The Science of Workplace Learning: Instructional Systems Design

As both a student and a high school teacher, I was often frustrated by the seeming pointlessness of much of the content I was expected to teach or learn.  If I didn’t understand the real world application or benefit of information, it was hard for me to be motivated to find ways to retain it, or to teach it to even more unmotivated ninth graders. I was thrilled, then, when I stumbled upon a graduate program that essentially taught me a more scientific approach to education.

The field of Instructional Systems Design (ISD) is a relatively new discipline, having developed during World War II when it became obvious in the military that learning needed to be systematic to guarantee ultimate efficiency.  Military training had specific learning objectives, and the training needed to be engineered so that trainees could be evaluated on their understanding and performance of those stated objectives.  Research, theory, and practical application led to the creation of an orderly process with measurable outcomes; the basic model for this approach is called the ADDIE model of instructional design.

The ADDIE model consists of the analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of instruction.  While there is obviously more detail to each step than can be covered in one post, the ADDIE phases allow for careful analysis of learning needs, the design and development of course content to best meet those needs, implementation of the course itself and, finally, evaluation carefully calibrated to test the stated objectives.

Consider the positive impact that ISD can have on workplace training:

  • Often, the first phase of analysis may indicate that training may not even be the best solution.  This eliminates time wasted on unnecessary training and allows supervisors to identify the best way to address a performance gap.  (More on needs analysis some other time!)
  • The actual needs of the learners are the first consideration, so the course material and objectives are not randomly selected.  Content relevance is virtually guaranteed; both the instructor and the students understand the specific end goal of the learning.
    • A precise understanding of the learning objective focuses the training material to save valuable time in the training session.  The materials can also be carefully developed to guarantee relevance for the learners.
    • Retention and motivation are increased because the course material should be directly relevant for the learners.
    • Evaluation clearly pinpoints the success of the training and learner comprehension so additional measures can be taken as necessary to address specific gaps in understanding.

Now that I understand it, ISD seems to be the only way to approach any educational goals.  Many typical K-12, post-secondary, or corporate educational environments teach material rather arbitrarily, sometimes only because that’s always what has been taught.  However, the processes inherent in ISD ensure that there is a defined learning objective, that the course is designed with that end goal in mind, and that evaluation truly determines the learners’ understanding of the content.

About Kelly:
Kelly has been working as a contract technical writer for Inova Solutions for nearly three years. As a recovering high school English teacher, she enjoys the opportunity to still employ her ‘red ink’ when writing, editing, and formatting documentation. You can contact Kelly at

Category: Training.

1 Comment

  1. Christian says:

    Ah yes, ‘pedagogy’, that lost art of understanding one’s audience and not just one’s subject matter… Thanks for the pointers!

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