Personal Instructional Theory

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Personal Instructional Theory

In laying out my personal instructional theory, I set for myself the following goal which Reigeluth (1999) presents in Chapter 1 as the objective for every instructional design theory:

To offer methods of instruction for given situations based upon the desired instructional outcomes and conditions.

As it is impossible to define every learning situation, I present my instructional framework in the context of out two possible situations with very different outcomes and conditions. I term the first a “Learn This” scenario on one end of the spectrum and an “Explore This” scenario on the opposite end. By framing my theory within these two examples with vastly different desired outcomes and conditions, I am able to demonstrate the application of my chosen instructional methods across situations.

Desired Instructional Outcomes: Reigeluth (1999) describes desired instructional outcomes in terms of the level of effectiveness, efficiency and appeal needed from the instruction. He stresses that it is the designer’s responsibility to craft instruction that achieves the desired instructional outcomes. This often means sacrificing high achievement in one area to facilitate achievement in another.


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As shown above, I am defining the “Learn This” situations to be one in which efficiency is of utmost priority – in other words, reaching the most learners at the lowest cost in terms of money and time. The trade off may be learners who walk away with only basic understanding of the concepts (low effectiveness) after enduring instruction with low learner appeal.  On the other end of the spectrum, when the desired outcome is deep or rich understanding and application in diverse contexts, effectiveness takes center stage. As in the “Explore This” situation, engaging learners in appealing instruction is vital. The trade off then becomes reduced efficiency (more time and money) to achieve more individualized attention to the learner. As with other situations between these two extremes, efficiency is sacrificed to increase learner appeal and effectiveness.

Instructional Conditions: I view instructional conditions as the designer’s constraints. While I could argue that “Learn This” situation does not present the most desirable learning conditions, this situation occurs often in real life. It includes situations where rapid and highly defined transfer of knowledge is needed. The learner tends to have little control over what subject matter is covered or how / when the material is explored. I contrast these conditions to those that typically exist in an “Explore This” situation where the learning environment offers a high degree of learner control. The learner tends to have a lot of involvement in setting complex performance goals and the development constraints are low.  

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Instructional Methods:  Given a set of the conditions and desired outcomes, the designer’s challenge is to dig into his or her bag of tricks and come up with the best instructional methods to fit the given situation. While we covered an exhaustive list of instructional theories this semester, most share three key instructional elements: 1) presentation, 2) practice and 3) feedback.

I agree with Merril (1999) who states, “Information that does not include presentation, practice and learner guidance is information but not instruction.” Therefore, in selecting instructional methods for a given situation, I ensure that I am adequately addressing all three of these elements within the instruction:



 Example: As illustrated in the chart that follows on the next page, I present both direct instruction and just do it! instructional methods within the presentation, practice and feedback framework to facilitate instruction within the hypothetical “Learn This” and “Explore This” situations.

Situation A: Learn This

Direct Instruction

  • Present the goal of instruction (Merrill and others*)
  • Help learner select, organize and integrate subject matter (Mayer)
  • Eliminate irrelevant information (Mayer)
  • Start with the basics and build up (Merrill)
  • Devise practice activities (Merril and others)
  • Incorporate practice into game based format (Thiagarijan)
  • Progress from highly guided to unguided practice (Merrill)
  • Provide guidance to correct wrong answers and encourage right responses following practice (Merril and many others)

Situation B: Explore This

Just do it!

  • Solicit learner feedback in establishing learning goals (Jonassen)
  • Present subject matter to the learner in the form of authentic and real world situations or problems (Jonassen, Hannafin, Schank and others)
  • Make available vetted resources that will best help learners tackle problems (Jonassen, Hannafin, Schank and others)
  • Encourage learners to solve problems by trying and testing solutions (Hannafin, Jonassen, Schank)
  • Avoid establishing rules for practice (Jonassen)
  • Provide learners with processing, manipulation and communication tools needed to complete the practice (Hannafin)
  • Facilitate connections and interactions with peer learners (Jonassen)
  • Support the learner’s practice through scaffolding (Jonassen, Hannafin, Schank)
  • Provide additional resources to support learner’s development in a just in time (as needed) fashion (Honebein – in action!)



Hannafin, M.J., K.M. Land & Oliver, K. (1999). Open learning environments: Foundations and models. In Reigeluth, C.M. (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models.  (118 - 140). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jonassen, D. (1999). Designing Constructivist Learning Environment. In Reigeluth, C.M. (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models.  (215 - 236). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Mayer, R.E. (1999). Designing Instruction for Constructivist Learning. In Reigeluth, C.M. (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models (141 - 159). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Merril, M.D (1999). Instructional Transactional Theory (ITT): Instructional Design Based on Knowledge Objects. In Reigeluth, C.M. (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models (397 - 424). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Instructional design theories and models. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Schank, R (1999). Learning by Doing. In Reigeluth, C.M. (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.