A Look at Various Instructional Models for E-Learning and Online Training

Instructional designers and e-Learning developers need to pick the right delivery method for their e-Learning courses. Whether working on curriculum development for corporate learning solutions or for implementing e-Learning in schools and K-12 education, there is a host of instructional design models to pick from.

Each learning theory & instructional design strategy has pros and cons, and while this post is not necessarily an instructional design model comparison guide, it does lay out the basic elements of various ID models.

Before we delve into the numerous acronyms and training design jargon, here’s a brief look into the beginning of instructional design theory and systems.

A brief history of instructional design models

The roots of instructional design theory can be found in Robert Gagne’s work in system development. After the Second World War, Robert Gagne looked at how instruction could be used to train Army Air pilots.

His work focused on formalizing a process that looked at people’s interaction with technology so that both could function as part of a larger system.

source: Donald Clark

The resulting framework for imparting instruction and training design could be loosely broken up into a project stage for planning, design, development, testing, and finally operational level.

Developing a training design process for the military

The military started building an instructional design methodology based on Gagne’s principles for instructional design and soon, the Air Force developed a Five-Step Approach that already had elements that were starting to resemble what would eventually become the ADDIE model for instructional design.

source: Educational Technology

The five-step approach of the Air Force can be considered to be one of the first frameworks that aimed to create a system for designing effective instruction for learners. From the task analysis stage of the five-step approach, learning designers can get an overview of the requirements for the training, learner behavior that has to be modified, and conditions for the training design module. They then progress to developing learning objectives and goals for the training program design. Once this has been translated into concrete designs for the learning project, instructional designers can validate and get evaluations on the effectiveness of the program.

The ADDIE instructional model came shortly after the Five-Step Approach of the military, and soon became a mainstay in instructional design models for early professional training and corporate learning solutions. With the evolution of requirements and processes, new ID models came about that built on these basics or incorporated more agile practices into these.
Instructional Design Strategy – Free ebook for download

Types of Instructional Design Models


The ADDIE(Analysis, Design, Development, Implement, Evaluate) model was developed in 1975 at the Florida State University.

Left: The more traditional outlook about ADDIE being waterfall-like in approach. source: Saltbox. Right: A more updated view of ADDIE being iterative when adapted right. source: Wikimedia commons

In one of its earlier incarnations, it had about 19 steps that comprised the five project phases of the instructional design process.

Early representation of the ADDIE
Early representation of the ADDIE model. source: Donald Clark

Here’s what each phase of the ADDIE model for instructional design conventionally deals with:


  • Who are the learners?
  • What is their knowledge level and what knowledge gap will the course fill-in?
  • What tasks are the learners already doing and what would the learners have to do to bridge the knowledge gap?
  • What is the learning environment like and what are the constraints in this environment?
  • What are the scope, timeline, and cost of the project?


  • The minimum threshold for the learner to be a part of the training course.
  • Learning objectives for each task to be covered in the course.
  • Determine the flow and structure of the learning modules.
  • Design and evaluation system to assess impact and engagement.
  • Map each phase of the learning module to the timeline decided.


  • Select a delivery method for the learning modules.
  • Translate designs into actual learning materials.
  • Make sure that learning material covers all goals and objectives of the training design process.
  • Create documentation like guides for trainers, a list of auxiliary resources needed for learners, etc.


  • Disburse the learning modules to the learners.


  • Was the instruction clear to the learners?
  • Did it motivate the learners?
  • How did it impact the learner and did it bridge the intended knowledge gap?
  • What did not work in the course?
  • What can be improved?

There is considerable debate in the e-Learning industry about the advantages and disadvantages of the ADDIE model but it continues to be used in various forms, or in many cases provides a base for the instructional design methodology adopted.
Instructional Design Strategy – Free ebook for download

Dick and Carey Model

Dick and Carey Model
source: educational technology

Influenced by Robert Gagne’s principles of instructional design, Walter Dick was joined by Lou & James Carey, to develop the Dick and Carey model of instructional design.

This instructional design methodology recommends 10 steps to follow for designing effective instructional content:

  1. Assessing instructional goals. Defining in general terms what the learner needs to gain from the e-learning project and course; is the program aimed at helping K-12 students do better at mathematics, or is it filling in gaps in knowledge for a corporate environment?
  2. Doing instructional analysis. For this, e-Learning developers need to put together what are the prerequisites for the learners. Do learners need to have specific skills and knowledge to complete the course?
  3. Defining entry behaviors. At this stage, you need to do some learner research to understand their present context. What are learner expectations, goals, or objectives? Is there personalization needed to adapt to the special needs of the intended learners? This can help make the course a well-rounded & comprehensive experience for the audience.
  4. Performance objectives. These are the direct intended results that learners should experience after completing the course. These need to be observable and measurable results. Performance objectives also give a marker about the criteria that will be used for learner evaluation.
  5. Create assessments based on criteria. Tests and assessments provide a benchmark for learners and external stakeholders to evaluate the progress and completion of performance objectives.
  6. Create an instructional design strategy. It is time to draw up an outline of the learning material, what tasks each of them will have, and what the flow will be like. All the knowledge gaps that have been identified in the learner’s context, the instructional strategy needs to address those.
  7. Develop and select instructional materials. The blueprint goes into implementation here. Create the online learning exercises and tasks that the learners will directly interact with. Select the right tools to transfer learning.
  8. Formative evaluation. Formative evaluation gives the internal stakeholders a chance to assess what is working, what is not, and why. This can be done in alpha and beta releases, and by using validation techniques like prototyping. Before the course is finally delivered, issues of content, functionality, UI, responsiveness, etc. can be ironed out in the training design.
  9. Summative evaluation. This is an external evaluation from stakeholders like learners and clients. It is a major indicator of the project’s success. Getting e-Learning feedback via questionnaires, surveys and interviews is one option. zipBoard is a review and collaboration tool that can help streamline the entire course development process and ensure that summative evaluation can be integrated with formative evaluation and as a result the entire process of designing courses.
  10. Revising instruction. Using the feedback and reviews collected from formative and summative evaluation, courses can be revised in the Dick and Carey model.

If you liked this article then we highly suggest that you download this free ebook for | Complete Guide on Instructional Design

Successive Approximation Model (SAM)

As the need to plan e-Learning projects in a more agile way increased, the need for a dynamic instructional design model with faster instructional design iterations that focused on collaboration, became greater.


The Successive Approximation model, developed by Dr. Michael Allen of Allen Interactions, became more popular as it filled this need. The book, ‘Leaving ADDIE for SAM’ has influenced a great number of teams in giving SAM a try and many now prefer it as one of the better options.

SAM focuses on “repeated small steps, rather than perfectly executed giant steps”. Rather than having a linear model of moving the course development process like in ADDIE, in the Successive Approximation Model, the idea is to keep learner experiences and engagement at the center of things rather than how the course is presented and content organized. Hence, have a more dynamic instructional design process.
Instructional Design Strategy – Free ebook for download

Preparation phase

When starting off e-Learning projects, the first priority is to gather as much information and data as possible. All information gathered is used to create a narrative about what the learners need from the project. This is done extremely rapidly.

This is followed by the ‘Savvy Start’, which is a kick-off meeting for stakeholders to discuss initial ideas and lay the groundwork for future project direction. The challenge many times is to help clients or project sponsors understand their exact requirements.

Savvy start can be customized according to the need of the clients, or the project, or due to constraints. However, the general model involves brainstorming, creating a narrative, turning these into prototypes, planning, and revising. Some of the main things to establish in a savvy start are:

  • rules for the kick-off meeting and project goals
  • evaluating past learning experiences of the learners
  • explaining successive iterations
  • creating a strategy to bring about behavioral change in learners.

A good, comprehensive savvy start can be done in two to three days, but can also be reduced depending on time constraints.

Iterative Design Phase

Rapid prototyping based on the design guidelines and ideas is the norm for SAM. These prototypes can be used to get validation and quicker buy-in from stakeholders, both internal and external. Because all stakeholders have been consulted at the start of the project (‘savvy start’), there is a quick turnaround during design reviews and feedback can be processed faster.

Things to establish during the planning stage of this phase are:

  • what are the expectations?
  • what are the constraints?
  • what is the cost of the project?
  • what delivery platform should be used?

Based on this, plans can be documented well and in detail. The idea in this stage is to rotate through design, prototype, and review.

Iterative Development Phase

Coming into the development phase, there is now a design proof that has been achieved thanks to exhaustively working on ideas and feedback in the previous design stage. This design proof is collaboratively approved and thus, presents a valid blueprint model that the development team can start implementing.

As the blueprints start turning into working materials, internal stakeholders can cycle through development, implementation, and evaluation, getting valuable feedback from external stakeholders as well. The course material can be further refined in iterations over the alpha and beta phases, before going for a full-scale release.

This is a handy checklist for implementing SAM, with a breakdown of points for both instructional designers and project managers.


The ASSURE model was developed on the basis of Robert Gagne’s work, specifically, on the nine-step model of instruction.


ASSURE gives instructional designers a model for integrating technology and media into learning and development coursework.

Here are the six stages it lays out:

Analyze learners

Gather information about the learners. Who they are, demographics, learning style, prior knowledge, etc. This information will be useful for making decisions later in the process about e-Learning design and implementation.

State standards and objectives

Instructors need to determine what is the goal of the instruction and what the learner will gain from the course. This also helps during assessment and measuring the impact of the course on the learner.

Select strategy, media, and material

Decide on a delivery method for your e-Learning project. Determine the degree of technology and media input. For example, if you’re creating a blended learning course, you need to decide what will the contribution from online learning and what will the contribution from offline classroom teaching. Once a broad overview is ready, the details and material needed to implement the strategy can be decided.

Utilize media and material

This is the implementation stage of the instructional design process. Prepare the material that has to be implemented. This is where the media designer or developer comes into creating graphics needed, or when additional learning resources to support the coursework are created.

A good practice to execute this project stage is to follow the 5 P’s.

  • Preview the media and material. Carry out a demo run.
  • Prepare the technology and media.
  • Prepare the environment. The learning environment can include software or hardware in the classroom.
  • Prepare the learner. Brief the students on course plan, context, and assessment strategy.
  • Provide the learning.

Require learner participation

Create a strategy for engaging the students. This can be in the form of classroom discussions, QA sessions, etc. Since ASSURE is a classroom-oriented instructional design model, it places emphasis on offline strategies to complement online learning techniques.

Evaluate and revise

Evaluating the performance of the learning design process and how successful it is for the stakeholders involved is an important step. Based on the evaluation results, instructional designers and project managers need to make the necessary revisions to the course.

ARCS Model

The ARCS model was devised by John Keller as a theory for learning motivation. ARCS stands for — Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction.

According to Keller, these are 4 elements of the learning design process that, when implemented, can improve motivation in learners for online training or e-learning. Specifically, these are:

  • Attention — This can be gained by arousing curiosity and catching the learner’s attention with strategies such as active participation, humor, conflict, examples, and inquiry.
  • Relevance — Learners will not take to the course if it is not relevant to their concerns and needs. Some strategies that can help establish relevance are building on experience of current skills, demonstrating value in the present and future, incorporating a sense of achievement for learners, providing them with choice, and supporting learner growth by having them share their knowledge as experts with other learners.
  • Confidence — Confidence in the task and their own ability improves the motivation level of learners. This can be done by giving a specific roadmap of learning objectives and achievements and providing feedback to the learners in a positive tone.
  • Satisfaction — By showing learners that the knowledge they have gained is beneficial, learner satisfaction can be boosted and can increase the impetus for participating in more training programs.
source: CI484 Learning Technologies

While ARCS was established as a framework for learner motivation, the importance of learners to e-learning projects has made ARCS a model for approaching the design and development of L&D courses as well.

As an instructional design process, the 4 elements of ARCS can be translated as:

  1. Identifying the elements of human motivation
  2. Determining the requirements for motivation based on audience analysis
  3. Designing and developing learning material and strategy that can trigger learner motivation
  4. Implementing learning material and strategy

There are numerous ID strategies and models to choose from. Hopefully, this article will have made it a little easier to discern the specifics of each so that you can decide which one is best for your learning design project and stakeholders.

This article is part of a series of articles we’re doing on instructional design. You can see the other articles here.

Request Demo

Request a personalized demo of zipBoard to boost productivity and collaboration during your L&D projects

Get Demo

Related Post

Leave a Comment