Last week I talked about the benefits of hiring a professional instructional designer for your next training initiative, and today I’d like to walk you through an overview of how the instructional systems design process works. As I mentioned before, instructional designers use formal learning design methods and processes that have been tested and proven to be effective.

There are a lot of different approaches to ISD, among them: “Assessment, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation” (ADDIE) Model, “Rapid Learning Design,” “Agile Learning Design,” “Successive Approximation Model” (SAM), and more – but they all have the goal of making sure the work you’re paying us for is good work, and  produces the results you expect.
In my practice, I use a combination of several methods because that’s what works for me. Others may do things differently, but the basic “formula” is the same.

Phase 1: Needs Assessment
Your ID will conduct an in-depth needs analysis and obtain information from key stakeholders to identify what the training is about, what the business needs are, and the goals of the training. Needs assessment is by far the most important part of the instructional systems design (ISD) process, so professional ID’s take it very seriously. During this time, the ID will ask you to provide whatever materials and resources you can provide to help us better understand what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it.

Phase 2: Concept Design
We will take all of the information you have given us and turn it into a proposal that outlines our understanding of what you want. The proposal may include a Statement of Work (SOW), budget, list of key stakeholders and their roles, estimated completion time and other relevant information. We’ll formally define the learning objectives and start building the initial framework for the actual course and deliver it to you in the form of a design document that includes the learning objectives, suggested learning activities, and how learning will be assessed.

Phase 3: Course Development
The Development phase has several parts and involves several review cycles. Here’s the breakdown for an ELearning or blended learning course.

  • ID works with subject matter experts and other stakeholders to gather all of the content and create a storyboard or lesson plan, which you will need to review and approve before we can go into formal development.
  • ID makes the needed edits and provide you with an 80% finished version of the course – you’ll see this in the form of a PowerPoint, drafts of instructor manuals / participant guides (if needed), and other materials. This is the most important review cycle, sometimes called “Alpha” and you’ll make the majority of your changes here.
  • ID either develops the course him/herself, or works with media designers, graphic designers, and other instructional designers to put it into the nearly-final format you will see in the live course environment. The ID will submit the course to you for “Beta” review; you’ll make your final tweaks and give us approval to go live. Edits after beta (other than minor ones) are usually not expected.
  • Final Edits before “go live”

Phase 4: Deployment
The course is live and ready to go! Some clients opt to pilot the program first, with a group of test users who can look at it with fresh eyes, make sure things make sense to them as learners – and to provide additional feedback to the project owner and instructional designer for minor tweaks, but not everyone does that

Phase 5: Program Evaluation & Wrap-Up
After the course has deployed, we like to obtain feedback from learners, owners, stakeholders and the project team about how it went, whether learning “stuck,” and what we could do differently next time. In a good learning program, we’ve built in various methods to assess learner knowledge and performance (e.g., pre/post-test, skill demonstrations, quizzes, etc.) and we’ll use the information gained there, along with individual and team feedback to see how things went. This is an important step that is sometimes overlooked, but I highly recommend that some sort of evaluation occur; otherwise, how do you know that the money and time you spent designing, developing and delivering the program was worthwhile?

So, that’s how I do it, and I’d love comments about “tips, tricks, and best practices” from others!   Please also be sure to check out my new web page at

Until next time!

Karen E Marsh, M.Ed.

Your Learning Coach