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What is Instructional Design?

Updated on January 28, 2015

If asked to define the field of Instructional Design some time ago, I would have replied with confidence as follows: Instructional Design is a field that works with software development teams (project managers, programmers, system engineers, et al) in an effort to help them design intuitive application/software type products. Or more specifically, storyboarding the application design and consulting on how the process flow should work. Where the buttons and icons are placed on the screens, and what color schemes to use. And then, handling the training and tutorial type aspects once the product ships to market. I assumed Instructional Design started in the 1980’s with the release of desktop PCs.

Dr. Robert Reiser

Then, I was introduced to Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology by Dr. Robert Reiser while taking a course on Instructional Design at the University of Tampa. Dr. Robert A. Reiser - Associate Dean of Research, Professor of Instructional Design at Florida State University is the co-editor of Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, and author of many other published works in the field, over the last thirty years. His name continually appears in references and conversations in regards to this field. I enjoy his writing style, and how he uses his former students and peers as co-authors/editors. His Forward in Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology helped move my definition of Instructional Design to a more realistic definition.



Dr. Reiser calls the field Instructional Design and Technology (ID&T) opposed to Instructional Technology. Where technology is not just media, but the processes involved in using a variety of media to achieve performance improvement. More precisely, “Professionals in the field of instructional design and technology often use systematic instructional design procedures and instructional media to accomplish their goals.” (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Below are ten trends in this field that he has seen emerge and grow since the beginning of his career.

Performance Improvement

Performance improvement is a trend that has changed most notably over the years and the main reason for the name change to design and technology. Performance improvement (PI) is using methods such as motivation, informal learning, and coaching, in addition to instruction in order to improve performance. “The goal is that so people not only improve their learning, but improve their performance.” (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). That people will perform in all aspects to a higher degree because of Instructional Designers’ (IDs) intervention. And this human improvement transcends into the real world. According to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD, 2008), several organizations use non-instructional means such as knowledge bases, informal learning, performance support, and on the job learning with employee usage as high as 80%.


Constructivism encourages learner collaboration. It allows learners to get a real understanding of what they are learning. It allows them to take the lead and be in charge of their learning. They actually learn how they learn and can reflect upon it. According to Dr. Reiser, he has seen movement towards this trend over the years and includes constructivism as an important factor when designing his instruction (Reiser, R.A. 2012). He does inform IDs to be careful when selecting the proper media; we have to match the track we use to the task at hand. We have to acknowledge that the learner has pre-requisite skills in place so they can complete the task at hand. Be careful when observing groups – how do you know who is actually contributing to the goal? You must give the learners adequate guidance or scaffolding (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). And, you must do what is feasible for all stakeholders.

Knowledge Management

According to Rosenberg (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012), knowledge management is collecting, archiving, and sharing valuable information with a large organization where the interests are common. The purpose is to organize the data in a system so that seekers can find it quickly and easily – electronically, versus the way it was done many years ago where a seeker actually contacted the person for the answers they sought (Reiser, R.A. 2012). Again, as IDs we must organize this data by different departments for example, so the data can be quickly and easily accessed.

Performance Support

Nyugen in (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012), defines performance support as “a system that provides performers with varying levels of access to information and tools that support them at the moment of need.” Examples include GPS systems to find your way, and Tax Software applications where you answer a series of questions and out comes your tax return. In the mid-nineties, I worked with a Multimedia department’s IDs to help design and develop performance support systems that were packaged in the application. If you were a new user, the application would ask if you wanted some training (accessed within the application) – an example how performance support has progressed – and the goal then was to be in real time, believe it or not.

Online Learning

This is a hot trend in our field, according to Dr. Reiser, nearly 50% of FSU’s Master’s Program students are online learners (Reiser, R.A. 2012). The movement in instruction is towards technology-based training, however, 60% at the business level is still instructor led. Even so, online learning has doubled in business since 2003-2008 and has increased in higher education by 15% (ASTD, 2008). Dr. Reiser sees the growth in online learning as translating to the growth in opportunities for IDs, because more online training translates to the need for the skills of IDs (Reiser, R.A., 2012). Therefore, we need to take advantage of this trend in increased online learning as IDs.

Informal Learning

Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn to do their jobs (Cross, 2007). Or, learning other than what takes place in the classroom (Rosette and Hoffman in Reiser and Dempsey). An ASTD survey conducted in 2008 shows 75% of major organizations attribute learning to informal. Examples include; email for sharing knowledge sharing, watercooler discussions, and instant messaging (IM). As IDs we need to embrace informal learning and utilize it. We can improve the quality of our instruction so that our learners learn more (Reiser, R.A. 2012).

Cross, (2008) compares these two types of learning in the table below:


Courses, workshops
Relationships, conversations
Instructor perception
Learner’s perception
Instructor driven
Learner driven
School culture - Push
Web 2.0 - Pull
The challenge for IDs is to recognize current informal situations they can utilize, and make them better. Thus, promoting informal training.

Social Media

The numbers for social media are moderate, but off to a good start. As IDs, we need to be aware of social media and take advantage of it. The challenges we face are choosing the right tool for the instruction, supporting it properly, and defining how the instructor interacts with the social media, especially as the subject matter expert (SME). As IDs, we need to make sure there is an appropriate role for instructors especially for feedback, again as SMEs.

Educational Games

Systems with artificial challenges defined by rules that result in a quantifiable outcome (Shute, V.J., Lloyd, P.R., Van Eck, R. in Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Five characteristics of a well-defined game:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Learner control
  3. Motivating sensory stimuli
  4. Sense of uncertainty
  5. Ongoing feedback

(Reiser, R.A., 2012)

The challenges for IDs are how we get learners to learn a specific goal through a specific activity. How do we know they have attained those goals? Are these games efficient and feasible for a given learning environment? These are the challenges IDs must overcome.

Learning Sciences

Using technology to create new learning environments, new tools, and enhance learner understanding creates a rich learning environment. Arguably, media does enhance understanding. It allows us to create real world settings not lab settings. As IDs, we can improve our research using technology. Challenges include effectively tying strategy to learning outcomes. We must be aware of these strategies or we cannot tie them to the desired outcome. Blend new learning sciences with traditional to get the best of both worlds. Learning Sciences and IDs need to continue towards working together.

Mobile Learning

According to ASTD 2008 surveys, 65% of employees are currently using or learning from mobile devices. The devices allow users to learn their job while performing it. Many K-12 to higher education students already own mobile devices. Our thinking/policies need to change in regards to the use of mobile devices.

With schools and businesses using mobile devices, we as IDs need to be on top of it. The advantages of mobile devices are; low technology costs, no need to reformat the classroom, portability, and almost all folks can use them (Reiser, 2012). The challenges we face – IDs must do our homework and design good learning software. We must learn how to integrate mobile devices within the curriculum and eliminate distractions such as texting and surfing.


Dr. Reiser not only keeps us to date on Trends, but he has helped to define them. He remembers back to when he was a student and how small his toolset was then. Now, we as IDs have tools such as the ten mentioned above to choose from – thanks in many ways to him. Our job is to “pick the right tool for the right task” – as IDs (Reiser, R.A. 2012).


Cross, J. (2007). Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley.

Green, M. (2008). State of the Industry report, 2008: ASTD's annual review of workplace learning and development data. Alexandria, Virg.: American Society for Training & Development.

Nyugen, F., (2012). Performance Support. In Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 147-157). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Reiser, R.A., (2012). Ten trends affecting the field of instructional Design and Technology. Retrieved from

Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.) (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rded.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Rosenberg, M. J., (2012). Knowledge Management and Learning. In Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 158-168). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Rossett, A., & Hoffman, B., (2012). Informal Learning. In Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 169-177). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Shute, V.J., Lloyd, P.R., Van Eck, R., (2012). Games . . . and . . . Learning. In Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 321-322). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

© 2015 Mark Bush


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    • markbush5150 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Bush 

      3 years ago from Tampa, Florida 33609

      Via email:


      Thanks very much for sending me the blog post; it is quite good.


      Bob Reiser

      Robert A. Reiser, Ph.D.

      Associate Dean for Research, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Robert M. Morgan Professor of Instructional Systems

      College of Education

      1100 Stone Building

      Florida State University

      Tallahassee, Florida 32306

      professional website:


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