Instructional Design: From Concept to Completion

The following sample Education capstone project is 7035 words long, in APA format, and written at the master level. It has been downloaded 667 times and is available for you to use, free of charge.


My goal in this project was to focus my attention on a topic that would contribute to my next educational step, my Master's degree. I have worked as a graphic and multimedia designer for some time now, and have also worked in the post-secondary education field. These personal experiences gave me some guidance on a topic that both needs further examination and will contribute to newfound knowledge in my education. I first wanted to simply answer the question, “What is e-learning?” It is something that has been around for a while, but nevertheless a salient topic ripe for a breakthrough. But then, asking such a question would lead to a paper too much like “E-Learning for Dummies”, as it is a necessarily broad topic.

Defining my parameters even further, I thought that examining “How To Create an E-Learning Project” would be a worthwhile endeavor – but that erred in the opposite direction, being too specific. Finally, I decided on a topic that would benefit my next steps in education as well as the average reader – the instructional design process as utilized by e-learning projects.

The topic I have chosen for my Capstone paper is: “The Instructional Design Process: from Concept to Completion”. This topic is not too broad and not too specific, and it will allow the information gathered to be used for various eLearning projects, teaching students digital literacy throughout numerous industries. Throughout this paper, I will examine the instructional design process more broadly (especially in the literature review) as well as specific definitions and uses of e-learning. I will then use this background knowledge and essential framework to examine primary source material on designing an e-learning project.

This examination (and the subsequent discussion) will look at the requirements, resources, goals, and players in the design and implementation of an e-learning instructional design project. Essentially, I will argue that because the necessitated requirements, available resources, desired goals, and essential players for an e-learning project are in constant change and flux, instructional design must be a collaborative, multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary endeavor. Taking this approach will lead to the most successful e-learning projects.


As more and more colleges, universities, and k-12 schools move to distance and electronic learning and instruction; the need for seasoned and skilled content developers is growing. While the origins of instructional design (and, for that matter, electronic media as an instructional tool) are not necessarily in the education field, this paper deals with them as such. The history of instructional design and e-learning is multi-faceted, but this paper focuses on that which is relevant to an examination of a successful design process.

Problem Statement:

The major question I intend to answer:

1. What essential personnel are needed for the successful completion of an e-learning project?

a. Can this job be done by a lone artist/developer?

b. Does it require collaboration between departments and/or companies?

c. Are outside vendors brought in to assist?

d. Is there a core group of individuals for each and every project?

Professional Significance of your work:

Instructional design, and its associated processes and theories, provide the perfect platform for the next steps of my career. It will provide a welcome career change and allow me to stay within a genre of which I am both comfortable and familiar. Researching this topic will give me the confidence needed for entering into a new master’s program. It will provide me with a head start in my understanding of the field. This head start will include a knowledge base of the industries involved in developing e-learning material, and a basic foundation in e-learning and the instructional design process.

Overview of Methodology:

To arrive at a complete and sound research paper I will utilize two methodologies. First, I will lay a groundwork of knowledge of instructional design and e-learning through past research and current theories. Second, I will conduct a basic survey of e-learning websites, how-to books, developers, corporations, post-secondary institutions, job postings and various e-learning and instructional design curriculum. This survey will provide the foundation for a discussion of my major questions regarding the successful conception and completion of an instructional e-learning project.


The paper must stay centered on the process of developing eLearning content, and the players and personnel involved in the process. I will be unable to look at past uses of e-learning in instructional design, except that which is relevant to the literature review. Instead, I must limit my survey to contemporary examples of e-learning in practice.

Definition of Terms:

While more specific terms and definitions will be provided throughout the research project, especially in the literature review, a provision of two basic definitions will be made here.

Instructional Design: The process of creating “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing (Merrill, 1996). E-learning: The network-enabled transfer of skills and knowledge; using electronic applications and processes to learn via the internet, network, or standalone computer (Clark, 2007). The paper uses these essential definitions when it refers to “instructional design” and “e-learning”. Furthermore, the instructional design process is used essentially as a synonym for instructional design but refers more specifically to the steps and methods involved in the overall discipline.


My capstone project will examine the rise of both instructional design and e-learning. The paper will then use this background knowledge to guide the reader through the instructional design process starting with brainstorming the initial concept, and ending with the completion of the final e-learning product. During this journey, each significant developmental component of the e-learning project will be explained along with details about the personnel that will perform those duties. Finally, a theory of the necessarily collaborative nature of instructional design and e-learning will be presented, based on the survey of these significant developmental components.

Literature Review

This paper approaches a unique aspect of instructional design – eLearning. Even more specifically, this paper attempts to answer a unique question regarding this unique aspect of instructional design; as seen above, what kind of resources and leadership are needed for the successful development of an eLearning project. Taking a specific question, such as this, within the discipline of the instructional design process, is ostensibly illuminating for the discipline as a whole. Therefore, it will be equally illuminating to this paper to turn to the history and development of instructional design practice and theory, before turning to the specified question of this research question. In order to lay a groundwork of theories and practices off of which eLearning strategies and development are built, we can look to several aspects of literature review. First, a basic definition of the discipline of instructional design and history of the discipline must be examined, at least in brief. Then, a basic definition of eLearning and history of its application is laid out. Finally, several prevailing theories that remain salient to current practices in both instructional design and eLearning.

Instructional Design – A Basic Definition

The discipline that we discuss here, instructional design (also referred to as Instructional Systems Design) is precisely what it sounds like. It is essentially the first step in bettering existing classes and education systems. As Merrill et al. state, instructional design creates “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing” (1996: 5). The three aspects listed here are the primary concerns of instructional design theories, systems, and practices.

While there are many theories within the discipline of instructional design, all of them are defined by the essential aspects mentioned in Merrill, et al.’s definition. Regardless of the approach, each theory concerns itself the current abilities and needs of the learner, the goal of the education environment, and the means of bridging the gap between the needs of the learner and the end goal of the instruction. The settings in which this may take place are multi-varied, as are the way in which the outcome (and thereby success) of the instruction is measured – these questions are better answered in subsequent sections.

Instead, here is provided a working definition of instructional design, as it shall be used throughout the contents of this paper: the development of instructional materials, based on both theoretical (a priori) and empirical knowledge of human behavior and needs; the implementation of these developments by educational actors (teachers, students, and community); and the evaluation of these developments and practices; with the goal of bettering the acquisition of knowledge. This definition may appear to be a simple skimming over the entire topic, but it is a necessary starting point for delving into eLearning as a subsequent practice of instructional design.

A Brief History of Instructional Design

In order to gain a full picture of the history of instructional design, it is beneficial to look to the work of R.A. Reiser, who has been prominent in the field for decades. Using Reiser as a source, this section turns to the developments of instructional design as a discipline. The discipline of instructional design originated nearly seventy-five years ago, during World War II. As with many helpful inventions and social developments, the strategies and processes of instructional design began with the military. Because a system of analysis was needed for evaluating the training and abilities of recruits, psychologists developed strategies based on the principles of human behavior and learning. According to R.A. Reiser’s understanding of the history of instructional design and technologies, it was because of the successes of this military training that instructional design theories began to take root (2001: 57). As Reiser says, it was in the aftermath of World War II that psychologists began to view instruction, education, and training as a system that could be approached with empirically and theoretically grounded strategies, leading to relatively high successes.

Despite this initial development of the discipline, instructional design as a system did not expand until interest began to grow in the 1970s, when “the number of instructional design models greatly increased and prospered in different sectors in military, academia, and industry” (Reiser, 2012). In this decade and in the 1980s, instructional design remained confined to business and military applications, rather than to education. Despite this lack of application, this was also the time when computers, electronics, and media began to be considered for use in instructional settings, and serious efforts to implement this tool began (Reiser, 2001). It was not long before the personal computer was considered integral to an educational environment.

In the 1990s, perhaps the most important development in instructional design theory was a focus on the importance of performance – that is, how learning leads to improved performance. Researchers began to consider this performance improvement as an important factor in the instructional design process. The 1990s also saw the development of the World Wide Web, which was an equally important factor in the spread of e-Learning in the education and instruction environment.

Finally, in the 2000s forward, the rise and further development of the Internet, online learning, and the influence of e-tools in education defined instructional design and its associated processes. As Reiser states, the Internet quickly became a popular tool for learning methods because of its “social media tools and multitudes of information resources” (2001: 56). Researchers quickly turned to the problem of integrating e-learning into the instructional design process in terms of both learning outcomes and curriculum – as evidenced by the rise of online courses offered by universities and other higher education institutions. This is the current state of instructional design and e-learning in combination. Much has been developed in the past decade, but as technologies increase and adapt, so must instructional design theories and practices. This is what the paper turns to in analyzing the instructional design process in an e-learning project, from conception to completion.

E-Learning – A Basic Definition

E-Learning, quite simply, means the application of electronic tools and media in an educational and learning environment. Because of the ubiquitous nature of electronic media in today’s world, e-Learning as a practice is virtually limitless, including everything from multimedia presentations to internet-based training. These technologies can exist on their own or be part of a larger network or product and can be used in or out of the classroom setting. The key to e-learning, especially in its current use, is that it can be utilized by both online learners and teachers for either synchronous or asynchronous learning (Tavangarian, et al.: 21). The basic definition of e-learning is as follows: electronic and media tools used in the educational process, usually used in conjunction with a specific instructional design. While its connections to and development in the instructional design process will be discussed later (as is made obvious in the research question), these basic understandings give a framework to work with. Below, a short history of the uses of e-learning gives further insight into its many uses and applications, as well as the complexity of using it in instructional design development.

A Brief History of e-Learning

In conjunction with the development of instructional design over the past seventy-five years is that of instructional media. A timeline, adapted from Reiser’s work is given below:

1900-1930s: Visual media (such as slides, photographs, and films) is first invented and adapted to educational uses in the early part of the century. While it is adapted, media is considered supplementary to written curriculum, rather than central to it. Even further from educational use were radio and sound recordings. In their initial stages and implementation, these new technologies were not considered useful for training or learning, and therefore education as a whole was not affected by these new developments.

1940s (World War II and Post-World War II): This was a time when there was a large demand for training and communication tools. Subsequently, instructional media took an upward turn. Audio-visual mediums (such as videos and recordings), previously considered incompatible to the educational process, began to be used industrially and militarily. While the application to education itself was slow, the varied use of audio-visual media in any form was an important step towards our modern-day e-learning.

1950s-1960s: These two decades saw the growth of instructional television.

1960s-1990s: These decades saw the initial use of instruction using thedevelopment of computers. While research began in earnest as early as the 1950s, these three decades did not mean a far-reaching use and impact of these developments (yet – not until the 1990s).

1990s-2000s: This is when interactive design began for education and curriculum. Web-based trainings, simulations, and instruction based on interactive multimedia became a near norm in schools, universities and businesses alike. Even more recently, social media and mobile devices introduced a personal aspect to the development of e-learning. While both phenomena are too new to have their impact measured, it is easy to imagine that this further personalization of electronic media and its application to instructional design and systems.

Considered Theories

There are two generalized theories of instructional design that are important in understanding the application of e-learning. Robert Gagne’s instructional theory assesses the various components of learning and instruction, while the ADDIE Model lays out the phases of instructional design. Both theories give credence to considering instructional design as a process and are foundational for understanding how e-learning instruction is to be designed.

Gagne’s Theory of Instruction

Gagne’s theory of instructional design was developed more than two decades ago but remains salient to current instructional practices and strategies. Gagne draws from behaviorism and cognitivism in order to provide a clear template for instructional designers. Following Gagne’s theory will most likely lead to a quite efficient and focused mode of instruction (Perry, 2001).

The theory is made up of three components: a taxonomy of learning outcomes, the conditions of learning, and the nine events of instruction (Gagne, et al., 1992). Table 1, below, gives a clear mapping of the theory and its subsequent parts.

(Table 1 omitted for preview. Available via download)

The table gives a relatively clear picture of the mapping and layout of Gagne’s instructional design theory. The “conditions of learning” are affected by two related aspects of instructional design: learning outcomes, and events of instruction. The taxonomy of learning outcomes is essentially a typification and identification of what the goals and subsequent results of a learning environment are. Gagne recognizes that this may be varied. In the cognitive domain, we find what is typically considered as “results” – information retention, intellectual skills, and cognitive strategies (Gagne, et. al, 1992; Perry, 2001).

Just as important, however, are what Gagne recognizes as the outcomes stemming from the affective and psychomotor domains. The affective (or attitudinal) results are demonstrated by the learner preferring some options over others, while the psychomotor results are found in are demonstrated in an enabling or enhancement of physical performance (or, motor skills). All three of these domains of outcome remain relevant to instructional design as a whole, and e-learning more specifically. This will be examined as part of the design process for e-learning.

The second part of Gagne’s theory deals with the instruction process itself. The theorist lays out the learning process as a series of events found in the educational environment, each one to occur before the text is undertaken (Gagne, et al. 1992). The list of events, found in Table 1, shows what has become a normal approach as part of the instructional package (Dowling, 2001). The first event is to gain the attention of the learners, turning them into what is about to be taught and learned. The teacher then informs the learners of the instruction’s objectives, giving them a clear picture of expectations and plans and reminds them of what has been learned in the past, especially the knowledge that is relevant to the current stimulus.

It is only at this point that the instructor should present the lesson, stimulus, or information that is to be taught – this is to be accomplished by providing learning guidance, eliciting performance from the learners, and providing feedback on this performance. Finally, the instructor or teacher assesses the entire performance in terms of objectives, giving final feedback and providing practical steps to enhance the retention and transfer of the new knowledge or skills. As Dowling states, using these events “as part of a complete instructional package can assist many educators in becoming more organized and staying focused on the instructional goals” (2001). This will be applied to e-learning later on.

ADDIE Process Model

In contrast to Gagne’s theory of instruction, the ADDIE process deals specifically with the creation of instructional materials. Developed at Florida State University, the model explains “the processes involved in the formulation of an instructional systems development program for military interservice training that will adequately train individuals to do a particular job, and which can also be applied to any interservice curriculum development activity” (Branson, et al. 1975). In other words, the model can be adapted across many differing applications. As Branson and company go on to explain, ADDIE stands for what the model considers to be the five phases of creating instructional materials: Analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate (Branson, et al. 1975). These five phases are, arguably, the most commonly used in creating instructional materials (Reiser, 2012). Rather than being linear, like Gagne’s theory, all of these phases are reciprocal and dependent on each other. Table 2 gives a clear picture of this reciprocity.

(Table 2 omitted for preview. Available via download)

The arrows between each of these phases represent the “revision” that takes place in response to each of the other phases. Each phase has a specific function for creating the best instructional material possible. Analyze refers to the process of as much information as possible about the learners, what is to be learned, and what the overall goals of the project or instruction are. The researcher or designer then takes this information to make the content itself both applicable to the lesson and conducive to success.

The design phase is when researchers and designers begin to create the educational or instructional project itself. Those involved in the design and instructional process utilize the information gathered and assessed in the analyze phase, in addition to existing theories and models, to create a project by which learning is to be obtained. This usually begins by defining the objective of the project, then breaking these objects down into manageable size, and finally defining what types of activities and tasks learners are to participate in order to accomplish the learning goals and outcomes first identified in the analyze phase.

Following the design phase, researchers and designers begin to develop the tasks, activities, and curriculum to be used by learners. This essentially means taking that which was established as necessary and desirable in the desgin phase and actually creating it. Subsequently, instructional designers test the developed materials by implementing them. This determines the appropriacy and functionality of the tasks, materials, and curriculums brought forth in previous phases.

Finally, researchers and instructional designers evaluate the materials in conjunction with the outcomes to determine whether the desired goals have been met. This evaluation involves both a summation of the processes and a formation of ways to improve the processes. As stated earlier, the product of each phase can be revised based on the findings and outcome of the subsequent phase. In other words, if an instructional designer finds that the implementation of designed materials is quite difficult, they may go back and re-design the materials, without going forward to evaluation. This means that data and strategies can be altered in the on-going process, rather than waiting for an end-result evaluation. The ability for researchers to revise in this way makes the ADDIE Model very useful, and quite successful (Branson, et al. 1975).

A Summation of the Literary Review

While this paper answers a specific question (what is effective?) about a specific aspect of instructional design (e-learning), the preceding materials give an important framework from which to work. In presenting the research on e-learning and instructional design, the discussion will show many connections to and groundedness in instructional design more broadly. The history of instructional design is important because it is closely associated with the history and development of instructional media; the two major theories of instructional design (Gagne’s theory and the ADDIE Model) are important because they are exactly what e-learning instructional design is based on. The definitions, history, and uses have been laid out. From here, the paper turns to an analysis of the specific practice and process of instructional design in an e-learning setting.

Research Methodology

In addition to taking past research and theories into consideration, this paper examines primary sources to gain insight into the instructional design process in e-learning – from conception to completion. A grounding understanding of instructional design theories and e-learning practices has been established in the above section. Now, the thrust of the paper is the survey of primary sources. We look to these primary sources for a “snapshot”, so to speak, into existing and real-world e-learning projects, leading us to a point where a generalized theory of successful projects may be developed. These primary sources include job descriptions of instructional designers, how-to manuals, examples of uses of e-learning in a k-12 and higher education setting, and professionals who argue for the usefulness of e-learning.

In order to gain an understanding of how these sources are used, it will be useful to look at how they are applied to each question and sub-question stated earlier. In order to answer the question of what essential personnel are needed for the successful completion of an e-learning project, we look to examples of instructional designer job descriptions. To answer the question of whether a single developer can complete the design, or if it requires collaboration between departments and/or companies, we look to how-to manuals to fully realize the complexity of the process. Finally, the question of outside vendors and/or a core group for projects is answered by looking to the websites of higher education and e-learning projects.

In addition to all of these primary sources, the survey and discussion are informed by professionals’ perspectives on the uses of e-learning in instructional design, as well as by the theories and models we examined in the literature review. Gagne’s theory and the ADDIE Model will both prove to be useful in the analysis of the survey. Taken altogether, the research methodology for this paper is essentially a content analysis of various primary sources, in order to determine “best practice” for an e-learning instructional design process.

Results of the Survey

The importance of e-learning in instructional design is highlighted in Glenn C. Altschuler: “I’m not prepared to say that virtual is better than face-to-face education, or even as good. But it’s here to stay and informed and highly motivated consumers can make good use of it.” This Dean of Cornell recognizes that e-learning has risen to a status that cannot be ignored by the instructional design discipline. The most prominent findings of this paper’s survey were those in describing the role and qualifications of an instructional designer. These findings confirm Altschuler’s sentiments. The job postings highlight the way in which e-learning has been applied to instructional design.

The Job Descriptions

In a phrase, we understand an instructional designer to be one who creates and delivers educational training materials for business, higher educational institutions, and other organizations. It is clear that instructional designers (both technological and theoretical) are fast becoming in high demand, as higher education institutions and other organizations turn toward instructional design in order to solve business performance problems or provide media-savvy e-learning solutions to instructional outcomes. The first posting, from a top public U.S. university in search of an instructional designer, states that they need someone to:

…provide assistance to faculty seeking the use of instructional technology to enhance teaching and learning. Advise faculty about current instructional technology and its uses and recommends methods to improve the design and delivery of course content and materials. May participate in the process of short and long term strategic planning for the integration of instructional technology.

In addition to this description, the posting provides a long list of specific requirements, including knowledge of principles, practices, and techniques of designing, developing, delivering, and evaluating educational programs; training techniques; current technologies; instructional technologies; various hardware, peripherals and operating systems; networking systems; various software packages, the ability to work across both Windows and Mac platforms, and finally good interpersonal, communication, written and organizational skills. This list of required skills is followed up by even more experiential requirements.

Similarly, a job posting for a “learning specialist” at an East Coast bank, a non-educational application of e-learning and instructional design, provides an extensive description of the position’s roles and responsibilities:

This position will assist with the development and delivery/facilitation of training curriculum for the Bank to promote learning, development and technical expertise for the Banks’ staff. Utilizing experience, training materials, and software programs, you will design in-house training programs and materials. In addition, this role will participate in the evaluation, testing and quality assurance of new software applications and the updates from a training and an end-user point of view, develop training programs to enhance user’s ability to utilize technology, sales and support resources, and utilize the Learning Management System in order to develop webinars to support learning.

This description is equally specific and demanding for the role that it describes. As for the requirements, they are also specific and varied, as seen with the University job posting. The posting asks for “exceptional facilitation skills with the ability to engage adult audience, present content clearly using examples and analogies to achieve learning objects.” In addition to these interpersonal skills, it asks that applicants have the ability to apply “a variety of instructional techniques such as role-playing, simulations, team exercises, group discussions, videos, or lectures to real-world situations and debrief activities to arrive at learning outcomes.” This posting especially makes it clear that the job is both varied and demanding, requiring everything from technological knowledge to personal interviews and feedback.

The third (and final) job posting surveyed was from a technical college in search of a coordinator for their instructional design technology office. This position is “part of a team responsible for assisting faculty in the development of online/web-enhanced courses and instructing educators on how to employ educational technology-based learning throughout the educational process.” The top three duties that this posting lists are 1) Provide pedagogical and instructional design consultation and support for faculty in developing online (asynchronous and synchronous), hybrid, and web-enhanced courses; 2) Ensure the pedagogical integrity of projects through systematic instructional design and clear writing of project plans, scripts, and storyboards; and 3) Works with a wide range of multimedia software including audio, video, web, animation, page layout, and photo to develop materials for online, hybrid, and web-enhanced courses.

The requirement for this particular position is even more specific than the others; it requires a degree in either education technology or instructional design, in addition to three years of experience. As one can imagine from the description, the requirements are just as specific, requiring knowledge not only of instructional design and learning/pedagogical theories, but also a working knowledge of course management skills, visual presentation software, multimedia software, and web development (all of which are extremely relevant to e-learning).

In The Field

A survey of how e-learning and instructional design processes are applied “in the field”, so to speak, is also helpful. This includes the way it is applied in k-12 and higher education settings more broadly, and how specific companies and organizations are developing their materials.

In k-12 schools often provide “technology kits” at school, which include computers, printers, and a means for home Internet use (Buckleitner, 2013). These kits, while simple, encourage students to use technology by meeting weekly work submission requirements. These allow students to maintain their own pacing and progress, and flexibility for students to create their own schedule. In higher education, e-learning has risen to become a major form of post-secondary education (Julian, 2009). Julian also notes that, according to the Sloan report, which is based on a poll of academic leaders, most students are as satisfied with on-line classes as with traditional classrooms. This “rise” requires an equitable rise in properly trained staff – employees that can understand the content itself, but also be highly trained and savvy with the technologies and tools used in the learning process (Julian, 2009).

In addition to this survey of the uses of instructional design, there is one example of a specific company that is also insightful. EverFi, a new startup based out of Washington D.C., is a great example of the “how-to” of combining traditional learning theories (like Gagne and ADDIE) with new technologies. According to their webpage, EverFi advocates “a blended learning approach that when possible surrounds the digital media experience with discussion, personalization, and engagement” ( In order to come up with their educational products, EverFi “employs a team of highly skilled researchers, subject matter experts, instructional designers, master teachers, software engineers, and media and game developers.” Their stated goal is to put the student at the center of the learning process.

Much like ADDIE, EverFi has specific stages of content development: research (assessment of status and needs), design and development (involving internal and external subject matter), and evaluation (through prototype testing and in-the-field surveys). This modern company’s process is highly reflective of instructional design theories that have been around for decades.

These real-world examples, along with the surveyed job descriptions examined above, give a good foundation for a discussion of what the instructional design process in e-learning should look like, from beginning to end. This and an evaluation of the questions posed originally are examined below.

Summary and Discussion

It is clear that the instructional design process for e-learning projects is complex, varied and time-consuming. In order to come up with a satisfactory product or project, one must engage in a series of steps that require both careful considerations of theoretical background and an adequate application to the real-world situation. There are two relevant aspects of discussion that must be addressed: first, what the instructional design process looks like, from concept to completion (as promised in the very title of this research paper) and what satisfactory and necessary staffing of this process is (as asked in the introduction).

Instructional Design: From Concept to Completion

From what has been seen in the prior research, theories, job descriptions, and real-world application of instructional design, a typified process may be shown.

Step 1: Research, research, research

This is the fundamental first step – no process could continue without it. As seen in the ADDIE Model, the instructional designer job descriptions, and EverFi’s business model, taking time to complete in-depth research is necessary for a successful project. This research is two-fold. The first is to find all relevant theoretical and past scholastic work on the specific subject, and is seen in the application in EverFi’s commitment to conduct an “assessment of status and needs.”

Second, the research is to find out as much as possible about the learners, the learning environment, what has been learned in the past, what the goals of the current instructional project is, etc. This also includes referring back to Gagne’s taxonomy of learning outcomes and conditions of learning; essentially determining which are relevant. By taking the time to gather as much information as possible before doing anything else, an instructional designer is already setting up for a successful project.

Step 2: Drafting a Plan

This step, seen similarly in ADDIE’s “design and develop” phases, is to apply what has been found in the research phase to an actual “plan of action”, utilizing educational tools, media, and curriculum. As seen in several of the surveyed job descriptions, the planning utilized “experience, training materials, and software programs.” This is ostensibly the most difficult stage of instructional design and (as it will be argued below) requires the support of a myriad of professionals in both technology and education.

An instructional designer is also tasked to “ensure the pedagogical integrity of projects” through this step. Before even engaging in an evaluation of the project, an instructional designer must ensure that the plans line up with theoretical frameworks and the real-world needs of the classroom. Here, perhaps, is the key: one must be flexible in planning for instruction. This means accounting for changes in learners, learning goals, or learning environment.

Step 3: Application and Execution

This is the step perhaps most important for an e-learning use of instructional design. This is seen in one of the job descriptions above, which states that the job’s main goal is to “advise faculty about current instructional technology and its uses” in order to “recommend methods to improve the design and delivery of course content and materials. This is the implementation of the planning, the fruition of the research. The means (or “how”) of application depends entirely on the research and planning stages (or “what”) of the instructional design process. It may take the form of Gagne’s nine events of instruction, another approach, or any combination of approaches. Either way, it usually takes the form of a “variety of instructional techniques, such as role-playing, simulations, team exercises, group discussions, videos, or lectures to real-world situations and debriefing activities to arrive at learning outcomes” in addition to existing curriculum and literature.

For e-learning, the execution of instructional involves the practical knowledge and use of a myriad of electronic and media tools – as seen in one of the job descriptions, the skillset for using hardware, software, operating systems, and various media platforms for instructional use. While much of instructional design will concern itself with the curriculum’s content, when applying the design to an e-learning approach, it is equally important to consider the technologies at play.

Step 4: Measurement and Assessment

Perhaps the most obvious step of all is to evaluate the instruction by weighing the learning goals against the learning outcomes. There are many ways to do this – EverFi lists just a couple as prototype testing (actually occurring before the implementation stage) and in-class surveys and interviews to evaluate students one on one. The goal of this step is not only to determine whether the desired goals have been met but also to allow for changes to improve the instruction. As we have seen in the ADDIE Model, each step is “in flux” to each other, and can be amended at any time to allow for the full fruition of the overall instructional product.

A Team-Based Approach

The foundational question for this paper was not only what the instructional design process looks like from start to finish, but also what essential personnel are needed for the successful completion of an e-learning project (within the instructional design process). Can a lone developer complete these sorts of projects, or do they require collaboration between departments, companies, and outside vendors? What does the core group for each project look like?

From the above discussion and analysis of instructional design (especially in application to e-learning), it is clear that an e-learning project cannot be undertaken and subsequently designed by an individual. The process is too varied, complicated, and often specialized. Instead, it is a collaborative effort between professionals in many fields. It requires a “team-based” approach. As courses become either larger or blended with an online-presence, adopting this team-based approach (particularly for online courses) becomes increasingly attractive, especially for higher education institutions.

The roles for this team will reflect the needs of the specific project, and so cannot be permanent recommendations. As Debbie Morrison states, these roles “will depend upon its scope” but recognized that common roles include “course developer, instructional designer, media coordinator, course platform technicians, and copyright librarian” (2013). As seen in EverFi’s business model, a successful instructional design process would employ a “team of highly skilled researchers, subject matter experts, instructional designers, master teachers, software engineers, and media and game developer.” This is just one example of the use of a team-based approach.

The factors that will contribute to a successful team are a commitment of institutional resources (both time and equipment), a common vision of the project, designated leadership, a high level of communication in the project management, and utilization of tools for this communication. While combining these factors will create its own set of challenges to overcome, they are far less costly than a single individual attempting to create a successful e-learning project.

The benefits of such a team are many. First, team members will be less likely to be overwhelmed with information in the research phase, as compared to working on their own. Each will be able to conduct research into their own area of expertise – the educator into the instructional needs, the instructional designer into the relevant theories, and the technician into the available electronic and media tools. Second, combining the views and experiences of the team members will make for a more integrated and cohesive project, ensuring that learners have access to all relevant tools and theoretical approaches. Finally, the review process is more likely to be objective and effective, given that there are individuals from multiple fields and backgrounds involved in the review process.


The goal of this paper was to examine the instructional design process as utilized by e-learning projects. The aim was to include the process itself, and the actors involved in the process. The paper examined the requirements, resources, goals, and players in the initial steps and implementation of e-learning instructional design projects. The essential argument was that because an e-learning project’s requirements, resources, goals, and players are too complicated for an individual to design and implement by themselves. Instead, instructional design (as applied to e-learning projects) must be a collaborative, multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary endeavor.

This argument was culminated only following several important steps: a guide through the instructional design process (starting with the conception and planning and ending with a evaluation), an examination of the existing theories and practices of instructional design (and a brief look at the “rise” of e-learning), and what the steps toward a successful e-learning project look like.

Looking forward, the model for a team-based approach to the instructional design process for e-learning projects can be applied across many platforms – business, educational, and strategic. While individuals may be limited in their knowledge, time, and professions to develop the best e-learning project possible, the team-based approach means that a project will be getting the “best of the best” in its design and implementation. This will mean both the betterment of instructional design theory and its practice out in the real world, where it is needed the most.


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