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ow do I create a great learning program? How do I make it effective and smooth? These are the questions that learning designers are likely to ask themselves. 

To master the game, you should first know the rules, right? Thus, the answers lie in the theory and application of the principles of instructional design. And most learning providers know that. That’s why knowledge of instructional design basics is so crucial for getting instructional designers a job.

Join us to find out more about instructional design principles and learn how to make learning effective courses with their help.

Concepts Behind Instructional Design Principles

Before all, each course and each program is different. Yet, the processes and steps that learners experience or take are somewhat similar. 

They usually follow the same patterns: preparation, instruction, and transfer, allowing the retention of knowledge and its application.

So, yes, resorting to instructional principles is important, as they help structure and set the learning to meet the learning objectives.

But, what is an instructional design principle?

An instructional design principle is concerned with a strategy that instructional designers use to structure the learning process, answer needs and objectives, and thus, create effective learning experiences.

Considering how long the art of teaching and learning exists, the instructional design principles have certain concepts at their foundation. They explain and help impact the behavior of learners, the perception of knowledge, and its retention.

What are they, and how do they explain and affect the instructional design principles for course creation?

  • Constructivism emphasizes that knowledge depends on the learning process, background, and involvement of the learners, meaning instructors can use it to understand and engage with the learners.
  • Behaviorism underlines that the behavior can be modified via reinforcement and stimuli-response associations, bringing the tool for learner encouragement.
  • Cognitive theory studies and views how to get, process, and retain knowledge or information, allowing instructors to improve the delivery of content. 
🔍Tip: if you want to better understand and apply instructional design principles, at some point you will want to resort to cases and research pieces to see how learning can be improved.

Further reading: Skills That Instructional Designer Should Know

Gagne’s Crucial Events or Principles of Instructional Design

Let’s consider one of the most applied models among instructional designers — Gagne’s Events of Instructional Design. 

This approach, developed by Robert Gagne, an educational psychologist, in the 1960s, provides a kind of roadmap for course and training creation. 

How? It recognizes how people process information and offers principles to structure instruction or programs. 

Importantly, an instructional designer can divide learning design principles or events into three stages: preparation for learning; instruction and support; and assessment and transfer of knowledge. 

Here are the Instructional Design Events of Gagne’s approach:

  • 1) Gain attention 
  • 2) Informing of objectives
  • 3) Recall of previous learning
  • 4) Show the content
  • 5) Provide learning guidance
  • 6) Elicit performance
  • 7) Provide feedback
  • 8) Assess performance
  • 9) Enhance retention and transfer

Each of them is a form of communication, and its following can be extremely useful for teacher-centered learning. Let’s look at them in detail:

Instructional Design Principle #1: Gain attention 

Any learning, like any activity, requires developing interest and encouraging a student to participate. The reaction of a person to the learning defines whether they will want to continue this process in the future. 

Therefore, you, as the instructional designer, should first gain the attention of the learner, inviting and luring the learner into the learning experience you are to provide.

What are the proven ways to do so?

  • Share a story of how the experience would help;
  • Offer exciting facts or cases;
  • Ask questions that will provoke reflection or insight;
  • Provide an action that will be fun to start an experience (whether it is creating an avatar, making an introduction, or writing an excerpt);
  • Use interactive format to present the course.
💡Highlight: your ultimate goal here is to interest the learner and persuade them to learn more.

Instructional Design Principle #2: Informing of Objectives

Next, once you get the attention of the users, you should underline the objectives and goals of the course or program. 

It is the way for you to restate the value of the learning. Secondly, you set certain expectations for the learners regarding their journey. In the end, it adds clarity, structure, and determination. 

What are the best ways to present goals and objectives to the learners?

  • Use “learner’s” language, meaning communication should be more informal and less about strategies or skills.
  • Make a list of goals that will reflect the learning needs and the curriculum.
  • Be clear in describing the performance and standards you all want to achieve.
💡Highlight: remember that you need to provide value and at the same time prevent learners from disconnecting.

Instructional Design Principle #3: Recall of Previous Learning

The next instructional design principle is also about preparation for learning. Before all, it is concerned with setting the ground for the connection to and better perception of the new materials. 

Effective learning requires a basis to elaborate on. And, recalling previous knowledge and connecting to it is crucial before the provision of new ones. That way, you will be able to use long-term memory. 

Good examples of how you can connect the experience or previous experience to the learning are via

  • Questions and quizzes;
  • Summaries or reflections;
  • Brief case studies or group discussions.

Instructional Design Principle #4: Show the Content

From all of Gagne’s Instruction Design Principles, the particular one seems pretty straightforward. However, presenting content and thus delivering materials is vital for effective learning. 

How to do it right? Focus on clarity, go beyond text materials, and use videos, visuals, and slideshows.

Being subject to selective perception, the content you offer should be structured, clear, and relevant. Moreover, it should relate to learning needs and goals and be engaging enough. 

The reason is that the content or stimuli would be perceived subjectively by the learner. The structured and interactive materials that answer to the prior experience or meet expectations have higher chances of being used.

Further reading: Instructional Design Software with Proper Authoring Tools

Instructional Design Principle #5: Provide Learning Guidance

At the same time, the comprehension of content by the learners can depend significantly on your instruction and guidance. It is a matter of the resources and hints you are to enhance the understanding. 

Sure, the content matters, but the advice and suggestions on how to work with materials and learn a skill are not less crucial. They may refer to reading, additional schemes, learning aids, visuals, memos, guides, and checklists.

💡Highlight: try to build a system of resources that can help them with answers, research, and participation. 

Instructional Principle #6: Elicit Performance

Once the content and information are processed, you can expect a response from the learners. In particular, you should provide an environment, conditions, and opportunities for learners to show or practice new knowledge. 

From all curriculum design principles, this one ensures that the learning is active. Without practice, the retention of knowledge takes longer time and may be ineffective. 

What are great ways to elicit practice, then?

  • Questions and discussions;
  • Case studies, simulations, and role-play.
💡Highlight: provide opportunities that will help students to apply new skills.

Further reading: Collaborative Learning Strategies

Instructional Design Principle #7: Offer Feedback

The next piece of instructional design principles contemplates reinforcement of the students via feedback. It is crucial as such an activity connects the performance of the students to the expectations and goals set in the beginning. 

For a student, the feedback is to be the reinforcement for learning and a better understanding of issues. From there, a learner can see what they can improve or revisit. Yet, remember that feedback should be positive, constructive, and relevant.

💡Highlight: with feedback, you reinforce the behavior and offer room for improvement

Further reading: Benefits of Peer Learning

Instructional Design Principle #8: Evaluate Performance

Another principle is concerned with the evaluation of performance. It is a critical part of comprehension of the results of the learning. What does it give learners and instructors? For both, it becomes the measurement of the effectiveness of learning, meeting expectations, and understanding future steps.

In terms of evaluation, the instructional designer should think of quizzes, tests, or exams first. Besides, the great option is to include project works, demonstrations, or assessments with gamification. 

💡Highlight: it is good to provide different types of assessments throughout the program and connect them to goals and expectations.

Instructional Design Principle #9: Enhance Retention and Transfer

The last instructional design principle relates to the contribution of knowledge retention and transfer. The learning usually provides that the acquired skills are relevant and applicable to the real world. 

Therefore, you need to provide activities or settings that will show and help students how to use new skills. This will contribute to better remembering the knowledge they learned.

What are effective instructional design strategies in this regard?

  • Focus on problem-solving related to real-world situations.
  • Offer guides and checklists to remember materials.
  • Support students with glossaries, a roadmap, and instructions on learned materials.
💡Highlight: offer a manual, catalog, or reference material that can be used to apply skills in the real world or remind key points.

Additional Models and Principles of Instructional Design

However, curriculum learning principles are not limited to Gagne’s model of events.

Some common models include the ADDIE model, Mayer's principle of multimedia learning, and Kirkpatrick's evaluation model. 

What do all these models and theories mean? Let’s look closer. 

ADDIE Model: Structuring Learning Development

ADDIE model: insturctional design principles

This model is an acronym for analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. 

  • Analysis stage: the instructional designer conducts a needs assessment to identify areas where knowledge is deficient and determine which learning method will meet that need. 
  • Design stage: instructional designer course outline and curriculum are created to plug the knowledge gap. 
  • Development stage: The instructor brings the lesson outlines to life, giving them physical forms such as guides or instruction manuals. 
  • Implementation stage: it is when the learning occurs, from the launch of the program to the final exams
  • Evaluation stage: defines the impact of the lesson on the learners. 

Mayer's Principle of Multimedia Learning: Elevating Materials Integration

As you already know, one of the tasks of an instructional designer is to develop multimedia learning resources. That’s where Mayer’s model comes in handy. Richard Mayer has provided some instructional design principles to integrate multimedia into the learning curriculum. 

Subject to his methodology, visually stimulating lessons are more effective than text-based lessons. Here are some of the curriculum design principles that we can outline:

  • Personalization principle: learners receive information better when it is conveyed in a conversational tone than academic tone. 
  • Redundancy principle: Humans learn better with graphics and narration alone. Adding text is unnecessary and redundant. 
  • Signaling principle: People concentrate better when shown what to focus on. For instance, highlight the area you want them to see. 
  • Voice principle: Human voices are better for teaching than machine voices. 
  • Coherence principle: Learning is easier when outside visuals and audio are removed. 
  • Multimedia principle: Words and pictures are a better learning mode than words.
  • Pre-training principle: People learn better when they have basic or prior knowledge of the topic. 

Kirkpatrick Model of Learning: Testing Learning Efficiency

Kirkpatrick model: curriculum design principles

This learning model is one you should be familiar with if you want to focus on learning instructions for corporate training. The Kirkpatrick model consists of four levels, which all combine to help you determine how effective a training course is. 

These levels are:

  • Reaction: refers to how learners perceive the training and whether it contributes to their development. 
  • Learning: this level examines whether the learner gained any new knowledge or skill during the training. Taking surveys will help you here. 
  • Behavior: this will tell you if they can apply the knowledge and skills gained in their jobs. 
  • Results: This level evaluates the overall impact of the training on the company's productivity.

Further Reading: How to Apply Cohort Training in Corporate Setting

Conclusion: Which one to choose

So, that’s it! As you can see, there are many instructional design principles and models for program creation. Yet, not all of them are as universal and crucial as Gagne’s Events Model. It is still effective due to covering the essential processes and activities the learners are subject to. 

At the same time, the other models allow you to think through or structure the curriculum, integrate materials, or assess learning.

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