Key Terms and Definitions

This e-book is designed as a companion to COMM607 Communication for Training and Performance Improvement. It has been adapted from a textbook that was originally designed for students in an Instructional Design program for Educational Technologists.

In this revised edition, there is more emphasis on communication strategies and less emphasis on learning theories, models of evaluation, task analysis and other dimensions of instructional design (ID) as a scholarly or professional pursuit. Students in COMM607 who wish to pursue further studies in instructional design will encounter more in-depth material on cognitive science, learning theory, instructional theory, multimedia design, and more.

Students of Communications should know that communication is one of the most important skills in the ID profession. Instructional design, as a process, is facilitated through communication, both on the inquiry side in gathering information, in the presentation side in reporting to stakeholders, and in the development of instructional media.

All instructional designers need to be good communicators.

What is ID about?

Everyone at some point has taken a class, a training session, or used a how-to resource to learn something new. In each instance, there was a design process where decisions were made as to the nature of the instruction and how it would be facilitated to the enduser, student, trainee, or whichever name you can think of as a “consumer of instruction.” That design process is embodied in the ID profession and practiced in many areas: K-12 education, higher education, corporate training, military, non-profits, and enrichment programs.

So, what is instructional design, and how is it different from teaching? The teaching profession is concerned with the interplay of people in a set of learning conditions assembled toward achieving a goal. As a profession, teaching is primarily focused on the moments in time after the planning process has occurred, the instructional materials have been produced, the conditions for teaching have been determined, and the analysis and selection of students prior to teaching has been conducted.

Instructional design is concerned with structures and strategies within which teaching takes place, much like how an architect conceptualizes a building according to how it will be used. Think of ID as systems thinking about the conditions of learning and the scientific process of learning itself where teaching is a component of its implementation.

When approached with a need for education, training, or performance improvement, the instructional designer, as a systems thinker, considers the following:

  • What research strategies do you employ to determine whether the instructional needs are, in fact, related to a need for instruction? (In corporate training situations, there may organizational or managerial causes for performance problems). How do you determine the exact needs for instruction, and how do you compose the Learning Outcomes so that they are measurable, feasible, and attainable?
  • What do you know about learners prior to instruction that would inform the scope of the content, the context of their needs, and the level of complexity they can comprehend?
  • What do you know about the subject matter that informs the optimal instructional strategies, forms of communication, and instructional media?
  • What artifacts of learning are optimal for assessment? On what basis should should student work be assessed?
  • What are the options for a learning experience that are stimulating, personalized, emotionally motivating, socially safe, and aligned to authentic experiences in the real world?
  • What are the optimal / feasible methods of instructional systems and technologies, given the circumstances? (This would be related to the methods/modes, such as face-to-face, online, hybrid, blended, Zoom,  videos, etc.).
  • How do you go about formative improvement of the program of instruction before it launches? What are the criteria for summative evaluation to determine whether the program of instruction met its intended goals?

These are the fundamental questions that are addressed in the instructional design process. Some IDs are specialists in one or two areas. And not all institutions (education, military, corporate, etc.) embrace the full spectrum of ID, as a systematic endeavor.

In COMM607, however, you will touch upon the basics of each phase of the instructional design method through the ADDIE Model.

What is the ADDIE Model?

ADDIE is an acronym for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. Each phase of the model is intended to produce information, plans, or products that affect the character, content, and experience of instruction, one deliberate step at a time.

The ADDIE Model was developed at Florida State University in the mid-1970s and has been adapted into numerous variations ever since.  A cursory Google search on “ADDIE Model” will reveal a wide variety of interpretations and tasks at each stage. You will also notice that there are numerous interpretations of the ADDIE Model as both a linear and cyclical process:

addie model cycle
ADDIE Model as a continuous process (Credit: Dave Braunschweig CC-BY via Wikimedia Commons)


addie model
ADDIE model as a linear cascading process

Every context where a program of instruction is needed draws from the ADDIE model in different ways. A training program for complex industrial safety issues would require a greater depth of tasks analysis than a program to learn how to type.

In this e-book, the ADDIE Model will encompass only the basic areas of research. Students wishing to continue their education in the instructional design field will discover more dimensions to analysis, instructional strategy, and implementation.

Key Terms and Definitions

The the following chapters, you will see certain terms used in the description of the ID process. Some of them will already be familiar, though their precise meaning in the ID context may be slightly different from what you know.

Training vs. Education – Training is used primarily as a term for learning new skills in corporate, organizational, and military operations. The purpose of training is often highly specialized and applied in specific settings. In contrast, education is used to describe more holistic learning such as in K-12 (elementary school, high school) and college where learning is organized in a curriculum.

Performance improvement – Performance improvement is related to training, though improvement implies that the trainee is already proficient to a degree.

Gap – Instructional designers use the word “gap” as a way to refer to the area of deficit that the learners need to learn. You may hear IDs say, “What’s the gap?” as a shorthand way of asking what needs to be achieved.

Subject matter – Instructional designers use the term subject matter as a shorthand way to refer to whatever is the area identified as the domain of instruction. For example, “statistics” would the subject matter in a course about statistics. Similarly, the collection of tasks in a given training scenario would also be considered the subject matter of instruction.

Learner vs. Student – In the study of instructional design and in teacher education, “learner” is the formal term used to identify the individuals who are the subject of education or training. “Student” is used in less formal communication.

Instruction vs. Teaching – Instruction describes a specific set of directions or guidance designed to produce a particular outcome. Teaching is a broader term to describe the act or profession of teaching, in general.

Design vs. Development – Design refers to a stage of work where the elements and resources for instruction are assembled into a plan for the program of instruction, much like how a blueprint or mockup is assembled prior to actual construction of a building. The purpose of design is to be creative and collaborative with the greatest degree of flexibility. Development refers to creating the actual program of instruction based on a settled design.


You will encounter the term stakeholder throughout this e-book. Stakeholder is to be interpreted similarly to the word client in the sense that the word can refer to either a single individual or a group of people for whom the work is being produced. A stakeholder can simultaneously include the people for whom the work is being produced (the sponsor) as well as the people who are affected or impacted by the outcome of the work (learners or customers).

At the outset of a project, it is important to determine who the stakeholders are because it informs who is affected by the work, both in how it is constructed and who the work, when implemented, has an impact.  Note that even those who may be negatively impacted should be considered a stakeholder, even if they will not be involved in the process, because this can affect the final product.

For example, in developing a computer system, a hacker would be considered a stakeholder since how well the system’s security is designed affects the hacker’s job.  Though we may not want a hacker to be involved in the development process, it is important to keep them in mind so we can develop a robust system.  Similarly, it is important to consider all stakeholders and their involvement as the social effects of someone being left out who feels they should be involved could jeopardize the success of the instruction.

Some individuals may have multiple roles to play in the ID process, especially in a smaller organization.  The following list is a starting point for considering the stakeholders who should be involved.

Instructional Designers are involved in developing the instruction and will be involved in the entire ADDIE process by eliciting requirements of what the instruction must do, to designing and developing the instruction as well as the implementation of the instruction.

The client is the person or organization who pays for or sponsors the instructional assistance.  This person or organization may or may not have been the one who saw the need for solving the instructional problem but they will determine if the solution is acceptable and will need to agree and sign off on all decisions.

Discoverer is the person who saw the gap in actual results versus desired results and took steps to determine how to reduce the gap.  This person is likely to be involved in the entire process and may be the same as the client or may be the client’s proxy.

Learners are the people whose actual results should be closer to desired results.  These are the workers in the organization who will undergo the training to improve their performance.  It is not always possible to talk with the learners nor test the training on the learners so it may be necessary to have a proxy learner who is someone very familiar with the tasks the learners perform.

Evaluators are typically people external to the organization who will determine if the training met the need of reducing the gap between actual and expected results.  It may be important for them to be involved early in the process to determine how the instructional solution will be evaluated and can provide suggestions on changes to the solution before it too much work has been invested.

Supervisor is the person who may have insight into the reasons why their workers may be underperforming or have a lack of understanding.  Supervisors will be impacted by the amount of time the learners will spend on training. They may also have insight into the prior knowledge the learners have experienced in addition to their typical background.  Supervisors may not be involved in the process but may be a possible proxy for the learners.

Subject Matter Expert (SME) is the one who ensures the information in the training program is accurate according to the discipline because they are experienced with the knowledge or skills related to performing the tasks.  The SME should be involved in all phases to determine the accuracy of the material contained in the instruction.


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ADDIE Explained by Albert D. Ritzhaupt and Steve Covello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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