The Instructional Designer’s Hierarchy of Needs

According to Maslow, there is a hierarchy of needs that are necessary for learning to occur. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, I believe that there is a hierarchy of needs for instructional designers.  Maslow has five levels of hierarchical needs. They are as follows:

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Belongingness and love
  4. Esteem and accomplishment
  5. Self-actualization/Achieving one’s potential


  1. Image result for maslow hierarchy of needs

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, I’ve decided to tweak his theory for instructional designers who design learning experiences.  Assuming that Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs have already been met, the following are the instructional designer’s hierarchy of needs:

  1. Knowledge and understanding of learning theory
  2. Knowledge and understanding of individual learners
  3. Knowledge and understanding of David Rock’s SCARF Model
  4. Instructional toolbelt

IDOL Hierarchy of Needs

For starts, instructional designers must have a solid knowledge base of learning theory. In other words, instructional designers have to be familiar with the learning process and effective conditions of learning from a pedagogical stance, andragogical stance, heutagogical stance, or an ergonagical stance. Learning theory has been described by behaviorists, cognitivist, constructivists, and of late, connectivists. Hence, instructional designers should be familiar with each school of thought on learning in order to have a full understanding of the various dimensions of learning.

Learners are who instructional designers work for, yet they rarely get access to them.  Nonetheless,  having data on learners is important because it will determine the instructional stance. For instance, if learners are inexperienced or beginning to learn new concepts and skills, then a pedagogical stance would be instrumental in this case. However, if the learners are mature and need less guidance, then an andragogical stance would work best. If the learner is a fully self-actualized mature learner, then a heutagogical stance would be appropriate. Finally, if the learner needs specific technical knowledge for technical problems, then an ergonagical stance would be perfect.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs includes safety. Therefore, learning can not occur in situations of perceived threat. Hence, instructional designers who create an opportunity for learners to experience Rock’s SCARF model are helping to reduce the learner’s perceived threat. Rock created a brain-based model that supports collaboration can can be affected by threats and rewards. SCARF stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. This model is used to help individuals enhance relationships and improve connectedness with others. When SCARF is applied within an instructional design, it boosts learner connectedness as it reduces perceived threats. Here is how I see SCARF enhancing instructional designs below:

  • Status is about the relative importance of all connected individuals.
  • Certainty allows all connected individuals the ability to predict the future.
  • Autonomy provides connected learners a sense of control over events.
  • Relatedness provides a sense of safety amongst connected learners.
  • Fairness is the belief that fair exchanges will occur between all connected individuals.

In one of my earlier posts entitled Collaborative Production of Digital Media and the Tool Belt Theory, I mentioned Socol’s Toolbelt Theory. Socol argued that learners need to have access to a variety of digital and analog tools and understanding of the task at hand. He called this paradigm TEST. TEST stands for Task, Environment, Skills, and Tools. Hence, instructional designers can create learning experiences that assist learners in understanding the task, the environment that the task will take place, Skills necessary for the task, and the possible tools that can be utilized to complete the task. Also, the TEST paradigm allows learners to construct personalized toolbelts based on the task and skills necessary.

In sum, knowledge and understanding of learning theory, individual learners, Rock’s SCARF Model, and TEST are all elements within the hierarchy of needs for instructional designers. When each of these needs are met, highly effective learning designs are produced.


Rock, D., & Page, L. J. (2009). Coaching with the brain in mind: Foundations for practice. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

Socol, I. D. (n.d.) Toolbelt Theory. Retrieved from 23, 2018.

The Instructional Designer in a VUCA World

Today’s world has “turbo-speed changes created by technology” (Marquardt, Banks, Cauweiler, and Ng, 2018, p. 18). And with these turbo-speed changes come the constant need for learning and creativity. As conditions change, instructional designs that can be adapted to various learners and conditions become more prevalent than ever before. Hence, instructional designers have to “learn their way into the creation of something that does not yet exist” (p. 40).

business woman

Complex problems require complex solutions and complex solutions come with creative thinking. Michalko (2011) submitted that one cannot will himself or herself to change his or her thinking patterns no matter how inspired he or she is to do so. Hence, “creative thinkers get variation by conceptually combining dissimilar subjects, which changes their thinking patterns and provides them with a variety of alternatives and conjectures” (Michalko, 2011, p. 14).

Michalko’s (2014) Thinker Toys is an excellent resource that helps foster creativity. Actually, I was  impressed with this resource and I decided to do a series of animations on Thinker Toys. Below is one of the animations that was created based on Michalko’s Thinker Toys Handbook.

In sum, it’s not enough for instructional designers to know learning theory. Instructional designers have to be creative thinkers and problem solvers because instruction is more than a product to be delivered and a set of instructional strategies to be used in a training exercise.


Gläser, W. (2018). VUCA World. Leadership Skills and Strategies VUCA World. Retrieved August 24, 2019, from

Marquardt, M. J., Banks, S., Cauweiler, P., & Ng, C. S. (2018). Optimizing the power of action learning: Real-time strategies for developing leaders, building teams and transforming organizations.

Michalko, M. (2011). Creative thinkering: Putting your imagination to work. Novato, Calif: New World Library.

Michalko, M. (2014). Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques.

The Tyranny of the Urgent


Functioning in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions creates a sense of infinite urgency.   Furthermore, ubiquitous exigencies make learning more difficult as the pressure to work seems to never cease. In such conditions, what is the learner to do? “Although we need more and more learning and training, the irony is that we have less time to acquire it” (Marquardt, Banks, Cauweiler, and Ng, 2018, p. 19).

Puzzle Black Man

Gagne (1985) proposed nine instructional events that provide a framework for creating optimal learning conditions. However, each instructional event requires time, something that learners lack. How then will the instructional designer construct optimal learning conditions for learners while maintaining fidelity to Gagne’s nine instructional events? The answer is with a heutagogical stance rather than a pedagogical stance. Blaschke (2012) defined heutagogy as “a form of self-determined learning with practices and principles rooted in andragogy” (para. 1).

Gagne’s nine instructional events include the following:

  1. Gaining attention
  2. Informing learners of the objective
  3. Stimulating recall of prior learning
  4. Presenting the stimulus
  5. Providing learning guidance
  6. Eliciting performance
  7. Providing feedback
  8. Assessing performance
  9. Enhancing retention and transfer

Gagne proposed these nine instructional events during the industrial age, when training was very much trainer-centered and less learner-centered. Hence, Gagne’s nine instructional events are pedagogical in nature, which helped to set a pattern for traditional education. When a pedagogical stance is utilized in training, the trainer makes the assumption that learners need external factors such as Gagne’s nine instructional events to occur in order for learning to happen.

On the contrary, when a heutagogical stance is utilized in training, the learner takes ownership of his or her learning, thus Gagne’s nine instructional events become nine heutagogical learning events. Heutagogy encourages learners to challenge their theories in use, their values and assumptions rather than providing a basic response to tasks. Gagne’s nine instructional events through the lens of heutagogy shifts learners into action by having them “study the process of how they came to their conclusions, how this process can lead to other solutions, and how their own assumptions changed through the process” (Eberle, 2009, para. 7). In my view, heutagogy converts Gagne’s nine instructional events into nine learning events. They are as follows:

  1. Learners awareness is raised towards observing a task or problem
  2. Learners choose or construct their learning objective(s)
  3. New learning is created with different solutions or strategies
  4. Meaningful, purposeful learning experiences are provided which are relevant to the learners’ needs
  5. Independent and collaborative learning with peers and colleagues is encouraged and supported
  6. The instructor facilitates exploration, collaboration, and self-actualization
  7. Critical reflection, universal feedback from peers, colleagues, and instructor are provided
  8. Learners are encouraged to self-diagnose his or her learning via knowledge application
  9. Facilitator promotes action learning for solving complex problems of the 21st century

As stated earlier, more and more learning is necessary because of the “turbo-speed changes created by technology” (Marquardt, Banks, Cauweiler, and Ng, 2018, p. 18). As such, the instructional designer should consider designing optimal learning environments using a heutagogical stance. The tyranny of the urgent will probably never end, so, the response to this phenomena should be with more open-ended learning and less conditioned learning.


Blaschke, L. (2012, January ). International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning. Retrieved July 2019, from

Eberle, J. (2009). Heutagogy: What your mother didn’t tell you about pedagogy and the conceptual age. In Proceedings from the 8th Annual European Conference on eLearning, October 29-30, 2009. Bari, Italy.

Gagne, R. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th Ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Marquardt, M. J., Banks, S., Cauweiler, P., & Ng, C. S. (2018). Optimizing the power of action learning: Real-time strategies for developing leaders, building teams and transforming organizations.