Unit 1 | Instructional design for digital learning environments: Examining current and emerging models of design

Unit One: Overview

Building on the foundations of learning and technologies developed in LRNT523, we will explore several models for designing instruction and examine contemporary approaches to the design of learning environments. We will examine some of the key design approaches that are discussed and used in the educational literature, their interconnections, their merits, and the critiques against them. Students will work together to explore the literature on Instructional Design (ID) models used in their own work contexts and write a paper that critiques these.

Learning Activities & Assignments

  • Review and analyze scholarly literature and models for designing instruction in digital learning environments
  • Consider how instructional design tools and approaches vary by context
  • Engage in interactive discussions on course and student blog sites

Learning Activities

Note. All forums for this course are located on the LRNT 524 Moodle course site

Also, a quick reminder from LRNT 521: you can think of your blog posts as critical academic reflections where you are analyzing and synthesizing as you make connections between theory and practice. Here is an overview of critical academic writing for your reference. Also, you may want to explore the resources on the RRU Writing Centre site for a refresher.

Week 1: Introduction Forum – Who are you as a learner, a teacher/trainer/leader?

Week 2: Exploring Design Models [blog] – Research and discuss design models. Provide considerations for selecting a design model. Critical academic reflection – analyzing and synthesizing to make connections between theory and practice

Week 4:  Jigsaw forum – Your Assignment 1A team will post your written synthesis and accompanying references in this forum to share what you discovered about ID in your context through your exploration.


Week 3: Assignment 1A – Instructional Design (ID) Jigsaw activity (Team)

In this group jigsaw assignment, you will work in small teams to research and examine the literature and other relevant sources exploring Instructional Design (ID) models. Each team will review the literature, gather relevant resources and discuss, critique, and synthesize a developed knowledge of institutional design to share with the rest of the class. See the detailed assignment description here

Week 5: Assignment 1B: Instructional Design (ID) Jigsaw activity (Individual)

In this assignment, each student will write a reflective paper about how you will incorporate instructional design theories and frameworks in your current and future practice. See the detailed assignment description here

Unit one: Week one Introduction Forum

As the prevalence and use of digital technology in education continue to expand, especially in recent months, what we know about designing environments for learning continues to evolve, and there is a growing discourse around the terminology used to describe the contemporary design of digital learning environments. Before we get too far into the course and consider innovative ways to re-consider the designing of instruction, it is helpful to ground ourselves in some of the literature and to spend some time reflecting on what we mean by ‘innovation’ and ‘design’.

When it comes to design, the term ‘Instructional Design (ID)’ has traditionally been used to describe the field. Rothwell et al., (2015) provided an overview of Instructional Design (ID) and summarized key assumptions and competencies related to ID and discuss several important critiques of traditional ID approaches. More recently, we have seen the emergence of new approaches and terms such as ‘Learning Design (LD)’ which attempt to capture the discipline today more accurately. Parchoma et al., (2020) compared the history of ID theory and practices with those of LD and examined the underlying philosophical approaches, methodologies, and design goals of each perspective. The authors proposed a third space for design which they argued could help us move beyond the LD and ID dichotomies.

DeVries and Harrison (2019) examined the role of instructional designers in advancing open educational practices (OEP) within their institutions and explored strategies and practices used to advocate for and implement OEPs. They found that although many designers in their study valued OEPs, they faced barriers when it came to influencing uptake and implementation in practice as they are often in an advisory rather than a decision-making role.

Innovation, whether something new or a renewal of existing practices, policies, strategies, etc. is a constant in our current environment. Giacumo and Breman (2021) identified the most commonly used models, frameworks, taxonomies, and approaches that instructional designers used to support workplace learning and performance improvement initiatives within various organizational systems.

As we get started exploring instructional design models and frameworks it is important to consider the needs in your current context or in the context you hope to work in following the MALAT program. Please contribute to the introductory discussion forum, so that we can get to know you all, what are your hopes for this course, what are you most curious about, and who are you as a learner, teacher, trainer, or leader?

During this week you will be assigned teams to begin Assignment 1A where you will work together to explore the literature and curate resources for your future use.

Unit one: Week two Blog – Exploring Design Models

A wide variety of models, theories, and approaches are used to inform the design of learning environments. As you review the readings, please consider the key theories and models and try to find connections and interconnections between the models. Further, try to determine the merits of the various models/approaches to design and innovation, being mindful of the critiques others in the literature might have. Consider the links you see between innovation and design; how would you define these terms in your context?

Dousay (2017) explained that researchers and practitioners had spent half of a century attempting to define and create models of design and provided a brief history of instructional design models, common components of models, and commonly referenced models. Göksu et al., (2017) analyzed 113 papers on instructional design models published between 1999-2014 and found that the ADDIE model was the most preferred, followed by ARCS, Gagne and Briggs, 4C-ID, Dick and Carey, Morrison, Ross, and Kemp, the 5E Model, the Problem-based Learning (PBL) Model, the Multiple Cultures ID Model, Rapid Prototyping, the Reflexive Model, the TPACK-based ID Model, and Smith and Ragan, respectively.

Think back to previous course readings on instruction design theories, for example, Merrill (2002) provided a review of several popular instructional design theories and identified five prescriptive principles that can be found in most instructional design theories and models. Bates (2015) presented an overview of the ADDIE model and compared and contrasted it to the more modern approach of agile design. He suggested that design models were initially influenced separately by classroom teaching and distance education, but over time new design models that fully exploit the unique characteristics of online learning are beginning to emerge. Bates (2015) also describes developments in open learning which have important implications for innovation and design models. Stefaniak (2020) synthesized design decisions in complex systems within multiple settings, including K-12, higher education, and corporate training programs; and found the ADDIE model to be most prevalent across contexts; and Heaster-Ekholm (2020) contended that the digitization of learning environments and the growth of diversity in digital learners warranted further considerations for instructional designers. Through the analysis of seven ID models, the author concluded that no model is impartial and that the values, beliefs, and practices of individual instructional designers and their contexts influenced the efficacy of the design regardless of the model utilized.

Selecting Design Models

As you can see from the readings, there is a wealth of existing models available to guide the design of learning environments. There are many things to consider when selecting a design model, such as:

  • How are design decisions made?
  • What role do design models and innovation play in the design decision process?
  • Are there any design models that could be, or that you have found; especially useful when making design decisions?

Please share your thoughts on selecting a design model on your blog and review your peers’ posts to see what our collective experiences reveal about current design practices.

As a reminder from LRNT 521, you can think of your blog posts as critical academic reflection where you are analyzing and synthesizing as you make connections between theory and practice.  To help support you with writing your reflection, here is an article that provides an overview of the Process of Reflective Writing for your reference.  Also, you may want to explore the resources on the RRU Writing Centre for a refresher.


Unit one: Week four Forum – Jigsaw


In this final forum of unit one, your assignment 1A team will post your written synthesis and accompanying references to share what you discovered about ID in your context through your exploration.

Unit one: Assignment 1A – Instructional Design (ID) Jigsaw activity (Team)

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with the opportunity to critically examine various design models and approaches used in the creation of digital learning environments. Please see Assignment 1A – Instructional Design (ID) Jigsaw activity (Team) for further details of this assignment.

Unit one: Assignment 1B – Instructional Design (ID) Jigsaw activity (Individual)

The purpose of this assignment is for you to critically reflect on the design models and approaches that you explored in part one of this assignment to consider them through the contextual lens of your current or future practice. Please see Assignment 1B – Instructional Design (ID) Jigsaw activity (Individual) for further details of this assignment.



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