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New to Instructional Design? 45 Essential Terms You Should Know

by | Jan 10, 2023

For instructional designers, words are important. They make a big difference in how people understand and interact with your learning content.

As you start your career in instructional design, it’s important to have a grasp of the terminology used in the field. It will help you start speaking the language, so you can communicate more effectively with stakeholders, clients, teammates, and learners.

This article will provide an overview of key terms every new instructional designer should know for a successful kickstart to their career. It’s ranked in relative order of importance, #1 being the most valuable term to know.


Must-Know Terms For Instructional Designers

#45 – Gamification

Gamification is the concept of applying game elements to non-game contexts to engage learners and motivate desired behaviors. It’s a popular buzzword in present-day instructional design and content development.

How does it work? By introducing competition, reward systems, levels of attainment, leaderboards, and other game-like features into learning activities, gamification is meant to boost learner motivation and engagement.

“Gamifying” a learning experience has become increasingly popular. In both classroom and remote learning settings, it can help activate learner participation, encouraging critical thinking think and knowledge application.

#44 – Design Document

A design document is an outline of your final course. It provides details about the entire learning experience, from objectives and content to assessment strategies and delivery methods. The document is used as guidance and direction for teammates and stakeholders about what to expect from your course.

Your design document should be created in the “Design” stage of your project (this is an early stage in the standard instructional design process called ADDIE). Once you’ve done your analysis and completed your design document provides all the details of how the course will be created and delivered. The goal is to set clear expectations for all stakeholders about what they can expect at the end of the project.

#43 – Simulations

Simulations are a type of interactive learning activity used in instructional design to recreate real-world scenarios or situations. They allow learners to gain hands-on insight into how things work by “trying it out” themselves before applying their knowledge to a real-world situation.

Simulations can be used in a variety of contexts, depending on the learning goal or objective. Since I’m on a customer training team, we often create software simulations that “mimic” the actual software product. This way, learners can practice in a simulated environment without the fear of deleting actual data in a real instance.

#42 – Enrollment

Enrollment, in instructional design, is the process of getting learners to sign up for and participate in a course. For eLearning courses, this means a count of the total number of individuals that have signed up to take your course. Often learners will need to log into the learning system to enroll.

For instructor-led training, the enrollments are the number of individuals signed up to take the course. The total number of available enrollments in a course is often referred to as “seats” in a course.

#41 – Media

Media (or multimedia), in instructional design, is a term to describe any form of visual, audio, or interactive content used for learning purposes. This includes images, videos, animations, simulations, audio recordings, and many more.

Instructional designers are often responsible for selecting the “media mix,” the choice of varying media used to create a learning experience. Choosing the right media mix for your audience makes a significant difference to help engage learners and help them better understand complex concepts.

For example, different types of media are used for varying purposes. Some visuals help break up long blocks of text or provide a different way for learners to interact with content. Choosing the right media is essential for creating an effective learning experience that engages learners and helps them reach their goals.

#40 – Interactivity

Interactivity, in instructional design, refers to the level of engagement between learners and content. It is a way for learners to actively participate in their learning experience by exploring, manipulating, and interacting with digital or physical materials.

Some examples of interactivity in learning would be simulations (which you learned about above), drag-and-drop activities, quizzes, polls, branching scenarios, and more.

Interactivity helps learners in the learning process by allowing them to explore a topic, apply their knowledge, and gain a further understanding of concepts. This engagement also encourages learners to think critically and develop problem-solving skills as they move through the course material.

#39 – Andragogy

Andragogy is an adult learning theory created by Malcolm Knowles in the late 1970s. Andragogy looks at factors such as self-direction and motivation that influence learning in adulthood.

Andragogy focuses on helping adults learn by providing them with personalized instruction and providing an environment that promotes active engagement, collaboration, and critical thinking.

The main goal of andragogy is to create an environment of trust and mutual respect between the instructor and learners, as well as to foster self-direction in learning. By recognizing adult learners for their prior knowledge, experience, and skills, instructors can create more meaningful learning experiences that tap into their prior knowledge.

#38 – Test Criteria

Test criteria, in instructional design, refers to the standards used when assessing learners’ performance on assessments or activities. These standards should be clear and measurable so that there is an objective measurement of how well learners have achieved a certain outcome. It is important for test criteria to consider both the content and its application in order to accurately measure learning objectives.

Test criteria can include accuracy, speed, clarity of thought, understanding of the material, and any other criteria that are specific to the instructional content. When these criteria are established early in the instructional design process, they provide a consistent way of measuring learning outcomes.

#37 – Summative Evaluation

Summative evaluation is a tool to measure the performance of a program and determine whether it achieved its desired goals. It’s typically conducted at the end of a course or program and focuses on measuring learning outcomes and objectives that have been set by the instructional designer.

The evaluation involves assessing how well the course or program was designed, delivered, received by learners, and met the learning objectives. This feedback can help instructional designers improve existing courses and create new ones.

#36 – Voiceover Script

A voiceover script is a written document that contains spoken words for use is video development. It gives direction to the voice artist (or narrator) about what to say into the microphone for audio recording.

With video development rapidly growing, it’s important for all instructional designers to know how to write a good voiceover script. These are used frequently to create training videos of all types. You will often work closely with the expert to write a compelling and effective script for learning.

#35 – Storyboard

A storyboard is a sequential, visual representation of the components and structure of a learning experience.

Highly visual, a storyboard helps plan the entire experience from start to finish before any development begins. It helps designers organize their thoughts, plan out visuals, create content relationships, and ensure that all elements work together effectively towards the same learning goal.

Storyboards are an important artifact to share with stakeholders throughout the instructional design process. They allow everyone to see how the course will look, what visuals will be used, and where content needs improvement or adjustment.

# 34 – Mobile Learning

Mobile learning refers simply to the use of mobile devices to deliver educational content. This includes any device with an internet connection, such as smartphones and tablets.

The main benefit of mobile learning is that it allows learners to access educational content wherever they are located and at their own convenience. They can learn on the bus, at home, or on the job.

Mobile learning is becoming increasingly popular in instructional design due to its ability to provide engaging, interactive experiences with educational content. Examples of mobile-friendly activities include video lectures, quizzes, simulations, and interactive games.

#33 – Learner Analysis

Learner analysis is a part of the instructional design process that involves gathering and analyzing information about the learners. This often means researching people’s backgrounds, knowledge levels, needs, skills, interests, and goals.

The outputs of a learner analysis help instructional designers make decisions about the optimal content type and media mix for optimal learning and success.

A traditional learner analysis would include surveys, interviews, and focus groups with the target audience to gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. However, most often instructional designers only have access to limited information, such as historic data or anecdotal trends. Your job is to create a learner analysis with the best resources you have available.

#32 – Video Editing

Video is one of the most popular content formats for online training. As an instructional designer, this trend is important to recognize as your company or clients may ask you to create videos.

In instructional design, video editors are usually tasked with creating videos that help learners understand and retain complex topics, especially for software training videos. Editing involves cutting and rearranging footage to produce a desired effect or outcome. It also includes creating graphics, adding audio and music, color-correcting footage, and more.

But wait! Before you get to the editing process, remember that effective videos require significant planning. Make sure you’ve followed a sound video development process from the beginning.

Video content will continue to be popular for a while. Having a few editing skills can help elevate your training content, helping you create engaging and effective videos for learning.

#31 – Job Aid

A job aid is a tool that helps learners perform tasks more quickly and accurately. Commonly used in the workplace, job aids provide step-by-step instructions on how to complete specific tasks or processes. They are generally designed in the form of checklists, diagrams, flowcharts, or other graphical formats.

In instructional design, job aids are a useful tool for helping learners remember key points or processes. They can also help reduce the amount of time needed to complete tasks by providing clear instructions. Effectively designed job aids can help reduce errors and improve efficiency.

#30 – User Experience

User experience (UX) is not only for software development. It’s also an important aspect of instructional design. User experience refers to the overall feeling and experience that an individual has when interacting with a product or system. In instructional design, you’ll often hear discussion of the user experience (or UX) of a course or training.

A good user experience should be intuitive, easy to navigate, and visually appealing. Instructional designers should take into account the size of text, colors used, layout design, navigation structure, and more.

#29 – Training

Okay, this one’s pretty basic, but it’s an essential term you’ll hear all the time.

Training is a set of educational experiences that help learners acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes. You’ll often hear training used as a product offering (ie. She completed the training.)

Instructional designers create training. They determine how a training should be built and the factors that will help learners be successful in the training (learning objectives, assessment strategies, etc.).

#28 – SCORM

SCORM is an acronym that stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. It is a set of technical standards that define how eLearning content can be published and consumed by different Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Simply said, SCORM is a file package type used to export and upload eLearning content online. It sets the rules for creating, packaging, and delivering digital learning content so it can interact with various systems.

You’ll often hear people asking if a course is “SCORM compliant.” This just means they’re asking if the course is available in a package they can upload to their system. There are different versions of SCORM, so if you’re focusing on developing eLearning, it’s a good word to learn more about.

#27 – Train the Trainer

“Train the Trainer” is an instructional design approach that focuses on equipping trainers with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively deliver training. It involves teaching a small group of individuals who will become the trainers for larger groups of learners.

This method enables companies to train their staff in less time and cost, as well as create a cadre of expert trainers to quickly respond to any training needs.

#26 – Content Authoring Tool

A content authoring tool is software used to create digital learning materials. Many authoring tools include features such as text editors, image editing capabilities, animation tools, audio recording, and multimedia elements.

Content authoring tools simplify the process of content development, allowing instructional designers to produce high-quality content quickly and efficiently.

The four most popular content authoring tools to know are Storyline 360, Rise 360, Captivate, and Evolve.

#25 – Implementation

Implementation is the process of putting into practice what has been planned, designed, and developed in instructional design. It involves making sure that the training materials are ready to be used, disseminated, and delivered by the trainers. The goal of implementation is to ensure that the instructional materials are meeting their intended learning objectives and outcomes for learners.

It is important to properly implement a training program because it ensures that the preparation and planning stages have been successful. Implementation also allows instructional designers to evaluate their work and identify any errors or issues before they become major problems. The implementation phase involves setting up the technology and materials, testing out scenarios, and troubleshooting any technical difficulties.

#24 – Training Needs Assessment

A Training Needs Assessment is a tool to identify gaps between an organization’s desired performance level and the current performance of its employees. It helps identify the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to improve employee performance in order to meet organizational objectives.

This tool helps identify the appropriate training solution for a particular situation or organizational problem. The training needs assessment process includes determining the type of training needed, who should receive it, how it will be delivered, and what outcomes are expected.

#23 – Self-paced Learning

Self-paced learning is a type of eLearning that allows learners the freedom to progress through the material at their own speed. A common synonym for self-paced learning is “on-demand learning” or “on-demand training.”

Self-paced learning content is often a mix of text, images, video, and audio where a learner can absorb on their own, with no human instruction.

This type of learning is ideal for those who have busy schedules and need to be able to control their own pace of study. This type of learning gives learners autonomy by allowing them to choose when, where, and how long they spend on a particular subject.

#22 – Branching Scenario

A branching scenario is a type of interactive learning experience in which the learner chooses their own path. This type of instruction encourages learners to think and explore, rather than just follow pre-defined steps or rules. By presenting different scenarios, learners can test their understanding of a concept and make decisions based on the information they are given.

Branching scenarios are used in a variety of instructional design contexts, from educational video games to corporate training programs. They provide an engaging and interactive learning experience that allows learners to think critically about the topic at hand.

#21 – SAM

SAM is an acronym for Successive Approximation Model, an instructional design model created by Dr. Mortimer Adler in the 1950s. The SAM model is based on a simple and straightforward concept: learning occurs through successive approximations of a desired behavior or outcome.

In SAM, instructors and instructional designers identify the desired outcome or behavior, then break it down into smaller components that can be learned step-by-step. Learners are provided with feedback and support throughout the entire process in order to help them learn more effectively.

This model is often used in corporate training programs, as it allows instructional designers to provide just-in-time learning experiences that are tailored to the learners’ needs. It also provides a method of assessing learner progress and success.

#20 – Evaluation

Evaluation is the process of assessing learner progress and the effectiveness of a learning experience. It helps determine if learning objectives have been achieved.

Why is evaluation important? Because it provides feedback and data that can be used to improve the design of a course or training solution. Through evaluation, instructional designers gain valuable insights into learner performance, which can help inform future designs. It also helps ensure quality control and allows for the assessment of program effectiveness.

#19 – Prototype

A prototype is an early version of a product. It allows designers and stakeholders to test and evaluate a product before it goes into full production.

Prototypes serve as a proof-of-concept, providing an opportunity to determine the effectiveness of a particular design or solution without having to commit time and resources. They are often used in technology, such as software or hardware design, but may also apply to creative industries such as instructional design.

Developing a prototype in instructional design allows your team to evaluate design decisions and make adjustments before the full product is built. It helps identify any potential problems that may arise during development, allowing you to address them before they become an issue. The best prototypes are iterative and testable, allowing designers and stakeholders to quickly implement changes as needed.

#18 – Engagement

Engagement is a key concept in instructional design. It refers to the level of interest and involvement that learners have with a given course or training solution. Engaging content helps create an environment of learning that is enjoyable and motivating for learners.

Engagement also encourages retention, as learners will be more likely to remember the material.

How is engagement measured in instructional design? Engagement can be measured by click rate, time on task, page views, and completion rates. These metrics can provide valuable insight into how learners are responding to the learning experience.

#17 – Facilitator (aka Trainer or Instructor)

A facilitator, also known as a trainer or instructor, is responsible for delivering educational materials and guiding individuals through the learning process. They are usually subject matter experts in their field who have extensive knowledge of the topic being taught.

Facilitators are essential to successful instructional design. They are responsible for creating an environment that is conducive to learning, providing guidance and feedback when needed, and motivating learners to stay engaged and interested in the material. Through their expertise and experience, facilitators can help ensure that learners receive effective instruction and understand the material being taught.

#16 – Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning, also called “sync” learning, is an instructional format where learners and instructors interact in real-time. Traditional classroom learning is considered synchronous learning. This form of learning can also take place online through video conferencing, webinars, live chat, or virtual classrooms.

Digital synchronous learning has become increasingly popular as technology advances, making it easier to connect learners located all over the world. Sync learning allows for interactive activities such as group discussions and online quizzes that can help create a more engaging learning experience. It gives instructors the opportunity to build relationships with their students and provide real-time support when needed.

#15 – Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning, or “async” learning, is a form of instruction that does not require the students and instructors to be online at the same time. It typically involves pre-recorded lectures, readings, exercises, and other materials that learners can access whenever they have time. Asynchronous learning allows learners to progress through course material independently at their own pace.

Asynchronous learning is becoming increasingly popular for its flexibility, allowing learners to access and complete coursework from anywhere in the world at any time. This type of instruction also allows instructors to reach a wider audience since they don’t have to be physically present with each student. Asynchronous learning can be used in combination with synchronous learning to create a more varied and interactive course experience.

#14 – Blended Learning

Blended learning is an instructional approach that combines traditional face-to-face instruction with online activities. You can think of it as a “blend” of synchronous and asynchronous learning.

This format allows instructors to have the best of both worlds – they can engage and interact with students synchronously, and assign videos or articles asynchronously.

Blended learning can take many forms, such as having students attend traditional classes combined with supplemental online material or completing coursework both in the classroom and at home. Blended learning can also involve mixing different modes of instruction, such as discussion forums and video lectures.

#13 – VILT

Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) is a type of instructional design that allows for real-time instruction and collaboration between learners and instructors, without the need for physical classroom space.

Through video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, VILT enables virtual classrooms in which learners can engage with their instructor and each other in real time. This type of training is good for flexibility and cost savings, as it eliminates the need for costly travel expenses associated with traditional face-to-face instruction.

VILT also allows instructors to create more engaging learning experiences with interactive activities such as group discussions, roleplay exercises, video recordings, and breakout sessions. The use of digital whiteboards and visuals can also help capture learners’ attention and facilitate more effective learning.

#12 – ILT

Drop the V and you get ILT. Instructor-led training (ILT) is a type of instructional design that involves a traditional face-to-face classroom setting. Most grade school classes are ILTs, where an instructor (teacher) facilitates a curriculum in-person.

The instructor, usually an expert in the subject matter, leads a group of learners through the course material by delivering lectures and leading discussions. ILT can be used for both small and large groups, with each student getting individual attention and support as needed.

#11 – Behavior

Behavior in instructional design refers to the actions and processes learners are meant to achieve when they complete a course or training program. Every learning program is trying to change a behavior or thought process.

These behaviors could include cognitive activities such as problem solving, decision making, and critical thinking; psychomotor activities such as experimentation and practice; and affective activities such as self-confidence and motivation.

#10 – Task Analysis

Task analysis is a process that involves breaking down a complex task into simpler, more manageable components. It helps learners understand the different steps involved in a task and how they must be performed to achieve successful outcomes.

The goal of task analysis is to create a clear understanding of the skills required for successful performance and to develop a logical sequence of instruction that can be used to deliver the content. It is typically done in two stages: analyzing the task itself and then designing an instructional plan that addresses each step.

#9 – eLearning

eLearning (or electronic learning) refers to any type of learning that is done through digital media. This means online courses, self-guided tutorials, virtual classrooms, video content and more.

The main benefit of eLearning is its flexibility. Learners can access course materials at their own pace, and from the comfort of their own home. It also provides cost savings for organizations as its typically lower cost to create and maintain.

As an instructional designer, you may be asked to build an eLearning course. For this, you’ll want to use an authoring tool like Rise 360, Storyline 360, Captivate, or Evolve.

#8 – Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies refer to the approach and method used by instructional designers to create effective learning experiences. They involve a range of techniques and methods for presenting content, engaging learners, and assessing performance. Examples of instructional strategies include problem-based learning, simulations, games, collaborative learning, flipped classrooms and more.

The most effective instructional design use a combination of strategies to ensure that the learning objectives are met. By considering the learners’ current knowledge, skills and abilities, instructional designers can select the best strategies for delivering content in a way that is meaningful and relevant.

#7 – Learning Management System (LMS)

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software platform that provides the tools needed to create, distribute and manage digital learning materials. It serves as an online classroom for both instructors and learners. With an LMS, instructors can create courses, upload course content, host live sessions, assess student progress and track performance data.

The goal of an LMS is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of learning by providing learners with a more engaging and interactive learning experience. It also provides instructors and administrators with better visibility into student progress, allowing them to provide more targeted support when needed.

#6 – Deliverables

In instructional design, a “deliverable” refers to the tangible product that is delivered at the end of a project. This could be a course, a lesson plan, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, an assessment, or any other artifact you deliver.

Deliverables provide evidence that the instructional design process was successful and serve as proof that the goals and objectives of a project were achieved. They also act as important reference materials for other stakeholders, helping them understand the decisions made during the design process.

#5 – Content Development

Content development is an integral part of instructional design. It involves the process of creating content that supports learning objectives and meets the needs of learners. The word “content” is used to refer to any type of learning material: text, images, audio, video, and any other type of resource created for a learning experience.

Not all instructional designers develop content. Some specialize in the early phases of the design process only. While it’s is not always a requirement for instructional design jobs, content development is a valuable skillset that can take you further in your career. You can build skills in writing, video development, or eLearning tools like Articulate Storyline.

#4 – Subject Matter Expert (SME)

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is an individual with expert knowledge in a particular subject. They play an important role in instructional design, as they provide insight and expertise that is converted into instructional materials.

SMEs serve as a resource to answer questions from the design team during development and beyond. Ultimately, SMEs are responsible for ensuring that the content is accurate and doesn’t have any gaps. As the instructional designer, your goal is to have a strong relationship with your SMEs to ensure you can get the information you need.

#3 – Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are statements about what a learner should be able to do upon completing a course. By clearly stating what is expected of learners, they provide guidance to instructional designers on how to design effective instruction.

Learning objectives should be measurable and specific, so that it is clear when the learning objectives are achieved. They should also be closely aligned with lesson plans and assessments to ensure that course materials are properly developed and that learners are able to demonstrate their understanding.

Here are two examples of learning objectives for a course about making sandwiches:

  • At the end of this course, learners will be able to list and explain the necessary steps for making a sandwich.
  • At the end of this course, learners will be able to identify the appropriate ingredients needed for different types of sandwiches.

#2 – Instructional Design

Okay, maybe this is cheating…but every instructional designer needs to know what instructional design is.

Instructional design is the process of designing, developing, and delivering learning experiences.

It often involves the development of effective instructional content, materials, activities, assessments, and strategies which can be used in a teaching environment.

A successful instructional designer will have a deep understanding of how people learn best and be able to create learning experiences that are tailored to the individual needs of learners. Instructional design is a holistic approach to creating effective teaching and learning materials. It considers not only what content needs to be taught, but also how it will be presented, how its relevance can be demonstrated, and how learners will interact with the material.

#1 – ADDIE

While every term on this list in important, we think ADDIE is the #1.

ADDIE is a common framework for instructional design that stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. It is used to plan, create and evaluate effective learning experiences.

Why is ADDIE important? Because it outlines the entire process you’ll follow every time you need to create a new learning experience. It will help you plan and manage every step of the design process to ensure you create the best possible learning experience.

We recommend you spend time learning and practicing ADDIE. Check out our guide to get started.


About the Author:

Andrew DeBell is a learning experience strategist and content developer on the customer education team at Atlassian. Connect with him on LinkedIn for more.