossible. Instead, it’s important for instructional designers to have a developed understanding of their own strengths. They’ll then be able to find colleagues who can support them or software that can aid them. For example, using Genie, Growth Engineering’s authoring tool, allows instructional designers to create best in class eLearning without any coding knowledge.


New technologies are popping up faster than you can say ‘augmented reality enhanced deep learning experience’! What’s an instructional designer to do? Staying ahead of the curve is harder than ever!

The Solution?

With a NextGen LMS, you no longer need to worry about the next big thing. The best NextGen LMSs are always developing new functionality to help you stay ahead of the curve!


Ever since Gallup found that 87% of employees are disengaged at work, engaging your people has become business-critical. With training known to be an effective route to staff employee engagement, instructional designers are on the front line in the war against dull online learning.

The Solution?

Engaging learners is no easy feat. It takes real expertise to perfect the recipe for irresistible learning. Luckily, when it comes to engagement, Growth Engineering are the A-team.

The combination of gamification, personalisation and social learning is guaranteed to engage your staff if you get it right.

vr and arWhat is the Future of Instructional Design?

In recent years, instructional design has matured. Whilst it was still finding its feet, the focus was on working out how to deliver training effectively with little thought about how to make it engaging.

These days, there are plenty of tools at your disposal known to increase engagement: gamification, social learning, personalisation and microlearning are all sure-fire winners.

There’s a lot to look forward to. If you’re wondering what the future of instructional design has in store, then this is how you can stay ahead:

Learning Campaigns

Learning doesn’t happen in one event. It’s a journey that takes place over time as information is absorbed, contextualized and put into practice. A campaign-based approach to training will maximise both engagement and knowledge retention.

Campaign learning focuses on engaging learners by drip-feeding training interventions over time to create a continuous learning experience that transforms behaviour.


You can hardly call the use of stories as a vessel for instruction a new idea. In fact, it goes back thousands of years.

However, recent research by neuroscientists found that the human brain organises memories into stories. This research has brought storytelling back into the spotlight. Weaving your instruction into a compelling narrative helps learners engage with, understand and remember information.

A Change in Learner Attitudes

Organisational training has a reputation for being dull and boring, but it’s Growth Engineering’s mission to wage war on dull online learning. We’re confident that as instructional designers join us in our mission, more and more learning will include gamification, personalisation, social learning, microlearning, campaign learning and narrative.

Over time, learners will come to realise that organisational training is not only engaging, but it’s also helping them become the person they want to be. This change in mindset will promote the instructional designer into the highest ranks of celebrated employees.

A Brave New World

Instructional design is your tool for organisational change. With it, you can engage your staff, change behaviour and transform the culture of your company.

Gone are the days of training content that breeds learner discontent. With everything from gamification and narrative to social and microlearning on offer, it’s easier than ever for instructional designers to create content that learners want to complete. When instructional design is about engaging learners, it’s better for the learner, the organisation and the instructional designer.

Creating engaging training doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to take weeks. It certainly doesn’t have to be boring.

Want some of our top tips on creating engaging education and training! Click Here!


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