Instructional design (ID) is the systematic design, development, and implementation of efficient and effective instructional solutions for the purpose of improving learning and performance. Put more simply, instructional design is a reliable way of thinking and acting to design quality instruction.

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Many instructional designers use the ADDIE model, created in the 70s, as a framework for decision-making.

Instructional designers design instructional and performance solutions in a variety of settings, from private corporations to healthcare organizations to the military. Instructional designers tend to design instruction using the same sort of design cycle that I (Zach) have my students use in their PYP Design classroom, the most common perhaps being the ADDIE model (see image) or variations of it. Many K-12 teachers are unaware of this emerging profession, as typically the instruction that we see in schools is designed by developers at educational publishing companies, or by schools’ curriculum coordinators and classroom teachers themselves.

Since I began my PhD in Education with a specialization in instructional design, I’ve seen a change in how I approach my unit planning and curriculum work. In this post I’d like to talk about how using the principles and processes of instructional design can have a profound impact on K-12 schools.

Instructional Design and K-12 Education

Instructional design as a practice, mindset, framework, thinking routine, etc, is no quick fix for K-12 education. Instead, it should be viewed as the guiding, systematic, iterative process that increases the likelihood that an educator’s knowledge is used efficiently and effectively when designing instruction. As a result, educators’ facility for instructional design methodology should be developed in parallel with the acquisition of the kinds of knowledge that enable it to work. The below graphic illustrates how I see these interactions:

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In the blue graphic, instructional design is conceptualized as the device that determines the shape of the solution. The designer’s various sources of knowledge are the inputs that allow design-thinking to happen.

In addition to highly-developed pedagogical content knowledge, teacher-designers in K-12 must also ground design decisions in theory and actively seek research evidence to support their decision-making. I’ve talked about this in a recent podcast called The Research Question. Schools should work to close the gap between research and practice (Vanderlinde & van Braak, 2010) by integrating research into their instructional designs. Similarly, teacher-designers in K-12 education should design instruction using the knowledge of recent findings in cognitive science; Designing instruction around neuro-myths long debunked such as learning styles, right-left brain learning (Macdonald et al., 2017) or a bogus learning pyramid passed around on Pinterest (Letrud & Hernes, 2018) is unlikely to lead to effective learning solutions. Here’s how I envisage what an over-reliance on intuition and experience (craft knowledge) coupled with reactive decision-making looks like in a similar model:

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Instructional Design in Action

At the school Stephanie and I work at in China we are trying to implement and refine a design-thinking model to generate school-wide initiatives, aka “prototypes.” When teachers have an idea for a way to improve our school (which often require instruction) their ideas are put through the rigors of the design cycle.

For example, take the recent prototype that I was involved in designing, “How might we redesign our literacy program for grades K-2? 

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Similar to how instructional designers, subject-matter experts and other relevant stakeholders come together to design instruction in non-K-12 settings, my elementary principal initiated the design process by putting together a Lit Design team consisting of grade-level teacher representatives and learning coaches. I was brought in as a facilitator of the design-thinking process.

By using instructional design principles and processes, beginning with a needs assessment to gain an understanding the learner and the learning context (linguistically diverse students, teachers, and parents in an international school in China), followed by defining the design opportunity with a problem-solving statement, and plenty of ideating, planning, and revising around our time and resource constraints, the Lit Design team was able to arrive at a solution for a redesign of literacy in grades K-2. This prototype is currently in the implementation phase and it may actually be just about time to pause and evaluate to see if it is having the impact we had hoped for on our youngest readers and writers. When K-12 schools embed principles and processes of instructional design into their decision-making it can lead to effective learning solutions. What about you? Does your school engage in a design-thinking process to design instructional solutions?

Thanks for listening to my current thoughts. Be sure to follow me on Twitter.
– Zach Groshell @mrzachg


Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014). What makes great teaching? The Center for Evaluation and Monitoring, (October), 2–57. Retrieved from

Evans, C., Waring, M., & Christodoulou, A. (2017). Building teachers’ research literacy: integrating practice and research. Research Papers in Education32(4), 403–423.

Leinhardt, G. (2007). Capturing Craft Knowledge in Teaching. Educational Researcher19(2), 18–25.×019002018

Letrud, K., & Hernes, S. (2018). Excavating the origins of the learning pyramid myths. Cogent Education, 5(1), 1–17.

Macdonald, K., Germine, L., Anderson, A., Christodoulou, J., & McGrath, L. M. (2017). Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(AUG), 1–16.

Vanderlinde, R., & van Braak, J. (2010). The gap between educational research and practice: Views of teachers, school leaders, intermediaries and researchers. British Educational Research Journal36(2), 299–316.

7 thoughts on “What is Instructional Design and does it Matter for K-12 Education?

  1. Hi Zach, I am enjoying getting to know your site, Education Rickshaw. In relation to the use of ID in K-12 education I agree with your sense of urgency. As a Career Technical Education (CTE) the concrete, research based nature of ID feels correct. Many of the old school, craft knowledge based strategies and curriculum lead to inefficient and even uninspired learning. Thank you for your attention to this important topic.

    Cari Goree
    CTE Teacher
    (Photography/Video Productions/Yearbook)
    Grades 9-12

    Liked by 1 person

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