Instructional development process

A pair of muddy hands is working a clay pot on a potting wheel

As the title says, this week’s readings covered the instructional development process, but I’m not sure if the phrase fully captures what was written. “Designing Instructional Systems” by Molenda, Pershing, and Reigeluth is a chapter from The ASTD Training and Development Handbook introduces the “Business Impact ISD model” which fills in some perceived gaps I’ll cover a bit further down, but I like how they explain about instructional design models, because it ties in to the heuristic vs algorithm debate I mentioned last week.

They wrote, “The purpose of a model is to convey key concepts and process to be included in a particular approach. Models, whether verbal, visual, or a combination of both, are a shorthand method of communicating what the authors believe to be the critical success factors in their approach to instructional design. Models are sometimes meant to be followed literally as step-by-step procedural blueprints, but more often they are offered as general guides to critical operations and their sequence. [emphasis added] It seems very simple and succinct, but apparently not everyone understands this, which is why there’s controversy.

They continue, “Unfortunately, critics have often set up a ‘straw man,’ implying that instructional design models are, or ought to be, descriptions of expert practice. They then observe or interview experts and discover–voila!–that experts do the job very differently from the step-by-step logic specified in the model. Critics then treat this finding as a proof that the model is invalid. […] The intuitive shortcuts developed with experience inevitably lead the expert away from the ‘cookbook’ and toward improvisation. But for the apprentice chef (not to mention the manager of a restaurant), the cookbook is the vital link to maintaining quality and consistency from day to day and project to project.”

The distinction between novices and experts shouldn’t be overlooked. While it might be said that the purpose of training is to help people become experts, training alone can’t do that.

Back in the 1990s I worked my way through school by working in a factory that made items using flock (Their website is here if you’re interested). Flock is tiny (1 mm or less in length) nylon or polyester fibers that are electrostatically charged and applied to an adhesive substrate. Generally it takes a few weeks or months for a new machine operator to understand how the machine works.

A new operator is trained by the team lead in how to use the machine, but there are some things that this training doesn’t cover and has to be experienced. To get the best quality product, the rooms were climate controlled so they fell within a certain temperature range and a certain humidity range. If the room was too hot, the adhesive would dry out too quick and the flock wouldn’t stick. If the room was too humid, the flock would clump together, but if it wasn’t humid enough, the electrostatic charge wouldn’t work. To truly become an expert at running the machines takes about a year of experience because the weather outside would affect the temperature and humidity inside the building. A team lead could cover these topics when training a new machine operator, but they wouldn’t really understand until they experienced them. Besides, training on a new machine was complex enough without having to think about how the weather might or might not affect production in a few months. But I digress…

The authors then go on to describe some of the limitations of ADDIE, and propose the Business Impact ISD Model. The concern is that the conventional ISD model(s) don’t take business considerations into account. For what it’s worth, the whole chapter seems like it is mostly intended for corporate training, but I’m not sure if the whole book is that way.

They wrote, “Successful organizations no longer view training as a staff or support function; it must contribute to the bottom line.” Adding, “The major theme of the Business Impact ISD Model can be summed up in the statement ‘training alone doesn’t solve performance problems.'”

Their model isn’t wildly different than ADDIE. In ADDIE, the A stands for Analysis, and in the model these authors describe it is split into a Needs Analysis and a Learner, Settings, & Job analysis. As they describe it, “the purpose of a needs analysis is to identify performance problems or business opportunities,” while learner, setting, and job analysis is a bit more complex and nuanced. They encourage designers to take non-training aspects of the business into account, such as busy seasons, and debriefing supervisors.

The authors also add a step between Development and Implementation that they call Production. This step is where the materials for the training program are produced, but also taking into account budgeting and the possible need to hire a 3rd party to produce them. This is also the time when “train the trainer” activities take place so they can understand how to implement the instruction.

Since they started the chapter with their views on models, I surmise they intend this as a “cookbook” for novice instructional designers, and for experienced designers it may be a new way of looking at what they do, or another tool to add to their repertoire.

As the title says, this week’s readings covered the instructional development process, but I’m not sure if the phrase fully captures what was written. “Designing Instructional Systems” by Molenda, Pershing, and Reigeluth is a chapter from The ASTD Training and Development Handbook introduces the “Business Impact ISD model” which fills in some perceived gaps I’ll…


  1. Hi Michael,

    I really liked that you brought in your previous work experience here to connect to the reading. In your example, how would you go about designing an instructional product to help train workers to use the machines? It sounds like experience is irreplaceable here, but are there ways to scaffold that process outside of just pure trial and error?
    I also liked that you were able to compare and contrast ADDIE with the Business Impact model. It does seem like the Business Impact model is an expansion of ADDIE with an eye towards the corporate, and you do a good job of teasing apart the similarities and differences between the two.
    As always, thanks for a thoughtful post!

  2. Hi Michael,

    Generally, anything that is associated with ASTD and then ATD and now TD is all about the bottom line, even their own (my opinion). Very wise of you to contrast ADDIE with their Business Impact model and peel back the layers. There are a few other popular ones like SAM and Pebble in the Pond. I haven’t dug into them too deep to give an informed response, but I think ADDIE, like the others, is a starting point for any ID’er. In a business setting, you will be forced to cut corners because “they have to have it now” even though a real root-cause analysis has not been conducted and you suspect that training is not the solution. I really don’t consider ADDIE to be straight up linear like the perception is. When you design in that fashion, you constantly return to previous phases to tweak and mod especially during the formative reviews.


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