Instructional Design Approaches


Behavioral/Objectivist Approach

Constructivist/Cognitive Approach

Learning Theorists

B.F. Skinner, R.F. Mager, R. M. Gagne’, M.D. Merrill

J. Dewey, J. Piaget, L. Vygotsky


Holds that meaning exists in the world separate from personal experience. The goal of understanding is to come to know the entities, attributes, and relations that exist in this objective reality. Frames instructional goals in specific, behavioral, observable terms. The behavioral approach is concerned with immediate, recognizable changes in behavior.

Holds that learners impose meaning on the world, and so "construct" their own understanding based on their unique experiences. Frames instructional goals in experiential terms: specifying the kinds of learner problems addressed; the kinds of control learners exercise over the learning environment; the activities in which they engage and the ways those activities could be shaped by leaders or instructors; and the ways in which learners reflect on the results of their activity together.

Learning Outcomes

The statement starts with (1) a description of the conditions under which the behavior is to take place; (2) describes the task(s) the learner has been asked to perform; and (3) a series of actions the learner is to be able to carry out to indicate understanding , (4) each of these actions is described using a verb that denotes some observable behavior, and (4) there is a criterion or measure of success that defines what an acceptable level of performance is or how it will be evaluated

Defines how learners should be able to think or solve problems differently when they are finished, and what settings, activities or interactions instructors predict will lead to these new abilities. States that: (1) learners need some opportunity to define for themselves the goals and objectives for the course; (2) focus is more on process and interaction, less on what is specifically to be accomplished as a result of the lesson; and (3) outcomes are defined more in terms of a new common perspective rather than particular tasks or actions that individuals will be able to carry out. Assumes the learners are motivated by a common interest in some problem or issue.

Instructor Role

To present effectively structured material, and assess student’s proper and complete understanding of it. Instructor is focus of presentation and interaction. Tutorial relationship to individual students.

To construct a learning environment, and assist students as they explore it by designing experiences that encourage assimilation and accommodation. Suggests that lasting learning comes as a result of activities that are both meaningful to the learner and based in some social context (other learners, colleagues, instructors, clients, etc.). Instructor is facilitator and architect of learning.

Student Role

To absorb instructional presentations and material, and use them to create performances which indicate attainment of correct mental models.

To explore the learning environment in concert with others and construct meaning from learning experiences. To apply knowledge in personally meaningful contexts.


Reading, review, and analysis of provided text and materials. Individual work submitted directly to instructor for review. Structured assignments directly linked to learning objectives. Little or no cohort discussion.

Emphasis on discussion and collaboration among cohort of students. Application of principles to case studies and projects. Open-ended assignments linked to changing learning obejctives. Assignments constructed to reflect "real world" conditions and requirements.


Individual tests and performances to demonstrate mastery of entities, activities, and processes. Emphasis on a few summative products and performances.

Reporting on active, authentic experiences, activities, and projects is used to assess learning. Emphasis on interaction, reflection and collaboration among a group of learners. Assessment is integrated throughout the curriculum rather than in final products.


Criterion-Referenced Instruction, Robert Mager

Critical Elements for Developing Electronic Courseware from the Perspective of a Radical Behaviorist. John Ross

An Electronic Textbook on Instructional Technology: Behaviorism. Irene Chin.

Constuctivism. University of Colorado at Denver.
http:// data/constructivism.html

Essays on constructivism and education. Maryland Collaborative for Teacher Preparation.

An Electronic Textbook on Instructional Technology: Constructivism. Irene Chin.