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ATD Blog

Intro to Instructional Systems Design: Q&A With Chuck Hodell

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

While the instructional design field has been around for a long time, it is only within the last 30 years that it has emerged more as a discipline with educational courses, resources, and methodologies. Introduction to Instructional Systems Design by ID expert Chuck Hodell offers a comprehensive textbook that provides the prerequisites every instructional designer needs to get started in the profession.

What made you realize that the ISD or instructional design field needed a textbook?

The idea came to me when I started teaching this almost 30 years ago. There were many resources that addressed instructional systems design but no one book that an instructor or professor could use to teach a course from. There were a lot of really great books—Gagne’s, Merrill’s, and Kemp’s. But if you wanted to teach this, especially at the graduate level or for folks who hadn’t had a lot of experience in ISD, one had to amalgamate and review many different books and resources to create a reading list and curriculum from which to teach—one that would give students a solid background in instructional design.

When I wrote ISD From the Ground Up, I did not intend it to be a primary or even supplemental classroom textbook, although it turns out that it is often used for that. Over the years, I contemplated what instructors really need to teach ISD and thought we could create an even better book. We can take a more traditional textbook approach with real case studies and real discussion questions and things to think about. A textbook coupled with an instructor’s guide would make a difference for instructors, making their lives much easier by providing a comprehensive resource.

How has the instructional design field changed since you started teaching, and why is this the right time for this book?

Whether you’re teaching one course as a one-off or putting together a program for millions of people worldwide, instructional design has not changed that much over the years. The basic processes and philosophy behind instructional design remains pretty much the same.

But what has changed and what I think everybody has noticed is that the level of interest in ISD—its popularity and use—has increased. Proven ISD knowledge and expertise is almost a calling card if you want to be a professional. People are looking for certification. People are looking for degrees. There are all kinds of documentation organizations want to see before they hire an instructional designer.

What is needed today to practice as an instructional designer from what was needed 30 years ago is the difference. The field has elevated such that instructional design is now considered a science, with instructional designers as scientists. We do approach ISD with scientific methods. It is important for students to learn not only where instructional systems design came from and but how it can be and is applied directly in their daily work.

How will this textbook benefit instructional design professors?

I designed this book as both a professor and a practitioner in the field. What I have created is a package for anyone who teaches a course in instructional design. A professor or instructor will be able to pull out the elements that they want to use. When instructors are doing assignments, whether online or in the classroom or using a blended approach, they can take the different elements between the case studies, discussion questions and reflections that are in there, and build their own course. Everything they need is in the book.

If they want to branch out from that, using content from the instructor’s guide, they can certainly do that too. The beauty of this volume is that it is really 17 books in a textbook. Each of these chapters stand on their own: they each address different aspects of this field from basic eight generations of learning transfer where this all started and where it ended up, to advanced content like criticality and other parts of it.


From a professor standpoint or from the standpoint of anyone who is teaching this—whether for noncredit environments, one-off courses in four hours, or courses at a doctoral level—an instructor will find that the content addresses and will work for many levels. This volume is going to make your life easier.

An instructor can find what works for the situation and pick out the relevant pieces. If you want to add something else, certainly do that. But this is one of those books where you can just pick it up and use it as a professor or instructor.

Why do you think no one else wrote this book?

The study of instructional design has largely been focused on the two somewhat mutually exclusive areas of theory and practice. There are a number of excellent books on theory and the different foundational aspects of ISD, and there are also a number of incredibly well-written books on the practice of ISD. What has not existed, from my experience, is a text that combines theory and practice in a way that allow for a learner to move from ISD theory and the evolution of the field to then producing portfolio and work products that instructional designers use in their work every day.

How does this book help newcomers to ISD?

Most new designers come to the field from other areas of work and study. They have been teachers, trainers, subject matter experts, or they manage one or more of these areas. If you have lots of practical experience but limited ISD background, this text takes a learner from the basics of where instructional design came from to the everyday work products that designer use like population studies, design plans, lesson plans, and working with learning management stems in digital design scenarios. And, more importantly, it links the theory to the practice to instill confidence in designers that their work is based on research and proven research into learning and related fields.

How does this book help people who are advanced in ISD but want to learn more?

One bonus afforded more advanced instructional designers are practical tools like criticality and a dive into learning management systems, social media and digital design. The text also works as a reference for the theoretical and basic practical skill sets that designers sometimes need to revisit when working on new projects.


If someone is not an instructor but simply wants to learn about ISD, how can they use this book?

This text is a wonderful place to start for anyone who is curious about ISD and just wants to have a casual introduction to what instructional design is really all about. It is not so theoretical that a reader is required to have a solid foundation in the field. This text starts at the beginning and works its way slowly through the basic into the practical tools a designer needs on every project. If a reader is intrigued and wants to learn more, the later chapters dig pretty deep into the work that designers routinely perform. It is also a great place to start with more generalizable topics like systems, populations, workflow and other areas that are not just applicable in ISD.

About the Author

Chuck Hodell has been writing, speaking, practicing, and teaching ISD for many years. His books and articles have earned him the title of The Man Who Wrote the Book on ISD. His bestselling four editions of ISD From the Ground Up and his SMEs From the Ground Up books are used internationally in academic settings and in the practice of instructional design. Chuck has designed thousands of training programs for clients including the White House, major corporations, nonprofits, numerous apprenticeship programs, and international organizations. He presently serves as affiliate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, associate director and faculty of the learning and performance technology master’s program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and as the academic advisor for the instructor certification program at the International Masonry Training and Education Foundation. Chuck holds a PhD in language, literacy, and culture from University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), a master’s degree in ISD from UMBC, and a bachelor’s degree from Antioch University.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit

Intro to ISD book cover.jpg
Introduction to Instructional Systems Design
ISBN: 9781952157127 | 448 Pages | Paperback

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Chuck Hodell, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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