Approaches to Design

Instructional / Learning Design?

Instructional design is a systematic approach to creating curriculum and courses, and can involve design approaches that focus on:

  • the learner and the process of learning
  • how to teach the content or competencies of a program or course.
Some designers refer to themselves as "learning designers" to highlight the importance they place on using a learner's perspective in designing courses.

While most of the well-known (and widely used) design approaches were not originally developed for online course design, they are still useful.

Starting from ADDIE

The most commonly used instructional design approach is the "ADDIE" model. An instructional design approach developed for the U.S. Army in the mid-1970's, this model is made up of five phases: 

  1. Analysis
  2. Design
  3. Development
  4. Implementation
  5. Evaluation

Although it has been criticized as restrictive and linear, it can be interpreted and applied in a wide variety of educational contexts and has proven to be flexible in application. For a further discussion of the benefits and limitations of the model, see section 4.3 The ADDIE model from "Teaching in a Digital Age" by A.W. Bates.

Current adaptations of the ADDIE model often include some form of rapid prototyping of course or program elements. Rapid prototyping is a product or software development approach that has been integrated into educational design to make the process more efficient and adaptive. By testing a component of a course design before the entire design is complete, design flaws or misunderstandings can be caught early in the process, thus saving time and resources.

Agile Design

Another attempt to make course design approaches more flexible was the development of agile design models. Agile design generally involves smaller groups, often only two people, who access other experts as required during the design process (Bates, 2015). In recognition of the emergent nature of knowledge and the changing needs of diverse learners, the content is flexible and adapts to changing tools and educational technologies as they become available. An example of agile instructional design is SAM - Successive Approximation Model. 

Choosing a Design Approach

For the purpose of this FLO Design course, we're suggesting you consider two guiding perspectives for your Design Project:

  • a focus on learning outcomes, assessment strategies and the content and activities (i.e., Outcomes-based or Backwards Design approach);
  • a constructivist approach that begins from outcomes but focuses on a more individualized learning approach, collaborative knowledge-building and iterative and sometimes peer-based feedback/assessments.
Your choice may be made based on the level and subject of the courses you teach or the policies and guidelines of your educational workplace. However, your beliefs about how people learn can still be reflected in the elements and "flow" of your design.


Bates, A.W. (2015), Section 4.3 The ADDIE Model, Teaching in a Digital Age

Bates, A.W. (2015), Section 4.7 Agile Design:  flexible designs for learning, Teaching in a Digital Age

Makhlouf, Jack (2016). Iterative Design Models: ADDIE vs SAM, elLearning Mind