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A Principles-Based Model of Instructional Design_Blog Header

As an instructional designer, I’ve often wondered why so many organizations place such a heavy emphasis on adhering to instructional design processes such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, and Evaluation) or SAM (Successive Approximation Model), when the reality is that many of the problems that we address with effective instructional designs are ill-structured and require much more complex problem solving-strategies than what is represented in these processes. Even expert instructional designers will agree that they don’t follow such linear models in their daily processes. Instead, they draw from the strategies (or underlying principles) that they know will best serve the purpose and intentions of their designs.

This leads me to believe that it’s time for organizations to think beyond ADDIE and SAM to embrace a different way of thinking about and approaching instructional designs. As Silber (2010) emphasized in his Principle-Based Model of Instructional Design, instructional design is not a procedure. It often involves thinking processes common to designers in many fields, in addition to a set of well-accepted, underlying ID principles.


Principle-Based Model of Instructional Design

Silber’s model focuses on instructional design as both a mental set of principles and a set of heuristics for identifying and solving problems. The Principle-Based Model of Instructional Design addresses key underlying principles (or best practices) that are known in the ID field to be central to creating effective instructional designs.


These key principles are:


Underlying Philosophy (i.e. behaviorist, cognitivist, or constructivist learning approaches)

Example: The constructivist view that learning and meaning result from knowledge and experience

Analysis (i.e. the reasons the learners do not perform, how they are currently performing, and what they need to be able to achieve)


Example: Consider that the problem is often not solved by instruction alone, and if it is, it is not the root cause of the problem


Lesson Design (i.e. how the design does with gaining the learner’s attention, activating relevant prior experience, or requiring the learners to use their knowledge)


Example: Manage load when presenting procedures or steps—such as by chunking, presenting processes step by step, in the order of complexity, and using attention-focusing strategies


Development of instructional solutions (i.e. the best practices for reducing cognitive load, presenting media, designing slide layouts, etc.)


Example: For learners that need to build a deeper understanding of the content, present individual components of a complex visual first

Implementation (i.e. the best practices for sustaining adoption, measuring success, and evaluating the effectiveness of ID processes)

Example: Develop a strategy for sustaining adoption


As Silber (2010) emphasized, when putting the best practices from the Principle-Based Model of Instructional Design into practice, keep in mind that:

  • A set of principles can be a great place for organizations to start and add (such as by implementing and updating a quality review checklist)
  • A set of principles is only one potential solution to a problem
  • The underlying principles (or best practices) that instructional designers should follow is never complete
  • Using a set of principles could mean that some components are optimized at the expense of others (i.e. It could involve more instructional design management or QA processes to ensure that the principles are adhered to)

As with other models, instructional designers should never memorize and apply all the principles in sequence every time. The ill-structured nature of the problems that this model was intended to solve often requires that instructional designers identify and select a combination of underlying principles, while acting upon, and then accessing additional principles.  From an organizational perspective, the significance of this is that, as new underlying principles are identified that work for their target learners, the set of principles could be updated to provide a guide for future instructional designs.

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Silbur, K. H. 2010. A Principle-based Model of Instructional Design. In Handbook of Improving Performance in the Workplace: Volumes 1-3, edited by K. H. Silbur and W. R. Foshay, 23–52. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.10.1002/9780470592663.ch2

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