Instructional Design: A Systems Approach Model

Dick, Carey, and Carey (2009) proposed 10 stages of learning in their model of instructional design. The model identifies a systems thinking approach to designing learning programmes, and by definition, this means that this model focuses on the interrelationship between the specific component parts of the learning and teaching design process.

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The theory identifies four main elements that make up the system that are integral to effective instructional design:

  1. Context

  2. Content

  3. Learning

  4. Instruction

It is the interplay between these four elements that, according to Dick, Carey and Carey that closely aligns with Gestalt Theory: that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The word Gestalt is used in modern German to mean the way a thing has been “placed,” or “put together.”


Although the Systems Approach Model focuses on the design process as a whole, it also conveys the importance of breaking down complex instruction into smaller component parts.


In this sense this model is reductionist in approach.


Building on the ADDIE approach to instructional design, the Systems Approach includes ten steps and unlike ADDIE, it is iterative throughout, building in ongoing revision of any aspect of the design process that requires it. The ten steps are as follows:


  1. Identify instructional goals

  2. Conduct instructional analysis

  3. Identify entry behaviours (prior knowledge, traits, levels of motivation and other factors that will affect their learning experience)

  4. Write performance objectives (Consider what the student should be able to do by the end of the course)

  5. Develop criterion tests

  6. Develop instruction strategy

  7. Develop and select instructional materials

  8. Develop and conduct formative evaluation (review, focus groups, testing of portions of the course and piloting the course.)

  9. Develop and conduct summative evaluation (once you have delivered your course, this evaluation would be used to assess its effectiveness. )

  10. Ongoing Revision (continually review and revise throughout the instructional design and development process)

What is perhaps most noticeable in terms of difference to the ADDIE model is that this Systems Approach model prioritises iteration throughout the instructional design process. This means that although the Systems Approach is linear, it is possible and desirable to revert back to make revisions based on feedback.


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Dick, Carey and Carey noted in their 2009 book, The Systematic Design of Instruction, that:


revision is not a discrete event that occurs at the end of the instructional design process, but an ongoing process of using information to reassess assumptions and decisions.

The Systems Approach model goes beyond the constraints of ADDIE given the continual desirability for revision. This keeps the learner and the the learning outcomes at the centre of the instructional designer's thought processes and design.


Designing learning through this model of design is not viewed as static but iterative and this can only ensure an effective and enjoyable learning experience for all.


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