Commonly Used Instructional Design Models

Instructional design (ID) models provide structure to learning goals. The models are based on various learning theories in the realms of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism (Davidson-Shivers & Rasmussen, 2006). The four most commonly used models include:

  • ADDIE Model (Branson, Rayner, Cox, Furman, King, & Hannum, 1975)
  • Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction (Gagne, 1965)
  • Merrill’s Principles of Instruction (Merrill, 2002)
  • Dick and Carey Model (Dick & Carey, 1978)

How to Get Started

Step 1: Plan the big-picture elements of your course. Consider these course quality design factors (Borgemenke, Holt, & Fish, 2013):

  • Clear communication of expectations
  • Consistent design and course structure across all courses within a program
  • An established structure of learning within the course (e.g., course modules requiring similar lengths of study time)

Step 2: Brainstorm ideas for online learning content, and consider which components you may already have (Borgemenke, Holt, & Fish, 2013):

  • Overview of rules and expectations (e.g., syllabus in the academic context)
  • Course Homepage (including Welcome Video, link to course announcements, etc.)
  • Grade book (provide feedback promptly, ensure that assignment submission links are clear)
  • Consistent module outline (all modules include an overview, learning outcomes, resources, assignment instructions)
  • Multimedia (videos, readings, etc.)
  • Collaboration (e.g., Discussion Forums)
  • Assignments
  • FAQ Forum

Step 3: As you narrow down your goals for the course format and content, consider which ID model best suits your needs:

  • ADDIE Model
    • Developed for the military in the 1970s, this model is the basis of most other instructional design models
    • Useful in educational and training environments
    • Each step provides an outcome that leads into the next stage
  • Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction
    • Useful in educational and training environments
    • Effective because he identifies mental conditions that are necessary for effective learning
  • Merrill’s Principles of Instruction 
    • Useful in educational and training environments
    • Also known as the “pebble-in-the-pond” model, this method asserts that learning should start with a problem/task, and then include activities surrounding the problem
  • The Dick and Carey Model
    • Useful in primarily educational environments
    • This method emphasizes instructional goals, assessment instruments, and formative/summative evaluations

Step 4: Have your course reviewed by a peer or DELTA staff member. 

  • You might be surprised by a colleague’s observations after “taking” your course (or just working through 1-2 modules). 
  • Consider scheduling an Instructional Consultation to review your strategy. An instructional designer can review your course learning objectives, activities, and assessments

Best Practices

  • Ensure that learning objectives, activities, and assessments are aligned
  • As you begin to plan and develop your course, visit Balancing Workload (For Online Faculty) for strategic organization and time management tips.
  • Aim to have students remain, for the most part, within the Learning Management System (LMS). One suggestion is to have all course content accessible within three clicks of the course home page (Kelly, 2013).
  • Consider how to best engage students with the material; some content is appropriate for Discussion Boards, while some might fit better with a journal entry, quiz, or self-assessment (Kelly, 2013).
  • As noted above, take advantage of the opportunity to have your course reviewed by an instructional designer. You can easily schedule an Instructional Consultation to discuss your strategy with a DELTA expert.
  • Plan on revising your course every semester, as online courses evolve over time (Kelly, 2013).


  • Analyzing the learner is an important part of various ID models, and can be done in many ways. The example below might be used to analyze a popular undergraduate course before its redesign:
Number of Students80 in the spring and fall,
more in the DE section
Traditional/non-traditionalMostly NC State undergraduate degree-seeking students and a few working professionals, but the DE section could have more working professionals 
MajorsAccounting, Business
Prior Knowledge Students typically come to the class with:


  • at least two semesters of introductory business courses
  • possibly one accounting course
Technology SkillsStudents are able to locate general course materials in Moodle, but often have questions about more specific technical tasks such as submitting files
  • Writing clear course learning objectives is an essential component of effective course design. 
    • An ideal learning objective will include:
      • A measurable verb
      • The important condition (if any) under which the performance is to occur and
      • The criterion of acceptable performance (Mager, 1975)
    • Example: Students will be able to discuss travel plans and preferences in Spanish, both in writing and in conversation, with sufficient accuracy to be understood by a native speaker who is accustomed to dealing with foreigners.
    • For more, see How to Write Learning Objectives.
  • Consider the types of assessments you have used in face-to-face courses and if these were successful or not. You may decide that one test could be replaced with a video-creation activity, or that quiz content might fit better in a Discussion Board response.
    • Moodle offers a variety of assessments

For more detail regarding assessments, visit Types of Assessment.


  • Borgemenke, A. J., Holt, W. C., & Fish, W. W. (2013). Universal course shell template design and implementation to enhance student outcomes in online coursework. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 14(1), 17-23. 
  • Branson, R. K., Rayner, G. T., Cox, J. L., Furman, J. P., King, F. J., Hannum, W.H. (1975). Interservice procedures for instructional systems development. (Vols. 1-5 TRADOC Pam 350-30, NAVEDTRA 106A). Ft. Monroe, VA: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
  • Davidson-Shivers, G. V., & Rasmussen, K. L. (2006). Web-based learning: Design, implementation, and evaluation. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.
  • Dick, W., & Carey, L. (1978). The systematic design of instruction. Glenview, Ill: Scott, Foresman.
  • Dick, W., Carey, L. (2000). The Systematic Design of Instruction. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Company.
  • Gagné R. M. (1965). The conditions of learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Kelly, R. (2013). Nine online course development tips. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from 
  • Mager, R. (1962). Preparing objectives for programmed instruction. San Francisco, CA: Fearon Publishers.
  • Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development 50(3),43–59.
  • Merrill, M. D. (2007). A task-centered instructional strategy. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 40(1), 33-50.
  • Mind Tools. (2016). Gagne’s nine levels of learning. Retrieved from
  • Vera, H. (2015). ADDIE instructional model. Retrieved from