9 Pre-Planning and Design

Now that we know where we want to go, we must determine how to get there. In other words, draw out the map for the steps along the way.  Dick and Carey (Clark, 2015a) use the term Instructional Strategy to describe the process of sequencing and organizing content, specifying learning activities, and deciding how to deliver the content and activities. An instructional strategy can perform several functions:

  • It can be used as a prescription to develop instructional materials (textbooks, handouts, web resources, etc).
  • It can be used as a set of criteria to evaluate existing materials.
  • It can be used as a set of criteria and a prescription to revise existing materials.
  • It can be used as a framework from which to plan lessons.

Planning an instructional strategy is an important part of the overall instructional design process. Gagne calls the planning and analysis steps the “architecture” of the course, while the instructional strategies are the “bricks and mortar.” Remember, however, this is not actually making the lessons, but planning them.

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

In his 1985 book The Conditions of Learning, Gagne described nine distinct internal processes that learners go through:

  1. Gain attention
  2. Inform learners of objectives
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
  4. Present the content
  5. Provide “learning guidance”
  6. Elicit performance (practice)
  7. Provide feedback
  8. Assess performance
  9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job

Watch Sanford (2013)’s Robert Gagne: The Conditions of Learning for an introduction to the Nine Events of Learning, and how they relate to ISD projects.


Further Reading

Further ReadingReview the University of Florida Center for Instructional Technology and Training (2017)’s Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction site for a more in-depth look at what they mean for the development of effective online education resources (including a case study example).

How Do You Sequence and Cluster Objectives?

Remember from the earlier presentation Dick and Carey (Clark, 2015a) suggest that sequencing and clustering is determined by:

  • learners’ age,
  • complexity of the material,
  • the ability to vary activities to meet the objective, and
  • the time required to complete the instructional tasks.

Sequencing Instruction

During the design phase of the instructional design process, you will select instructional strategies based on the characteristics of the content to be learned and the learner. These strategies are then developed into a course of “learning activities” that bring the learner(s) together with the content. In this phase, you will address questions, such as the following:

  • What is the best sequence for the instruction?
  • What is the best way to present the instruction?
  • How can the instruction be designed to make it interesting and engaging for learners?
  • How have others tackled this topic?
  • What existing resources can be used to reduce development time and costs?
  • What media elements need to be created within the constraints of time and budget?

The answers to these questions will be reflected in the design specifications or blueprint that outlines the components of your lesson plan, unit of instruction, or learning object.

Further Reading

Further ReadingRead Clark (2015b)’s Sequencing and Structuring Learning Activities in Instructional Design for a general introduction.

What are the Assessment Design Principles We Need to Consider?

Designing effective learning assessments is a field of study in its own right, and we cannot do it justice here. One prominent writer in the field is Curtis Bonk, who specializes in eLearning.  Bonk has a great video series on eLearning lessons, technology and assessment.  For our purposes, it is worthwhile to watch the video Assessing Student Online Learning (Bury, 2014):


Some Notes on Individualized Instruction

In education and distance education settings alike, courses and programs can sometimes be more effective when the unique characteristics of learners are taken into consideration. Like many service providers today, distance educators need to be consumer oriented, taking student needs and preferences into account to deliver a quality product. To achieve this goal, the concepts and theories associated with individualized instruction (also called flexible learning or instruction, or individualized learning) are valuable tools for those involved in distance education.

What is Individualized or Flexible Instruction?

Individualized instruction is the use of a variety of methods and materials to adjust to differences in learners. Usually, individualized instruction facilitates learning in the absence of a teacher, i.e., through self-instructional materials. A wide variety of individualized instructional methods exist, including the use of any number of media and materials, and ranging in sophistication of design to include contract learning, independent study, computer-based instruction, and online or e-learning.

Individualized instruction promotes learner autonomy. For example, it permits students to learn when they want to by allowing for differences in timing, frequency, and duration of study. It allows students to learn how they want by varying modes of learning as well as amount and type of interaction. Individualized instruction allows learners to learn what they want by providing choices regarding subject matter, learning expectations, and resources.

Where Did Individualized Instruction Originate?

Individualized instruction is by no means new. The first example was probably the Socratic educational method advocated by Plato and the ancient Greeks, using one-to-one tutorials in which teachers adapted their behavior to the needs of students. Similar tutorial-based instruction characterized the elitist educational models prior to the Industrial Revolution.

After the Industrial Revolution and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, increased demands on educational and training systems resulted in many different approaches to make learning more egalitarian and individualized. In Canada, correspondence schools, both public and private, have offered a version of individualized instruction in elementary and secondary schools, post-secondary education, and professional education since the early 1860s. Mostly, these offerings consisted of print-based materials with assignments sent through the mail and supervised exams set by the institution or agency at specified locations.

Movements toward individualizing and personalizing education have occurred throughout the modern history of education. In the 1920s and 30s, for example, initiatives such as the Dalton Plan and the Winnetka Plan attempted to make conventional basic education responsive to individual needs. These kinds of initiatives continue to evolve and develop, and examples of them abound throughout educational systems in Canada and abroad.

The growth of instructional systems design, which began in the 1960s, can be attributed to the effective learning it evokes because of the emphasis placed on meeting the needs of individual learners. This approach, which originated in the military and training sectors, quickly moved to secondary and post-secondary education, where its influence continues today.

In the last decade, two additional factors have had a significant impact on individualized or flexible learning. The first was the introduction of constructivism and its emphasis on personally meaningful learning. In a constructivist approach, each learner creates a unique array of knowledge and skills because of their education, experiences, and environment. The second was the growth of web-based information and communication capabilities. These developments have had a tremendous impact on individualized learning, allowing almost limitless possibilities for educators.

What Attributes Can Be Individualized?

In the design of flexible learning materials, several attributes can be individualized and made personal to learners. Individualization may occur in terms of the following:

  • pace
  • content
  • sequence of instructional activities
  • mode or style of instructional presentation
  • amount and type of interaction

The pace of instruction can be placed entirely under the learner’s control, it can be directed by an external source (e.g., the instructor or a pre-established study schedule), or it can be controlled by some combination of learner and other control. Similarly, with respect to content and sequence, these can be determined by the learner, by the instructor, or by some combination of the two.

Group-based instruction typically includes common scheduling, pre-established times for testing and examinations, and shared break times. On the other hand, in an individualized system, students may progress at different rates, work on different activities for variable lengths of time, enter and exit the system at different times for different durations, and complete instructional activities at different times, in different places, and take variable lengths of time to do so.


Interaction is another element that can be individualized. As Anderson (2002) notes, the types and levels of interactivity can vary. He proposes the equivalency theorem, which was discussed in the Theories and Models of Online Learning chapter.

Further Reading

Further Reading


Anderson, T. (2002). Getting the mix right again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interactionInternational Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 4(2).

Bonk, C. (n.d.). Dr. Bonk’s Videostreamed Talks and Podcasts. http://curtbonk.com/streamed.html

Clark, D. (2015a). The Dick and Carey Model – 1978. Instructional System Design: The ADDIE Model: A Handbook for Learning Designers. http://knowledgejump.com/history_isd/carey.html

Clark, D. (2015b). Sequencing and Structuring Learning Activities in Instructional Design. Instructional System Design: The ADDIE Model: A Handbook for Learning Designers. http://knowledgejump.com/hrd/isd/sequence.html

Gagne, R. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th Ed.). Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Sanford, T. (2013, October 24). Robert Gagné: The Conditions of Learning. https://youtu.be/EOIGhyiCwpU

Smith & Ragan (n.d.). Web Chapter 3: Promoting Interest & Motivation. https://higheredbcs.wiley.com/legacy/college/smith/0471393533/web_chaps/wch03.pdf

University of Florida (2017). Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction. Center for Instructional Technology and Training. https://citt.ufl.edu/resources/the-learning-process/designing-the-learning-experience/gagnes-9-events-of-instruction/


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