What are the core instructional design models?

27 April

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What are the core instructional design models?

What is an instructional design model?

An instructional design model is a framework or process that provides a systematic approach to designing and developing effective instructional materials.

It guides instructional designers through a series of steps, from analyzing learners’ needs and goals to designing, developing, and evaluating instruction that meets those needs. By using an instructional design model, learning designers will have

  1. a structured approach to designing learning material

  2. a repeatable process based on the steps in the model

  3. comfort they are using a model that is based on research and best practices in the field

  4. a framework that can be adapted to a wide range of instructional contexts and subject areas.

What is the purpose of design models?

The purpose of using one of the instructional design models is to

  • Provide a systematic process for designing effective instruction

  • Ensure that the instruction is aligned with the learning goals and objectives of the learner

  • Provide a framework for selecting appropriate instructional strategies and methods

  • Guide the selection and development of instructional materials

  • Provide a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction

  • Increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the design and development process

Later on in this article, we will analyse some of the more popular learning models. Before we do, here is an example of an instructional design model in action.

ADDIE model of instructional design

A company wants to provide its employees with training on a new software system. The instructional designer chooses to use the ADDIE model (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) to develop the training program.

This is a brief overview of what each of the stages in ADDIE would look like

  • Analysis: Conduct an analysis to identify the learners’ needs and characteristics and thereby establish the learning objectives for the training course.

  • Design: Based on the output of the analysis, you then design the instruction, including instructional strategies, methods, and materials.

  • Development: Develop instructional/course materials, such as online modules, job aids, and simulations.

  • Implementation: Implement the instruction by delivering the training to the employees. This could be via their Learning Management System or in person in a classroom-like environment.

  • Evaluation: Evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction by collecting feedback from the learners and assessing their performance. Were the learning objectives achieved and how was the learner experience?

By using the ADDIE model or any instructional design model, the learning designer can create an effective and engaging training program that meets the needs of the learners and achieves the learning objectives for the organisation.

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How do you choose an instructional design model?

It’s important to understand that there is no one “best” instructional design model. When designing digital learning there are options to choose from when talking about models and processes.

Each model has its unique strengths and weaknesses, and the best model to use depends on the specific instructional design problem, goals, and resources available. As an instructional designer, it’s important to be familiar with a variety of models and to select the one that is most appropriate for the given situation.

The ADDIE model is a commonly used model that provides a comprehensive and systematic approach to instructional design, but it may not be the best fit for every situation. It’s important to consider the specific needs and goals of each project when selecting an instructional design model.

Deciding on the right model to drive the processes and manage the project depends on many factors such as team experience, scope, the complexity of the project, resources, budget and time pressures. Each of these core models will be beneficial to some and less to others. What’s most important is taking your learners and their learning styles into consideration. Below we walk through the pros and cons of each model of learning and how they can help you achieve your instructional design goals. 

Below are the top 5 instructional design models you will find among various eLearning courses and L&D training development.

5 Core Instructional Design Models

1. ADDIE Model for instructional design

The most commonly used and well-known instructional design model is ADDIE. It now serves as a base for other models.

ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.

It is a sequential model that outlines the process of designing and developing effective instruction. It starts with analyzing the learners and their needs, designing the instruction to meet those needs, developing the materials, implementing the instruction, and evaluating the results.

ADDIE is commonly used because it is clear and easy to understand. It is suitable for organisations that are new to digital learning (across many industries) or individuals who are only beginning their careers as instructional designers. 


  • In its linear nature, the ADDIE model allows for front-loading analysis and research in the design phase. That leads to lower costs of development as the design is thorough and well laid out.

  • Easy to measure its effectiveness and cost.

  • Can be adjusted in a way that you move from the waterfall approach in which one stage stems from the other, into a cycle in which evaluation is cyclical after each stage. 


  • A clear distinction between the design and development phases might lead to some assumptions about the final output. So in other words, what is developed might not (but does not have to) meet the initial expectations/goals of learning.

  • A linear manner might be less flexible.

  • For beginner Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in design, it might be difficult to visualize end products and design effectively.

An example of how the ADDIE Model can be applied

A college instructor is designing an online course for a new subject. They use the ADDIE model to guide the design process, from analyzing the learners’ needs, designing and developing the content, implementing it in their lessons and finally, evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction through exams and interviews.

2. The SAM Model

SAM stands for The Successive Approximation Model.

The SAM instructional design model has been proposed by Michael Allen as an alternative to ADDIE in his 2021 book “Leaving ADDIE for SAM”. It emphasizes collaboration and communication among stakeholders throughout the design process.

It also places a strong emphasis on rapid prototyping, allowing the team to test and refine instructional materials quickly and efficiently. This model is particularly useful for instructional design projects that involve complex subject matter or evolving technologies, where a more traditional linear design model may not be effective.

It allows the rapid development of content or courses based on feedback elicited from all stakeholders and it ensures developing and rolling out content or courses that are motivating and that meet the goals of the training course.

It consists of three phases, each of which involves a series of iterative cycles:

  1. Preparation Phase: In this phase, the instructional design team works with stakeholders, including learners, subject matter experts, and project sponsors, to define learning objectives, analyze the learners’ needs, and identify the resources and constraints that will shape the design process.

  2. Iterative Design Phase: In this phase, the instructional design team develops and tests through rapid prototyping of the instructional materials. Each iteration involves designing, reviewing, and refining the prototype based on feedback from stakeholders. The focus is on creating a functional, usable, and effective prototype that meets the learners’ needs.

  3. Evaluation Phase: In this phase, the instructional design team evaluates the effectiveness of the instructional materials and makes revisions as needed. Evaluation data is collected through feedback from learners, observations, and performance data. The goal is to improve the instructional materials iteratively and continuously.

Using the SAM instructional design model can be time-consuming with the rounds of feedback applied at different stages and it can be difficult to manage for beginners in project management because of multiple feedback cycles and inputs from people involved in the process. 


  • It allows developing rapidly the content or courses based on feedback elicited from all stakeholders.

  • It ensures the developing and rolling out of content or courses that are motivating and meet the goals of training.

  • Emphasizes collaboration and communication among stakeholders, including learners and subject matter experts.


  • Can be time-consuming with the rounds of feedback applied at different stages.

  • Can be difficult to manage for beginners in project management because of multiple feedback cycles and inputs from people involved in the process.

An example of how the SAM instructional design model can be applied

A software company is designing a training program for employees on a new software platform. They use the SAM model to quickly prototype and test different instructional materials, incorporating feedback from learners and subject matter experts throughout the design process.

3. Dick and Carey Model of Systematic Design of Instructions

The Systematic Design of Instruction was introduced in 1978 by Walter Dick and Lou Carey. At the time it was considered an innovative model showcasing steps in the design process.

The Dick and Carey Systems Approach model is a comprehensive instructional design model that is based on systems theory. It involves nine steps over 3 phases – Analysis (1-3), Design (4-6) and Develop (7-9).

  1. identify instructional goals

  2. conduct instructional analysis

  3. identify entry behaviours and learner characteristics

  4. write performance objectives

  5. develop assessment instruments

  6. develop an instructional strategy

  7. develop and select instructional materials

  8. design and conduct formative evaluation

  9. design and conduct the summative evaluation


  • It drives the performance objectives of the designed programme.

  • Uses a systematic process with measurable and straightforward objectives.

  • Evaluation and revision can take place throughout the process in a cycle.


  • There are a lot of steps, which can take up a lot of time.

  • Each step must be completed to move on to the next phase. Any changes could have a domino effect on all the steps.

  • Might be complex for beginners in instructional design.

An example of how the Dick and Carey Model can be applied

A healthcare organization is designing a training program for nurses on how to administer medication safely. They use the Dick and Carey model to guide the design process, from analyzing learners’ needs to developing and evaluating instruction that meets those needs.

4. Kemp Design Model

The Kemp Model was introduced by Jerrold Kemp with Gary Morrison and Steven Ross in 1994 in a published book “Designing Effective Instruction”. Its latest, 8th edition, is still popular and used in instructional design.

Kemp’s model is a nonlinear design model that emphasizes flexibility and adaptability. It includes nine steps:

  1. identify instructional problems

  2. identify learners and characteristics

  3. decide on learning content and tasks

  4. specify SMART instructional objectives

  5. structure the content logically to facilitate learning outcomes

  6. identify instructional strategies and methods

  7. design the messaging and delivery

  8. develop the delivery media

  9. design and conduct the summative evaluation

Looking at this model, we still have ADDIE phases but in a circular cycle like a wheel of the nine steps. A designer can start at any point in the wheel with the development and implementation. For larger projects, that model might be ideal for catering for multiple stakeholders. 


  • This model is designed to be flexible for modes of delivery including digital and F2F learning

  • A holistic approach that can be used to design instruction for a wide range of learners and subject areas

  • Incorporates a variety of instructional methods and strategies


  • It is not a step-by-step process and some may find it too unstructured.

  • Can be very heavy on financial and personnel resources

  • Usually requires more expertise and training to implement effectively than other models. Not for beginners.

An example of how the Kemp Model can be applied

A non-profit organization is designing a training program for volunteers on how to work with at-risk youth. They use Kemp’s Instructional Design model to create instruction that is flexible and adaptable to different learners’ needs and preferences, using a variety of instructional methods and strategies.

5. Backward Design Model

The Backward Design model is an instructional design approach that starts with the desired learning outcomes and works backward to create instruction that supports those outcomes.

It is a goal-oriented model that emphasizes a deep understanding of the learners, the learning outcomes, and the assessment methods. The Backward Design model is also known as the Understanding by Design (UbD) model and was developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

It consists of three phases:

  1. Stage 1: Identify Desired Results – In this stage, the instructional designer identifies the desired learning outcomes and defines the criteria for success. The designer considers what learners will be able to do, know, and understand at the end of the instruction.

  2. Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence – In this stage, the designer determines how to measure whether the desired results have been achieved. The designer selects assessment methods that are aligned with the desired outcomes, such as performance tasks or projects, written tests, or demonstrations.

  3. Stage 3: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction – In this stage, the designer plans the instruction that will support the desired learning outcomes and the assessment methods. The designer selects and sequences learning activities and materials, and determines how to provide feedback and support to learners throughout the process.

The Backward Design model encourages instructional designers to focus on the big-picture goals of the instruction. It helps ensure that instructional activities are designed with the end goal in mind and that learners are more likely to achieve the desired results. It also helps instructional designers to make strategic decisions about the design of instruction based on the desired outcomes.


  • Intuitive and easy to implement so might be good for beginners.

  • Emphasizes alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, and instruction.

  • Supports the development of critical thinking skills and transferable knowledge.


  • Could be regarded as test-focused as it focuses on getting learners ready for the assessment of learning outcomes.

  • Not fully inclusive, learners are not considered in that model, just the objectives and the end goal.

  • Requires a high level of planning and analysis before the instructional materials can be developed.

An example of how the Backward Model (Understanding by Design) can be applied

A high school science teacher is designing a unit on cell biology. Using the Backward Design model, she begins by identifying the desired learning outcomes, such as students’ ability to explain the structure and function of cell organelles. She then determines assessment methods that will measure whether students have achieved those outcomes, such as a project in which students create a model of a cell and explain its functions. Finally, she plans learning experiences and instruction that will support the desired outcomes, such as lab activities, readings, and class discussions.

Where to learn and practice instructional design models

If you have career goals of advancing or entering the field of instructional design, the Digital Learning Institute’s university-accredited Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design can help you take the next step. Each of these programs has projects and lessons that provide learners with the ability to practice various models of digital learning so you are equipped with the hands-on experience to work in the digital learning and instructional design field.

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