Instructional System Design (ISD) is an organized procedure that includes the steps of analyzing, designing, developing, implementing and evaluating instruction. Process rather than product is emphasized in ISD. Analyzing is the first process where the instructor must define what is to be learned and the context in which is it to be learned. The second process is designing. The instructor must specify how it is to be learned. Developing is the third process and involves the authoring and producing of the instructional materials. Implementation, actual use of the materials and strategies in context, is the forth process. Evaluation is the final process and it involves determining the adequacy of the instruction.
Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism are the leading learning theories used in ISD. Briefly, Behaviorism is based on observable changes in behavior. It is the study of overt behaviors that can be observed and measured. Behaviorism can be contributed to both John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. Watson’s Classical Conditioning suggests the role of conditioning in the development of emotional responses to certain stimuli. Skinner tested Watson’s theory and agreed that people respond to their environment but suggested that learning behaviors can be shaped by selective consequences. The behaviorist learning theory has had great influence on ISD. Behaviorist based instruction, such as simple drill and practice and multiple choice questions, is commonly used when seeking immediate feedback. Behaviorists believe that breaking down of a task into small steps is an efficient and fail proof method of shaping a learners behavior.
Cognitive theory is said to be the dominant theory in ISD. Cognitive scientists study how individuals acquire, process, store, and use information. Cognitivism is similar to behaviorism but it attempts to understand mental functions. Changes in behavior are observed indicating what is happening inside the learner’s mind. Individuals are able to model behavior by observing the behavior of another. Cognitive designers, like behaviorists, break down a task into smaller steps or chunks but the instruction moves from simple to complex building on prior schemata. Trouble shooting programs are often used in cognitive learning environments. When evaluating the ISD, both cognitive and behaviorist designers must determine whether the criteria for the objectives have been met.
Constructivism differs from both behaviorism and cognitivism in that it argues that knowledge can only be constructed, never produced or transmitted. Reality, according to constructivists, is more in the mind of the knower. The knower constructs a reality, or at least interprets it, based upon his or her apperceptions. Once information is received the learner must be able to interpret that information and make it meaningful, otherwise the information is of no use to him or her. When designing a constructivist learning environment the methods and results of learning aren’t the same for every learner and are therefore not easily measured. Some argue that constructivism is not compatible with the present systems approach to ISD since we can not determine and insure a common set of outcomes for learners. Constructivists assert that students need to engage in active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative learning. The components of a technology-supported learning environment include problem or project space, a set of related cases to explain the problem, information resources to support investigation of the problem, cognitive tools, and conversation and collaboration tools and supports. Developing a Constructivist learning environment involves much more preparation than a Behaviorist or Cognitive learning environment. When designing instruction, the most useful tools for a constructivist designer is hypertext and hypermedia because it allows for a branched design rather than a linear format of instruction.
Using ISD models to design courses can greatly simplify the process, no matter what learning theory the designer favors. The differences between models are often related more to the level of detail, terminology, and emphasis than to clearly differentiated foundations, assumptions, and learning paradigms.
Listed on the right are commonly used models. For more information, select the model(s) that interest you: