Where should teachers begin?

Over the last two months, I’ve been examining the difference between instructional-design theories and curriculum design theories. I learned that instructional-design theories are design-oriented in nature because they focus on the means to attain the given learning goals. They are probabilistic, which means that the prescribed method of instruction will increase the chances of attaining the learning goals byway of instructional conditions, desired outcomes, and the instructional components.  Instructional-design theories are founded on customization and diversity from the key markers of the Information Age.

In contrast, Curriculum-theory designs are description oriented in nature, which means that they focus on the results of any given learning event. They are also deterministic, which means that the attainment of the learning goals are assured with operant conditioning. Curriculum designs are founded on standardization and conformity from the key markers of the Industrial Age.

This inquiry has helped me to understand why I am mixing ideologies from both educational theories. Since curriculum-design theories limit a teachers ability to personalize learning for students, it is obvious that teachers have to make the shift. Hence, how do we shift from a curriculum-design theory mindset to an instructional-design theory mindset?


I started exploring an answer to that question using a Goal Analysis. Goal Analysis is one of the steps that instructional designers take when determining instructional needs. Typically, the goal analysis occurs during the analysis phase of A.D.D.I.E. Instead of using standards to commence instruction, teachers in web-enhanced classrooms would use the learners’ goals as the starting point for planning instruction. Robert Mager (1997) devised a process for analyzing goals:

  1. Write the goal.
  2. Identify the necessary behaviors learners would need in order to demonstrate achievement of this goal.
  3. Using the list of these behaviors, write a goal statement that describes what exactly the learner will be able to do.
  4. To ensure you have clarified the goal, look at the goal statement and ask: if the learner was able to achieve each performance behavior, would he or she have achieved the goal? If yes, then you have properly clarified the goal.

Therefore, by starting with the learner, instead of the standard, we can shift to an instructional-design theory mindset. So how would that look in a typical classroom? It would be unfair to apply the instructional-design theory mindset to an elementary web-enhanced classroom because it is not developmentally appropriate for that age group. As Mortimer Adler described in the Paideia Program, elementary age students require didactic instruction. However, a secondary web-enhanced classroom, is suitable for applying the instructional-design theory mindset because secondary students  are in the need of developing their intellectual skills.

Hence, to answer the question: Where should teachers begin, I say, begin with the learner.

  • What are the learners goals based on their current needs and interests?
  • What is the student’s ability in terms of achieving his or her goals?
  • What is the probability of the student achieving their goals based on their current level of performance?
  • What instructional design models should be employed that will increase the students probability of achieving his or her goals?
  • What are the constraints?
  • Is the goal aligned with the real-life goals that the students have?

Finally, we can contextualize the student’s learning goals with their grade-level standards within the design phase of A.D.D.I.E.


Adler, Mortimer J. (2011). The Paideia program: An educational syllabus. New York: Macmillan.

Mager, R. F. (2012). Goal analysis: How to clarify your goals so you can actually achieve them.

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