Instructional designers are tasked with creating and delivering educational training materials for higher education institutions, businesses and other organizations.

The instructional design process can take several forms. Some organizations follow a linear process, while others prefer an iterative one, according to course content provider eLearningDom. “Some organizations prefer to work on the entire training at once, while others prefer to identify small segments within the training and develop them concurrently through collaboration.” Selecting a specific instructional design process is influenced by factors like training requirements, client expectations, tools, development time, flexibility and budget.

The following sections discuss the instructional design process and the significance of curriculum development.

Importance of Curriculum Development

Curriculum development and instructional design are related, and sometimes synonymous, terms. Some people clarify the terms by saying that curriculum development is what students will learn, while instructional design is how students will learn it.

The importance of curriculum development is self-evident, arguably. As the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management puts it, “Curriculum development is central to teaching quality. Yet, as research has shown it is rarely given priority in university departments.”

This may be the case for community college curricula. A brief from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education looked at the significant role community colleges play in training individuals for the workplace. However, surveys and reports reveal that there is work to be done.

  • High school graduates and people with associate degrees often lack basic and applied skills to enter the workforce.
  • Employers are having difficulty finding workers with the right skills to fill job openings.
  • Overall, there is a mismatch between employer demands and job applicants’ skills. More postsecondary education and training is needed to meet the changes in labor market skill requirements, especially due to the increased use of technology.

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The brief emphasizes the need for more collaboration between employers and community colleges. By including employers in curriculum development, community college programs can better prepare graduates to enter the workforce. It also helps standardize the curriculum, credentials, processes and procedures, which makes expectations clear for employers and students. The brief includes several examples of organizations partnering with community colleges to help integrate real-world skills into curricula.

Implementing the skills and knowledge that students need for successful careers is critical throughout higher education and in other training materials. In addition to the curriculum in any course, the course itself must be able to deliver the content in a clear and relevant manner.

The Instructional Design Process

General Steps

As stated earlier, the instructional design process can take on many forms. It can vary company to company, or the process can be changed within a project to accommodate certain needs.

Regardless of the specific approach used, there are some common steps that all instructional design processes integrate, according to eLearningDom. Here is a sample instructional design process for developing online training courses.

  1. Analyze Requirements: This is probably the most important step of the instructional design process. Design must consider four areas of analysis: audience, including the organization’s needs and the learner’s profile (age, education, experience, roles, technical proficiency, etc.); content, including key message, examples, scenarios and case studies to support the content and/or assess the learner; technology, including the learning management system and available devices; and branding, to give the course a unique identity.
  2. Identify Learning Objectives: Next, learning objectives are framed. These objectives help separate what is helpful and what is essential. The expected outcome should be clear.
  3. Develop Design: Design development is its own process. It involves organizing content into a logical sequence, determining an approach to deliver the course (such as through stories, games, problems or videos) and implementing engagement points like motivational videos or reflection questions. The design must be consistent in all modules and resource materials.
  4. Create a Storyboard: A storyboard helps visually organize content and present a flow for topics. Instructional designers use these visual documents to identify the type of content involved, and to present the content for each page, along with text, graphics, characters and notes.
  5. Develop a Prototype: Before starting development, a functional prototype is created, using four to five unique pages of different types. The prototype helps clients visualize how the storyboard will be made into a functional module.
  6. Develop Training: After the storyboard and prototype are complete, training can be created in the learning management system. Training includes graphics, interactive elements, assessments, recordings by a voice-over artist and more, based on the storyboard.
  7. Deliver Training: Developers should ensure that the course is compatible with the learning management system. They should also understand certain features, like how to track learners’ progress and assessment performance, how to generate course completion reports, and how to add pre- and post-training resources.
  8. Evaluate Impact: Evaluation takes place at two levels — the learner’s level to see if training is engaging and useful, and at the organization’s level to determine if training positively impacts the business and fulfills the goals of the training.

Various Instructional Design Approaches

Instructional designers can follow pre-set steps for developing courses. They can also mix it up, choosing a sequence of steps that makes the most sense for the project at hand.

Perhaps the most common and notable instructional design process is known by the acronym ADDIE:

  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Implement
  • Evaluate

While most instructional design processes integrate similar steps, more flexibility is needed. For instance, the CATESOL Journal notes that when authors of a curriculum-design project developed a course, they intended to follow a process presented by many textbooks:

  1. Needs analysis;
  2. Setting goals and objectives;
  3. Course organization;
  4. Selecting and preparing teaching materials; and
  5. Evaluation.

“However, after many failed attempts to achieve our directives for the course design, we realized that we must approach the process from a different angle,” they said. As a result, the authors adopted somewhat of a “backward” approach to the curriculum and design of a course.

  1. Conduct needs and situation analyses;
  2. Conceptualize the content;
  3. Evaluate existing assignments based on students’ needs and institutional goals;
  4. Identify what was missing or lacking in the existing assignments;
  5. Revise and change assignments to fulfill course goals, bring unity to the course, and motivate students;
  6. Articulate the goals and objectives based on the assignments we determined;
  7. Compare them with the existing ones, and then add our goals and objectives to the existing ones;
  8. Organize unit content (scope and sequence) and developing of course materials; and
  9. Choose evaluation methods that connected and built off one another.

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