The Ultimate Guide to Instructional Design Models

instructional design models

Instructional design is a term used to describe evidence-based strategies and techniques for developing and delivering learning experiences. A learning experience is a broad term that encompasses anything where learning is involved, including courses, presentations, tests and quizzes, and support materials.

Without instructional design models, instructional designers and learning leaders would be flying blind when building learning experiences. The models follow various academic theories that map to how people learn and the cognitive processes behind the learning experience. These models ensure the instruction is as effective as possible for ensuring that learners acquire knowledge or skills.

There is no single “correct” choice when it comes to instructional design models. Some models may seem like they are different versions of each other, and today’s instructional designers may adjust the models depending on resources, experience, and corporate culture.

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Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. The models organize learning objectives into three different domains: Cognitive, Affective, and Sensory/Psychomotor.  

Bloom’s taxonomy was developed to promote more than simply memorizing facts. The model encourages higher forms of thinking, such as analyzing and evaluating. It is a framework for educational achievement in which each level depends on the one below, often drawn as a pyramid. The model is primarily used in instructional design for creating effective learning objectives.

The first of the three domains, the Cognitive Model, serves as the predominant focus of the model and includes six levels of objectives, starting with knowledge—indeed, the very first stage of learning—which leads to the development of the skills and abilities that are crucial to completing the process:  comprehensionapplicationanalysissynthesis, and evaluation.

While there are subcategories within each, each stage lies on a continuum. The belief is that learners move up through each level of the pyramid in Bloom’s taxonomy, starting from very basic learning, to acquire deeper knowledge on a subject, with each level crucial to the development of the next.

blooms taxonomy chart



Originally developed for the armed forces in the 1970s, ADDIE remains a tried and true instructional design model.

ADDIE, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, represents a dynamic, flexible guideline for building effective training experiences and performance support tools.

Stages or Phases of ADDIE                                             
AnalysisPerforms a needs analysis, by surveying the existing learning environment and identifying the learner’s existing knowledge and skills; clarifies instructional problems and objectives.
DesignAddresses learning objectives, assessment instruments, exercises, content, subject matter analysis, lesson/module planning, media selection, and delivery methods.
DevelopmentCreates and assembles content assets according to the Design phase, developing storyboards and technologies.
ImplementationDevelops procedures for training facilitators and learners.
EvaluationConsists of two aspects: formative and summative. Formative evaluation is present in each stage of the ADDIE process, while summative evaluation is conducted on the completed instructional products.

SAM (Successive Approximation Model)

The Successive Approximation Model was developed to address issues with traditional linear, stage-based instructional design approaches.

Instead, SAM addresses such roadblocks as managing quality, deadlines, budgets, and even subject matter experts. SAM is an Agile eLearning development process built specifically for the iterative process involved in the creation of ROI-driven learning.

Here are the core phases:

Preparation – This is the information-gathering phase, intended to capture all relevant background knowledge.

Iterative Design – This phase includes the Savvy Start, or the project kickoff meeting and the main environment for all project team members to converse. Throughout the Savvy Start and the Iterative Design phase, designers and managers rotate through design, prototype, and review.

Iterative Development – Much like the Iterative Design phase, the Iterative Development Phase has the team rotate through development, implementation, and evaluation. As the course is developed, the team continually analyzes and evaluates, so that at any point if a change is needed, it can be made quickly without risk to the project’s budget or time.

Action Mapping

Developed by instructional designer Cathy Moore, action mapping is an instructional design model that does what it implies: it creates a map or visual to assist teams in picture what actions or steps would be needed to achieve particular outcomes.

As with Bloom’s Taxonomy, the model aims to help change what people do, not just what they know. In this way, action is more important than knowledge, and the graphic created by instructional design teams are 100% dedicated to improving business performance. Additionally, it can keep stakeholders from adding extraneous information that are not central to the goal of the learning experience.


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Dick and Carey Model

This model focuses on the interrelationship between context, content, instruction, and learning.  The components of the Dick and Carey model are as follows:

dick and carey model

Stage 1: Identify Instructional Goals
Stage 2. Conduct Instructional Analysis
Stage 3. Identify Entry Behaviors and Learner Characteristics
Stage 4: Write Performance Objectives
Stage 5. Develop Criterion-Referenced Test Items
Stage 6. Develop Instructional Strategy
Stage 7: Develop and Select Instructional Materials
Stage 8: Develop and Conduct Formative Evaluation
Stage 9: Develop and Conduct Summative Evaluation

As with other instructional design models, elements of others often overlap. For example, Stage 7 of the Dick and Carey Model, Develop and Select Instructional Materials, is similar to the Development phase of ADDIE.

Similarly, Stages 8 and 9 are similar to ADDIE’s Evaluation phase.

Kemp Design Model

Instructional design models often incorporate a set of clear steps and milestones. This instructional design model has nine steps, as follows:

  1. Identify instructional problems, and specify goals for designing an instructional program.
  2. Examine learner characteristics that should receive attention during planning.
  3. Identify subject content, and analyze task components related to stated goals and purposes.
  4. State instructional objectives for the learner.
  5. Sequence content within each instructional unit for logical learning.
  6. Design instructional strategies so that each learner can master the objectives.
  7. Plan the instructional message and delivery.
  8. Develop evaluation instruments to assess objectives.
  9. Select resources to support instruction and learning activities.
kemp instructional design model
Source: EduTech Wiki

The first three steps of this model are very much the Analysis phase of ADDIE. However, this model does not include later-state evaluation or assessments.

As such, instructional designers and learning leaders would more likely have to incorporate elements of other models in order to effectively build and deliver content that measures knowledge and skill acquisition.

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Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction

This instructional design model focuses on acquiring knowledge and skills to address real-world problems and five principles as they relate to the learner making improvements in their job performance as it related to this real-world problem.

  • Problems and tasks: The learner must first be able to relate to the problem or task at hand.
  • Activation: A course must activate the existing knowledge base of the learner. This is imperative so that the learner can connect previous knowledge with the new. 
  • Demonstration: A course must demonstrate the new knowledge, textually and visually, in order to encourage retention.
  • Application: The course must allow the learner to apply new information by themselves without supervision. This might lead to mistakes, but it will also encourage practice.
  • Integration: The course must offer possibilities for integrating the new knowledge into the learner’s existing knowledge base.

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

Robert Gagne developed a framework to cater to different learning stages or situations.

Less of an instructional design model and more of a checklist, some of these steps can form part of other instructional design models. For example, in the Design stage of ADDIE, instructional designers and learning leaders will want to think of elements to carry out #1 below, gaining the attention of the learner.

The nine steps are:

  1. Gain the attention of the students — with language or images that catch the attention of the learner and engage them.
  2. Inform students of the objectives — Communicate the intended outcomes and criteria for measuring achievement.
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning — Leverage existing knowledge before introducing new knowledge and build on it.
  4. Present the content — Deliver the content in an easily digestible format, such as microlearning.
  5. Provide learner guidance — Offer examples, case studies, deeper explanation, and other support tools to supplement the content.
  6. Elicit performance — Engage learners with different activities that recall, utilize, and evaluate knowledge.
  7. Provide feedback — Reinforce knowledge with immediate feedback.
  8. Assess performance — Test the learners’ knowledge with criteria that has been understood at the outset.
  9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job — Implement retention strategies with additional content.

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The Ultimate Guide to Instructional Design Models