The Intersection of Educational Theory and the Science of Instructional Design: An Annotated bibliography


Presently there is a great deal of emphasis creating instruction based on the educational theories that have resulted from extensive research into how human beings, children in particular, learn. Nearly every text holds forth on the necessity of tying pedagogy to a defensible, definitive theory. We must take the theoretical framework and make it a prescriptive tool as well as descriptive one. What exactly are the benefits of this approach and why has the rhetoric surrounding theory based education become so strident? What are these theories and exactly how different are they? More importantly for actual practice and implementation, how do they influence the design of instruction in the field of education today and how will they in the future? As (Wilson, 1997) puts it, there has always been a relationship between theory and design, or between science and technology. His point being, that just as people create theories, those theories help shape what people do. The logical outcome of that idea is that in order to be most effective, instructional design must map, to the fullest possible degree, to the underlying theories that shaped the design approach. Or, more concisely, theory and design must intersect if the instruction is to be successful.


Dick, W, Carey, L. and Carey, J.O. (2005) The Systematic Design of Instruction. Pearson, Boston.

The authors of this text, are explicit in their willingness to borrow from the various schools of thought, instructional theories, and methodologies in their  pursuit of a wholly systematic approach to instructional design. This entirely pragmatic approach would seemingly preclude them from any discussion of examining the intersection of theory and instructional design, but the authors are more than willing to create those alignments when the situation warrants and supports it. Rather than follow such a course dogmatically, Dick, Carey, & Carey walk a fine line between serving the learner, the designer, the assessor, and other stakeholders in the educational ménage.

Issroff, K. & Scanlon, E. (2002) Educational Technology: The Influence of Theory. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 6.

While this article is of mostly tangential value to the topic of  the intersection of theory and instructional design, the crisp, clean presentation of the ideas it discusses make it a valuable contributor to the core understanding of the role education technology plays in the process or creating instruction out of the whole cloth of educational theory. Also, by placing the arguments in context of Human Computer Interactions and Artificial Intelligence in Education, making connections between the theoretical basis of the discussion and the implementation role of the instructional designer is significantly easier.

Jonassen, D, Davidson, M, Collins, M, Campbell, J, and Haag, B. B.  (1995) Constructivism and Computer-Mediated Communication in Distance Education. American Journal of Distance Education. 9, 2, 7-26.

With the field of distance learning being one of the fastest growing in terms of research and employment opportunities, studying the nature of theory-design alignments in distance education is critical to understanding the implications of both performing and not performing those alignments. The author makes several excellent point in discussing the opportunities for creating authentic, student centered learning environments by means of any one of several different methods.

Petraglia, J. (1998) The Real World on a Short Leash: The (Mis)Application of Constructivism to the Design of Educational Technology. Education Technology Research and Development, 46,  3,  53-65.

If it weren't for the turgid prose, this article would be a must read. Buried in amongst the redundancies and over stated, self-aggrandizing jargon, were pearls of great worth. In spite of the impenetrability of the writing, the knowledge the article contains make the mental slog worth the trip. The author discusses at length some of the pitfalls and problems of the very important and rarely discussed ideas of preaunthentication, and the rhetorical nature of motivating learners. The presentation of the theory, practice, problems and pitfalls of rushing headlong into a design scenario or an over enthusiastic embracing of an instructional concept is honest, objective, and scholarly. Especially relevant is the notion that authenticity of inherently subjective, so when discussing the concept of authentic learning environments, the question "For whom are these tasks authentic?" needed to be asked.

Reigeluth, C. and Carr-Chellman A. (in press) Instructional-Design Theories and Models: Volume III, Building a Common Knowledge Base. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

For dedicated theorists and designers alike, who feel that aligning instruction to the underpinning theories is critical for learner success, this article was a bucket of cold water in the face. The authors make a case that, rather than adopt the solutions which are research based to produce the best learner outcomes, the process may have to reverse engineered in order to conform to the assessment model currently in place. To be fair, the author does not support the idea, but merely points out the harsh and probably unwelcome idea. The rationale appears to be that it would be better to accept the assessment model as definitive, and design instruction that will allow students to perform their best in that model, than to have them under perform on the tests. The ability to successfully compete classroom tasks is given priority over what might be called deep learning.

Savery, J.R. and Duffy, T.M. (2001) Problem Based Learning: an Instructional Model and its Constructivist Framework. Center for Research on Learning and Technology Technical Report, 16-01.

The authors offered extensive data to present problem based learning and explain its constructivist roots as well as the paths by which this type of instruction not only benefits learners, but also how it might be implemented in a variety of contexts. The material is a valuable overview of problem based learning in general, with the ties to its theoretical roots clearly and cleanly explained.

Skinner, B.F. (1950) Are Theories of Learning Necessary? Psychological Review. 57, 193-216.

Going back to the source is a necessity when discussing instructional design. While Skinner predates instructional design as a discipline, his principles of stimulus response, or S-R instructional design models held sway for over fifty years, and in many cases, these models are still being used in schools all around the world. Skinner is a staunch supporter of theory, so long as theory doesn't ignore inconvenient or contradictory data. Once a theorist or theoretical community begins to do so, Skinner opines, both the theory and overlying practice are degraded. Skinner also has issues with theory when it takes a narrow view of interpreting data. If data can be interpreted two ways, then it must be considered from both perspectives in order to be valid. His outrage at what he feels is shoddy science and even shoddier theory practically vibrates off the page, even though the man's been dead for some time.

Tam, M. (2000) Constructivism, Instructional Design and Technology: Implications for Transforming Distance Learning. Education Technology & Society, 3(2).

This author produced what might be considered a primer for the researcher first delving into the connections between theory and design. While her focus area is constructivism, the clear outlines of the material allow for extrapolating the presentation methodology to construct a similar outline for use with cognitivist, behaviorist, or objectivist theoretical frame works.

Thorndike, E.L. (1910) The Contribution of Psychology to Education. The Journal of Educational Psychology. 1, 5-12.

Understanding the thinking of one of behaviorisms founding fathers makes the article an important one. Thorndike's views on psychology's role in education is presented in clearly behaviorist terms, but also Thorndike also writes as a scientist. The view that the research in psychology would have a positive effect on education as a refining factor is an interesting perspective. The view sees the resulting improvements as tangential as opposed to direct, but important none the less.

Wilson, B. G. (1997) Thoughts on Theory in Educational Technology. Educational Technology, Special issue on Theory, January/ February, 22-27.

In this journal article, the author discusses the importance of both the theorist and the practitioner as partners in the production of quality instruction. Theories help keep practice following an essentially self-corrective course, and their interdependent relationship is essential for the health of both. Neither the theorist nor the practitioner are superior or subordinate in the author's view, they are equals in keeping the process of education technology from wandering off course into the dangers of elitism, superficiality, provincialism, anti-intellectualism, ivory tower syndrome, and muddled thinking.

Wilson, B.G. & Myers, K. M. (2000) Situated Cognition in Theoretical and Practical Context. In Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments. (pp. 57-88)New Jersey; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The authors make highly persuasive  arguments in favor of the theory of situated cognition. Their perspectives are aligned with other researchers exploring the same or similar topics, like distributed cognition and contextualized learning. The elements are well defined and explained plainly, but fully, which makes the article an excellent quick reference when reading other articles on related topics. The idea that all cognition is situated, that there is no such thing as nonsituated cognition is something that takes some getting used to, but the reasoning and research seem sound, if, in my opinion, mildly overzealous. Many similar ideas exist encapsulated within the family of constructivism. Still, the plethora of concrete exmaples and the relatively easy reading prose make the article informative and accessible.

Course Work

Final Paper

A detailed discussion of the intersection of design and theory in the field of educational technology.

Annotated Bibliography

A detailed list of research materials for the research paper listed above.

A Personal Learning Journal

A reflective journal on the process of exploring the theory that supports educational technology as an academic discipline and field of study.

Lesson Plan

A detailed list of research materials for the research paper listed above.

Top Ten

Paul Desmarais ten favorite discussion posts of the semester.

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