Talent Development Glossary Terms
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What Is Instructional Design?

Instructional design, also known as instructional system design (ISD), is the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills. The discipline follows a system of assessing needs, designing a process, developing materials and evaluating their effectiveness. In the context of workplace learning, ISD provides a practical and systematic process for effectively designing effective curricula and is one of the 23 capabilities in the Talent Development Capability Model. More information on ISD can be found in the Talent Development Body of Knowledge.

What is an Instructional Designer?

An instructional designer applies this systematic methodology (rooted in instructional theories and models) to design and develop content, experiences, and other solutions to support the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. Instructional designers ought to begin by conducting a needs assessment to determine the needs of the learning event, including: what the learner should know and be able to do as a result of the training or learning solution, and what the learners already know and can do.

Instructional designers are then responsible for creating the course design and developing all instructional materials, including presentation materials, participant guides, handouts, and job aids or other materials. They are commonly also responsible for evaluating training, including assessing what was learned and whether the learning solution led to measurable behavior change.

According to the ATD's Talent Development Capability Model, instructional designers follow a system of assessing needs, designing a process, developing materials, and evaluating effectiveness. Instructional design requires the analysis and selection of the most appropriate strategies, methodologies, and technologies to maximize the learning experience and knowledge transfer. An instructional design resume and portfolio should include the knowledge and skills needed to successfully design a learning initiative.

Instructional Design Models

While ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation) continues to be one of the most widely used ISD models, there are a number of other models to consider. In recent years, there has been a push to utilize more agile, iterative approaches, including Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM). Agile models, such as SAM involve shorter design sprints where a prototype is quickly created, reviewed, and revised, with the process repeating until stakeholders are satisfied.

Common instructional design models include:

  • Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping
  • Dick and Carey Model
  • Kemp Design Model
  • Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction
  • SAM (Successive Approximation Model)
  • Agile or rapid prototyping

The Future of Instructional Design

Whether you’re developing classroom instruction, an e-learning course, or an on-demand performance support solution following sound ISD processes will help you create better more successful solutions.

As the business world continues to change, so do organizations and their learning functions. Flexibility, creativity, and innovation are becoming more valued. As a result, agile and iterative design models becoming more popular. Instructional designers are also borrowing more elements from the areas of User Experience (UX) Design and Design Thinking. No matter where the training and talent development field goes or what technologies are on the horizon, a solid background in ISD will always be valuable.

Basic Components of Instructional Design

While there are a number of instructional design models and processes, many of their components are similar. They include analysis, design, development, and evaluation.


A needs analysis typically includes understanding the needs and learners including why a training or learning solution is required. It may be the case that training is not the solution and some other type of performance improvement or non-training solution will be recommended. In this stage, you’ll also begin to develop the goals of the training, including learning objectives, and determine how the training will be delivered.

Design & Development

Design and development includes the actual design and development of the instructional materials or determining the delivery methods to be used. It often includes drafting curriculum and lesson plans, developing any instructional materials including presentations, e-learning, job aids, participant guides, and anything else to be used in the training.


Evaluation looks at how you determine if your training or learning solution was successful. Did it create a measurable impact on the learner’s behavior and did that lead to the desired results back on the job?

There are a number popular evaluation models to consider, including:

  • Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation
  • Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method
  • Philips ROI Methodology
  • Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model (LTEM)

Free Instructional Design E-Book

Instructional designers are responsible for creating the course design and developing all instructional materials, including presentation materials, participant guides, handouts, and job aids or other materials. Instructional designers are commonly also responsible for evaluating training, including assessing what was learned and whether the learning solution led to measurable behavior change.

How ATD Can Help You With Instructional Design?

Since our founding in 1943, ATD’s focus has been to help talent development professionals succeed in their roles, applying best practices and improving organizational outcomes. With instructional design, ATD curates the best content from the world’s leading experts in the field, providing opportunities for designers to learn the latest techniques using the latest technologies. Because we look at talent development holistically, we understand how instructional design fits with evaluation, training, evaluation and other aspects of workplace learning. In addition, we are the leading organization that defines standards for the field in instructional design and talent development as a whole.

For access to even more resources, including practical tools and templates, research, and insights, you’re invited to become an ATD member.Learn more.

For more information on Instructional Design, visit the following:

Additional Instructional Design Resources


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Instructional Design Courses

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Instructional Design Events

Our instructional design conferences and workshops provide you with the education and peer-to-peer connections that empower you to be successful.

Instructional Design Resource Center

Classroom facilitators get the opportunity to engage with content that helps them become more effective, share information, connect with other industry peers, and much more.

Instructional Design Videos & Podcasts

Webcasts, recordings from past ATD conference sessions and short, practical, how-to videos from peer practitioners and ATD subject matter experts on a variety of topic areas.

Instructional Design Job Aids & Tools

Assessments, templates, maps and checklists that guide you through how to perform a variety of tasks.

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