Instructional Design

Instructional Design vs. Instructional Development: What’s the Difference?

Instructional development can be described as a big-picture approach to learning design. While instructional design functions as a general outline for a project, instructional development utilizes models such as ADDIE or SAM to create, test, and analyze solutions.

You might catch someone using the terms “instructional design” and “instructional development” interchangeably, and at first glance, they do seem pretty similar. 

However, if eLearning were like movie making, using these words interchangeably would be like confusing the screenwriter with the director, and vice versa. While they work together, each has specific roles and expertise that ultimately result in putting a “big picture” in the movie theater. Whether you’re working with an eLearning vendor or creating training in-house, understanding the difference between design and development helps you see the big picture.

Instructional Design (The Screenwriter)

The design phase is the portion of the development cycle where the designer is putting pen to paper to create a concept. Think of the instructional designer as the lead writer for your eLearning project. They’re the ones outlining the strategy, identifying key players, and writing the initial script. While it’s part of the overall development, instructional design isn’t the full picture, and often requires tweaking to get it just right.

Instructional Development (The Director)

Like a movie director, instructional developers have a big-picture idea of how the final cut should look, and offer guidance from the start. The designer takes cues from the developer while the developer keeps the strategy on track. Instructional development usually happens via the ADDIE or the SAM model. Each model has its pros and cons, but both help the developer create an overall picture and execute the perfect take. 

ADDIE – Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire

Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) incorporates a succession of iterations throughout the entire development cycle, with team members making corrections every step of the way. It is akin to a director editing each take as it happens before adding it to the director’s cut. ADDIE begins with analyzing the goal of the training, then designing a strategy for reaching that goal. During the development phase, developers look back at the goals and design and create the course. During implementation, the course is tested by the learners, and during evaluation, learners are asked to provide feedback on whether the goals were met, and whether the training might need a slight tweak or major change in direction. As we said, the process is iterative, with many inputs—so ADDIE takes a commitment to a measured process that can be time-consuming. 

SAM – Ready, Fire, Aim

Unlike ADDIE, which is careful and iterative, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) follows the rapid development playbook. If you’ve ever watched someone give a “cocktail napkin presentation,” then you understand the basis of SAM. It’s a quickfire way to create eLearning, often in real time. The instructional developer takes what the designer has created and goes straight to work, often not stopping to edit until the end of the process, when the full picture emerges. It’s more agile than the ADDIE model, but SAM is a “quick and dirty” development model that might miss some of the nuances achieved by a longer development process with more inputs. 

Instructional design isn’t a singular event; it’s part of a greater ongoing development strategy. Some organizations are lucky to have access to a developer and a designer, but often it’s one person performing both distinct roles. Still, acknowledging the difference between instructional design and instructional development can give you a better grasp of how the process works and what it takes to create the ideal eLearning final cut.