Instructional Design Models in the Educational Industry

Even if you’re not required to construct your lessons or lesson plans, it’s a great idea to know the theory behind what’s involved with curriculum development. If you’re a fully certified teacher at the state level, you’ve probably come across many of these concepts before. However, if you have a Master’s degree in your field, you may not have been required to take any educational courses before accepting your teaching post, whether it be a fully online teaching job or a position at a bricks and mortar institution.

The following information focuses on two models of widely used instructional design – the ADDIE model and the Gradual Release Model.


One of the most popular and commonly used models of ID is the ADDIE model. ADDIE is an acronym which stands for Analysis, Develop, Design, Implement, and Evaluate.

  • Analysis– During this stage of the design process, the Instructional Designer should aim to assess the audience and its needs, define the outcomes and objectives of the training/lesson, and consider the logistics of how the training will be implemented.
  • Design – The design phase of this process asks the instructional designer to choose the structure of the training, solidify the training outcomes, decide what kind of activities and assessments will be used, and create all of the graphics and storyboards for activities used in the training.
  • Develop – After creating the storyboards and graphics for the learning activities and assessments, it’s time to actually create the training program by producing those deliverables.
  • Implement – When the training program is complete, it’s time to implement the training either online or in a classroom setting. If the training is completed online, it’s important to make sure the right equipment is available and that the website is available and fully function. If the training is done in person, an instructor’s manual and script may be necessary and should be addressed during the design stage.
  • Evaluate – During this final phase of the ADDIE model, it’s essential that the instructional designer analyze the data from the training exercises and participant surveys to determine how successful the training program was at meeting the previously determined training objectives.

Gradual Release Model

The Gradual Release Model is most often applied in the K-12 educational industry. Like ADDIE, the first step is to analyze the audience and objectives of the lesson. After defining the performance objectives, the lesson, activities, and assessments are created to target those goals.

The key difference between the ADDIE and GRM models is how the GRM model focuses on a particular lesson structure. The structure of the lesson guides the students from observing a demonstration, to instructor shared practice, to peer guided practice, to independent practice. The clear benefit of this lesson centered model is that it allows the student not only to comprehend an idea but to actually apply the concept independently. It should be noted that students may need to move back and forth between steps in the process in a non-linear fashion to achieve true mastery.

This table highlights some of the pros and cons of each of these types of Instructional Design:

ID ModelAdvantagesDisadvantages
Adaptable to different evaluation strategies
Widely Used
Linear Process
Time Consuming
Gradual Release Model (GRM)Teaches mastery and application
Students gain confidence
Instruction is individual
Teacher is solely responsible for assessments, which can lead to inaccuracy
Small groups are preferable
Too much time must be devoted to unlearning misconceptions


Opinion – Teaching Online at for-profit universities: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Every teacher’s experience of the online learning environment will be different, so this op-ed is only related to my experience as an online adjunct faculty member at for-profit universities. All of my courses were taught fully online, which also distinguishes them from a blended learning environment.

There are a few requirements to teaching university courses at an online school. Usually universities require:

  • At least 18 hours of graduate instruction in the course you are seeking to teach, but most require a Master’s degree or a PhD in the field.
  • A few years of traditional teaching experience.
  • Completion of an un-paid training course prior to assigning your first course.

So, after getting the first job, here are the bonuses and drawbacks of this kind of position.

The Good:

  • You have complete flexibility over when you teach or complete coursework as long as you fulfill the requirements as defined by the administration.
  • Employers normally offer some level of professional development to their adjunct faculty.
  • Some universities offer tuition assistance or stipends for research to their adjunct faculty.
  • Your work can be done fully online – from home, from Starbucks, from Timbuktu.

The Bad:

  • Instructors often have little control over course content or curriculum. They must craft announcements and lectures based on the given materials.
  • Course/curriculum updates occur frequently, meaning that instructors must continually update their announcements, lectures, etc. This can be time consuming, especially if the course is “in development” and needs to have revisions constantly.
  • Changes to administrative policies may come with little or no warning. At one of the universities that I worked for, administration eliminated the use of Teaching Assistants (who did the majority of the grading) with very little notice. Administration instructed faculty to absorb the grading of assignments, which significantly increased workload.

The Ugly:

  • The salary for most courses taught by adjunct faculty is fairly low. You can expect to earn between $1200 and $2000 for each 5-8 week course you teach, dependent upon previous experience and education. Considering the amount of work involved, this is a shockingly low rate of pay for someone who has, at the very least, a Master’s degree.
  • No benefits of any kind are offered to online adjunct faculty because they are considered part-time workers.
  • There is no established career path based on achievement, merit, or any other factor. Although there are sometimes job announcements for full time online faculty posted on the internal job boards, the chance of getting one of these coveted, full-time, benefitted positions is quite slim. Unless you’re well-connected, have worked there a long time, or are the most stellar instructor ever, it’s highly unlikely you will land one of these full-time positions even after years of service at a particular institution.

The Verdict:

Teaching as an online adjunct can be financially and personally rewarding, but that experience is completely dependent on your career goals. If you’re looking for something that will supplement your income either because you’re moonlighting or between jobs, this career path might be appropriate.  If you’re willing to take on several courses from multiple universities, that can be lucrative. However, if you’re looking for a career in which you can identify a solid career path to advancement, the online teaching field presents several challenges to this goal.

The Power of Potential

In most of my online Composition courses, students completed an introductory discussion activity introducing themselves and identifying their relationship to both reading and writing. Without fail, several students in each course would express sentiments such as:

  • I’m not good at writing.
  • I’ve never been good in my English courses.
  • I don’t understand grammar.
  • I never read books.
  • Reading has never appealed to me.
  • Citation is something I’ve never been able to comprehend.
  • Punctuation has always been a problem for me.
  • I’m not very good at __________.

These students entered the course with a fixed rather than a growth mindset. The difficulty with a fixed mindset is that it negates potential. As the renowned psychologist, Carol Dweck, has discovered

 “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.”

The challenge with adult students is overcoming a lifetime of preconceived notions about their innate potential to learn. A brief look into the research about how and why these notions become so deeply ingrained reveals that we usually form these ideas during childhood. Numerous studies have concluded that girls do not excel in math and science because they are told repeatedly that girls are not as good at math and science. A study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign confirmed this finding and exposed why there is a gender gap between males and females in the field of math and science.

But how do we overcome these obstacles and prove to our students that they do have the potential to learn a subject in which they already feel they are pre-disposed to being unsuccessful? Dweck gives us further insight into this subject. Her studies discovered that emphasizing students’ effort rather than innate ability improved students’ performance significantly. Students who were praised for their inherent talents surrendered easily to challenges in which they believed they might be unsuccessful. Students who were praised for their efforts improved significantly after further testing and even seemed to enjoy the challenge!

What we learn from this knowledge is that the way to unlock students’ potential is by encouraging their effort and emphasizing that it’s practice and repetition that form better skills. It’s also crucial to measure a single student’s success by their own progress rather than their proficiency as compared to other students. Small gains in achievement can be just as significant to a struggling student as larger ones can be for an over-achieving student. Instilling a growth mindset in students (of any age) means underscoring the idea that students can do better rather than focusing on the idea that the students did their best.

Check out a talk given by Carol Dweck at the “Authors at Google” conference:


Bronson, Po. (2007, August 3). “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.” New York Magazine. Retrieved from

Dweck, Carol. (2010). “What is Mindset.” Retrieved from

Severns, M. (2014, June 12). “Study Offers Possible Explanation for the Huge Gender Gap in Science and Math.” Slate. Retrieved from

Forming new memories, skills, and habits

Memory Formation

Understanding how our brains acquire skills can help an educator design and implement quality curriculum, and is of equal importance to catering to different learning styles and focusing on activities that help form lasting memories.

Our brain is an amazing piece of machinery! Even after decades of neuroscientific study, we still know very little about where memories are stored. We do, however, have some idea of how memories are made.

The amygdala is connected to emotional learning, and it’s thought that positive emotional experiences and environments produce better learning results. The amygdala receives data from some sort of external stimuli (auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, gustatory) and sends a signal to the hippocampus to begin “recording” the event. The hippocampus then stimulates the neurons to “fire” or connect. Each time the same neural pathway is stimulated with the same information it becomes stronger.

As with most things, habits and knowledge are formed through study and repetition/practice. But how much repetition is enough to form a meaningful new memory or skill-set? According to the latest research

  • After 20 repetitions, a new neural pathway form
  • After 40 repetitions, a habit/skill forms
  • After 66 repetitions, the neurons along this neural pathway become thicker and more connected

Habit Formation

In addition to repetition, it’s best to associate a new skill with previous knowledge or an already established habit.

An already established skill, or schema, provides the groundwork to which you can add further skills. For example, when teaching a child to read, we first teach them the alphabet, then the phonetic sounds of each letter, then the phonetic sounds of the combination of letters, and so on. If we began by explaining what nouns and verbs were, we wouldn’t get very much farther than “gaa-gaa” with our little ones.

When trying to develop a new habit in our students’ routines, we should try to identify something that they already do well that relates to the habit we’d like to teach. A great example of this comes from when I was teaching online.

Most of my courses focused on Composition and Rhetoric. Universities usually divide the curriculum for this kind of foundational course into two levels. The first level usually focused on various writing styles, the writing process, and building an essay from start to finish. The essay was usually a personal narrative or some other sort of essay that doesn’t require outside sources. The second level of the course addressed how to incorporate outside research into a persuasive, expository, or other type of essay that requires documentation in order to build an argument. The second level built on knowledge established in the first course.

In the simplest terms, habits are usually formed on the path from cue to routine to reward. The most obvious example in online education is this: a student sees an announcement for a new assignment; the student completes the assignment; the student receives a score. An example from the real world would go something like this: a child is hungry, she asks for food, and his or her mother produces a snack. Neuroscientists and behaviorists have repeatedly proven that reward is a much better way to shape behavior as compared to punishment. Bearing this in mind as you craft lessons for your students or when you’re trying to form a new habit yourself can result in increased success.