August 3, 2022

4 Best Instructional Design Patterns, Explained

There is no shortage of instructional design patterns for those looking for guidance in creating effective learning experiences. An instructional design model can serve as both a project management tool and a roadmap for delivering instruction that supports organizational goals and learning needs.

Although there are dozens of instructional design templates, most learning designers only rely on a few.

The 4 instructional design patterns you need to know

There is no magic formula for choosing the best identification model for a particular project, or for serving as an organization’s “standard” approach. Choices are often dictated by available resources, including time and budget. The full application of the chosen model may be subject to the same constraints, and certain compromises may be necessary in order to deliver on time and within budget.

When considering the different instructional design models to choose from, learning designers can consider:

  • Scale, scope and complexity of the project
  • Criticality and urgency of the learning need
  • Nature of the learning need (i.e. soft skills, hard skills, etc.)
  • Characteristics of the audience and degree of learner autonomy
  • Learning environment and types of learning supported

Here are four of the most commonly used instructional design patterns.


The ADDIE model originated at Florida State University’s Center for Educational Technology in 1975, conceived as a model for designing instructional systems for the United States Armed Forces. Originally called the ISD model, it has its roots in concepts that emerged in the 1950s.

ADDIE has often been accused of being inflexibly linear, but that was never the intention. The original ISD approach considers the results of one step as inputs for the next, but the ADDIE model is most often described as circular and iterative, with formative evaluation occurring at each step and summative evaluation results feeding back into the first stage, closing the feedback. loop.

In summary, the five stages of the ADDIE model are:

  • Analyze pedagogical objectives, audience characteristics and resources needed (including content, technologies, people, delivery methods, etc.)
  • Design a learning solution that aligns objectives and strategies with instructional goals
  • Develop learning resources, validate and revise draft materials, and conduct pilot testing
  • Implement the learning solution and engage learners
  • Assess effectiveness of learning resources and materials in achieving learning objectives (measurements of perception, learning and performance, at a minimum)

ADDIE remains one of the most commonly used instructional design models today. Its greatest strength is its emphasis on evaluation and redesign at every stage, and its longevity is evidenced by the fact that it continues to evolve – most recently through the incorporation of rapid prototyping.

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction

Dr. David Merrill studied existing instructional design theories with the aim of developing his own and used the commonalities he found in the ID literature as a starting point to construct a set of five principles. Introduced in 2002, these principles define an approach to designing effective teaching for learning new tasks.

Simply put, Merrill’s teaching principles are:

  • Learning occurs most easily when instruction is problem-focused.
  • Existing knowledge is activated serve as a basis for new knowledge.
  • The instruction involves demonstration new knowledge and tasks for learners.
  • Opportunities for application new knowledge is provided.
  • New knowledge is integrated in the learner’s real world.

Most often, Merrill’s principles are applied in conjunction with an instructional design model such as ADDIE to guide design decisions about content and learning activities.

Gagné’s nine training events

In 1965, Robert Gagné identified nine ways to create the conditions for learning to occur. Nearly three decades later, Gagne, Leslie Briggs, and Walter Wager added specific methods for accomplishing each of the nine events.

  1. Draw attention learners by presenting a stimulus, such as challenging questions or an icebreaker activity.
  2. Inform learners of the Learning objectives by describing required performance or what constitutes standard performance, or ask learners to establish these criteria collaboratively.
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning by asking learners about their prior experiences in a way that connects prior information to the current topic.
  4. Present content using a variety of media and active learning strategies.
  5. To bring learning tips in the form of appropriate structural supports which can be removed as the learner’s performance improves.
  6. Get performance to activate learner processing through various types of practice and assessment opportunities.
  7. Provide an answer on learner performance to facilitate self-identification of learning gaps and opportunities for improvement.
  8. Assess performance through a variety of testing methods to determine the extent to which learning outcomes have been achieved.
  9. Improve knowledge retention and transfer by providing learners with the ability to link what they have learned to real-world applications.

Gagné’s nine instructional events provide a useful framework for structuring and sequencing content. They are often used in conjunction with Bloom’s taxonomy (described below) to establish conditions that best match the cognitive processes involved in the skills to be acquired through instruction.

Bloom’s taxonomy

In the 1950s and 1960s, a group of researchers and educators led by Benjamin Bloom developed a taxonomy of the cognitive processes involved in learning and mastering a subject. The revised version developed in 2001 includes six basic processes, each associated with a set of gerunds that provide context and suggest specific learning activities:

  • Remember – recognize, remember
  • Understand — interpret, illustrate, classify, summarize, infer, compare, explain
  • Apply – execute, implement
  • Analyze — differentiate, organize, assign
  • Evaluate — check, criticize
  • Create — generate, plan, produce

Bloom’s taxonomy is often illustrated as a pyramid with the most basic cognitive process – Remember – at the base, and the most complex – Create – at the top. It is used in conjunction with instructional design models to develop objectives, learning activities, and assessments.

Additional Instructional Design Templates

Below is a more comprehensive list of the most well-known instructional design templates and their creators. This list reflects a large and ever-growing body of instructional design theory and literature dedicated to operationalizing research-based instructional design principles.

  • Model 4C-ID (Jeroen van Merrienboer)
  • Algo-heuristic theory (Lev Landa)
  • Andragogy (Malcolm Knowles)
  • ARCS (John Keller)
  • ASSURE (Robert Heinich, Michael Molenda, James Russel and Sharon Smaldino)
  • Retrograde Design (Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe)
  • Component Display Theory (David Merrill)
  • Learning conditions (Robert Gagné)
  • Statement referenced by criterion (Robert Mager)
  • Model Dick and Carey (Walter Dick and Lou Carey)
  • Elaboration theory (Charles Reigeluth)
  • Gerlach-Ely model (Vernon Gerlach and Donald Ely)
  • Hannafin-Peck Model (Michael Hannafin and Kyle Peck)
  • Integrative Learning Design Framework for Online Learning (Nada Debbaugh)
  • Kemp Design Model (Gary Morrison, Steven Ross and Jerrold Kemp)
  • Model of Knirk and Gustafson (Frederick Knirk and Kent Gustafson)
  • Kirkpatrick Model (Donald Kirkpatrick)
  • Model of organizational elements (Roger Kaufman)
  • Rapid prototyping (Steven Tripp and Barbara Bichelmeyer)
  • Situated learning theory (Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger)
  • Social Learning Theory (Albert Bandura)
  • Spiral model (Barry Boehm)
  • Transactional model of distance (Michael Moore)

In the end, any instructional design pattern is better than none at all. L&D staff with a basic understanding of ADDIE and ADDIE-like models should be able to customize the design process to incorporate nearly all relevant learning theories and tailor it to their own organization’s priorities.