Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoThinking Skills Design Principle (4:05)


The Thinking Skills Design Principle was developed to build job-specific thinking and problem-solving skills, this approach is real-world focused for progressive learning and thinking skills that are unique to a specific area of focus. The three main bodies of thinking skills are creative thinking, critical thinking, and metacognition. These thinking skills focus on a whole-task or part-task training process which is applicable for different learners. These two instruction methods separate learners based on their level of complexity and include explicit learning based on a case study approach.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Analysis of Process

Instruction can begin with an assessment of desired thinking skill outcomes, this should be developed and used as a benchmark to ensure the content is focused on specific outcomes based around creative thinking, critical thinking or metacognition.

Guideline 2 – Determining your Approach

The content can be organized using one of the following approaches depending on the skills and context of the case study situation. Part-Task takes content into smaller areas of focus and learners are given smaller amounts of content to practice and build their thinking skills gradually. This approach works well with novice learners as it doesn’t overwhelm them with content. Whole-task takes the approach where an authentic situation is given and integrates the knowledge and skills needed to solve that problem into the learning. This approach works well with more complex learners.

Guideline 3 – Specific Context

Engage learners with expert examples and simulations of content. This process can be done individually or in collaborative group assignments where learners can observe, analyze, describe and act on their case study situation. Taking this element one step further, learners can observe (O) a case study and make a summarized assessment. They can then analyze (A) their observation summary and describe (D) how they would respond in a specific professional experience. From there, the learner can design an action (A) plan and respond to the situation based on feedback from peers, facilitators or mentors creating a deeper understanding of content.

Guideline 4 – Interact with the Resolution

Use a reflection assessment on the learning process as an effective way for learners to further engage with content and analyze why actions were taken. This reflection reviews what they have learned throughout the process inclusive of the solution but also on the problem-solving skills that were used to find a solution.

Guideline 5 – Learner Focused

The learner should have control over their learning through the OADA phases, but the case study can be provided to the learners to ensure it specifically meets the problem where certain thinking skills are required to solve. Implement this by giving the learner a specific problem that related to their professional field, they can work through the OADA phases to solve. This process triggers specific thinking and problem-solving skills.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Minecraft

This interactive learning tool teaches users to build, gather resources and survive in an augmented reality world. Users gather resources to advance and build acquired resources to maintain good health and sustainable life. The further you progress by setting your own goals and working towards their accomplishment, the more complex the game features become.

Example 2 – Science Journal by Google

This documenting tool allows users to pick a general science experiment to start and utilizes the user’s phone to capture photos, sounds, videos, and light sensors. The user measures the content and develops findings to help them explore that area of focus on a granular level. As you develop your skills, you can conduct new experiments and areas of focus and the advancement of learning is controlled by the learner.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Critical Thinking Skills in E-Learning

This research highlights critical thinking in an online learning environment including what design factors play a role in creating interactive learning environments and what kinds of critical thinking skills activities engage learners.

Resource 2 – Teaching Methods for Inspiring Learners

This TedEx describes a student’s natural ability to be a problem-based learner and use their critical thinking and creative thinking skills to observe, analyze and act on focused problems. Authentic learning happens when learners engage in inspiring content and importance is based on student-centered learning environments.


American Dental Education Association. (2019). Overview of Critical Thinking Skills. [Web page]. Retrieved from

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Chapter 15: e-Learning to Build Thinking Skills. In E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (pp. 339–364). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Heath, G. (2003). Connecting Work Practices with Practical Reason. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 35(1), 107–111. doi: 10.1111/1469-5812.00008

Ruhl, J. (2015, May 27). Teaching Methods for Inspiring Learners. [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

Sahin, M. C. (2009). Instructional design principles for 21st century learning skills. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 1464–1468. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2009.01.258


Submitted by: Sarah Patience
Twitter: @spatience3
Bio: Sarah Patience is a Master of Education Student at Ontario Tech University, where she plans to focus her research on Indigenous Communities of Practice. She graduated from the AEDT program at Ontario Tech University and lives in the Toronto area. She currently works in marketing at AB World Foods and has a passion for food and travel.



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