(An encyclopedia of Instructional Design & Technology Terms)

This collection of terms is a collaborative effort of IDT professionals in the field from across the U.S. and Canada. While every effort has been made to only draw upon sources that are within the public domain, if you believe any definition below infringes on someone else’s work, please notify us immediately.

In addition, if you believe a term is missing from the IDTopedia or if you would like to suggest a better definition for a term, please submit your comment or suggestion via our Contact Us form..


Activity: A sub-set of a course which represents a single training task that a learner must complete in order to fulfill the overall learning objective(s). Activities are uniquely named and classified by their activity type. The most common activity types are ILT, WBT, and Blended.

ADDIE Model: Probably the most popular of all ID models, dozens of other models are based upon this more generic version. ADDIE consists of five phases:

  • Analysis:
  • Design:
  • Development:
  • Implementation:
  • Evaluation:

Apprenticeship Training: Passing knowledge or a skill set on to the learner through the use of hands-on activities or observations. The learner typically works side by side with a Subject Matter Expert in a real world environment with a mentor/mentee relationship. Example: On-the-job training (OJT).

Assessment: A process whereby a learner’s progress is systematically measured and then evaluated using a set of questions, activities, case studies, and/or simulations.

Asset: A resource such as a video, audio, document, or other content resource. (It may also be referred to as an artifact.)

Assimilation: Taking in new information or experiences and incorporating them into the learner’s existing knowledge or skill set.

Asynchronous Learning: A learning environment where participants are not interacting at the same time. This typically refers to an online environment where the learning is self-paced, allowing learners to customize their own learning schedules.


Blended Activity: A structured learning activity that is offered in two or more delivery methods. This typically includes an activity that has an in-class component as well as a computer or web-based component.

Bloom’s Taxonomy: A classification of learning objectives which are divided into three domains: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor.


Coaching Guide: A resource developed for a facilitator (instructor, mentor, etc.) to use as part of a training course. May contain talking points, activities, and other useful tools to assist the instructor in training the learner.

Cognitive Apprenticeship: A learning theory which is derived from Situated Learning and Social Constructivism. Masters of a skill strive to place learners (i.e., Apprentices) in real-world scenarios that utilize tools such as modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflection, articulation, and exploration in order to reproduce the desired skill.

Collaborative Learning: A situation where two or more learners attempt to learn something together. Can result in a synergistic effect (the combined outcome is greater than individual efforts).

Computer-based Training (CBT): Training that is conducted with the learner stationed at a computer station. It typically differs from Web-Based Training (WBT) in that the training content is delivered via a non web-based resource such as a CD, DVD, or stored files on a local hard drive.

Cognitive Strategy: An instructional approach which emphasizes the development of thinking skills and processes as a means to enhance learning.

Constructivism: A popular learning theory that emphasizes the responsibility for learning rests mainly on the learner who plays an active role in the learning process.

Content Analysis
: Performed in order to properly review and categorize the content that is being covered. The process to develop this analysis entails sorting and breaking chunks of information up into more manageable portions. This analysis will also assist in developing Learning Objectives for the learner.

Content Domain Analysis: Identifies whether the main purpose of instructional content is to change the learners’ cognitive, emotional, or physical status. This analysis is performed near the beginning of the design process since the instructional strategy will vary based upon the type of content.

Content Repository: A single, centralized location for managing and maintaining online resources and assets.

Curriculum/Curricula: A combination of courses and activities that meets the needs of a targeted audience of learners.

Curriculum Map: A document that represents the framework and sequencing of the activities developed to address a specific role.


Design Brief: A written document sometimes created during the Design Phase of an ID project. This document is typically focused on the desired results of the project design, not in the aesthetics.

Delivery System: Means by which instruction is transferred from the instructor to the learner.

Demonstration: Typically an exercise whereby the learner exhibits their knowledge of a particular topic by going through a series of steps or processes.

Dick & Carey: Walter Dick and Lou Carey developed the Systems Approach Model which views instruction as an entire system, focusing on the interrelationship between context, content, learning and instruction.

Distance Learning: Sometimes referred to as eLearning. Typically consists of instruction that is delivered via the Internet or other computer-based system.


eLearning: A generic term used to describe any education or training that is delivered virtually. This can include both computer and web-based training.

Enabling Objective: Specifies what the learner is to accomplish at any point during a course after s/he receives specific training.

End User: Refers to the targeted audience of learners who will be using the training resources.

Extrinsic Motivation: Refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, which then contradicts intrinsic motivation.


Facilitator: A person who manages a process of information exchange. Organizations sometimes use the term in lieu of Instructor or Trainer.

Flowchart: A type of diagram that represents a process, showing activities or events as boxes of various shapes. They are typically ordered by connecting arrows or lines. Flowcharts are useful when developing Information Maps or Storyboards.

Flowcharting: A tool for analysing processes. It allows one to break any process down into individual events or activities and to display these in a visual format showing the logical relationships between them.

Formative Evaluation: A technique used for assessing the project during the development phase in order to ensure that instructional goals are being achieved. This allows for revisions and improvements while development of the curricula is on-going.


Gagné, Robert: An American educational psychologist (1916-2012) who is best known for his theory on Conditions of Learning which states that different types of learning exist and that different instructional conditions are most likely to bring about these different types of learning. He is widely considered to be the father of Instructional Design.

Graphical User interface (GUI): A technical term that refers to the way in which information on a computer screen is presented using pictures and icons.


Information Maps: Diagrams that visually represent the way topics and concepts are related and organized. They are used to understand and handle complex information, to generate ideas, to plan and to organize. the six most common information types are:

  • Concept
  • Fact
  • Principle
  • Procedure
  • Process
  • Structure

Information Mapping: A technique that divides and labels information to facilitate comprehension, use, and recall.

Internalized Motivation: See Intrinsic Motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation: Refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic motivation is based on taking pleasure in an activity rather than working towards an external rewarard.

Instructional Methods: The manner in which instruction is delivered from the instructor to the learner.

Instructional Sequencing: The order by which instructional tasks and activities are carried out.

Instructional Strategies: The methods by which the content and skills are transferred from the instructor to the learner.

Instructor-Led Training: Instruction that is delivered in a face-to-face environment such as a classroom or training lab.


Job Aid: A resource that supports the learning process. Examples: Books, a how-to manual, etc.


Kirkpatrick’s Four level Evaluation Model: Donald Kirkpatrick developed a four level model to measure the effectiveness of the training programs:

  • Level One (Reaction): Measures the reaction of participants towards the training?
  • Level Two (Learning): Measures what participants have learned from the training.
  • Level Three (Behavior): Measures changes in job performance resulting from the training.
  • Level Four (Results): Measures benefits to the organization as a result of the training (e.g., ROI, CBA, etc.).


Learner: Targeted audience for instruction.

Learner Analysis: Conducted before the design of the training program. Assesses characteristics of the targeted group of learners in order to tailor the curriculum and delivery method(s) to best suit their learning needs.

Learner Centric: The instructor acts as a facilitator and provides the tools necessary for the learner to self discover. Students are active participants in the learning process. Examples of instructional methods:

  • Problem-based learning:
  • Simulations:
  • Role-playing:

Learner Guide: A document or tool that directs the learner through a course or module.

Learning Environment: The setting in which learning take place. This can be either a physical or a virtual environment.

Learning Management System (LMS): A software application/system that provides for the administration, storage, and delivery of training programs. LMSs are often accessed via the Internet or internal network.

Learning Objectives: A statement that describes specifically what a learner will be able to do as a result of learning. (Sometimes referred to as Learning Outcomes.)

Learning Outcome(s): A statement that describes specifically what a learner will be able to do as a result of learning. (Sometimes referred to as Learning Objectives.)

Learning Theory: Describes how information is absorbed, processed, and retained.


Motor Skills: A learned sequence of movements that combine to produce a smooth, efficient action in order to master a particular task.

Multimedia: A combination of graphics, video, audio, etc. For the purposes of Instructional Design, it is typically used to create a more engaging and dynamic learning environment.


Needs Assessment: A systematic process for determining and addressing the needs of the learner. It is typically completed during the Analysis phase of the process.

Nine Events of Instruction: as theorized by Robert Gagné, it posits that learning is a step-by-step process. Each step must be accomplished before the next in order for learning to take place.

  1. Gain Attention: To ensure reception of coming instruction, the instructor gives the learners a stimulus. Before the learners can start to process any new information, the instructor must gain the attention of the learners. This might entail using abrupt changes in the instruction.
  2. Inform Learners of Objectives: The instructor tells the learner what they will be able to do because of the instruction. The teacher communicates the desired outcome to the group.
  3. Stimulate Recall of Prior Learning: The instructor asks for recall of existing relevant knowledge.
  4. Present the Stimulus: The instructor gives emphasis to distinctive features.
  5. Provide Learning Guidance: The instructor helps the students in understanding (semantic encoding) by providing organization and relevance.
  6. Elicit Performance: The instructor asks the learners to respond, demonstrating learning.
  7. Provide Feedback: The  instructor gives informative feedback on the learners’ performance.
  8. Assess Performance: The instructor requires more learner performance, and gives feedback, to reinforce learning.
  9. Enhance Retention and Transfer: The instructor provides varied practice to generalize the capability.


Participant: A term used by some organizations in lieu of Student or Learner.

Performance Analysis:  The analysis conducted in order to make improvements or correct a problem that already exists. It is a specific, performance-based needs assessment technique that precedes any design or development activities by analyzing the performance problems of a targeted audience of learners.

Performance-based Learning: Emphasizes the learner gaining proficiency in one or more selected tasks.

Performance Discrepancy: The difference between desired or expected performance and actual performance.

Podcast: A type of audio file that is made available via the Internet or organizational network.

Post-test: An assessment given to the learner at some point after training to gauge the knowledge of the learner on a given topic. Can be used in conjunction with a pre-test.

Pre-test: An assessment given to the learner before training to gauge present knowledge. This information can be used to adapt the training for the learner. It can also be used, in conjunction with a post-test, to gauge the effectiveness of the training.

Prototype: Working model of a new product or new version of an existing product. Within the field of IDT, typically refers to an eLearning resource.


Rapid Prototyping: The most popular alternative to the ADDIE Model. Some steps and processes are combined to reduce the time and energies required to develop a training curriculum.

Response Shift Bias: A change in the targeted learner’s metric for answering questions from the pre test to the post test due to a new understanding of a concept being taught.

Reusable Learning Object (RLO): Object or set of resources that can be used for facilitating intended learning outcomes, and can be extracted and reused in other learning environments. Often associated with elearning resources that can be used in multiple learning environments.


Scaffolding: Layering and overlapping previously learned content with new material to both reinforce the earlier learning and to contextualize the new content.

Scenario-based Learning: Places the learner in a situation whereby s/he must apply relevant knowledge and skills to resolve a real-world problem. (Is grounded in Situated Learning Theory.)

SCORM (Shared Content Object Reference Model): A set of technical standards for developing e-learning content. It is considered the industry standard for e-learning compatibility, especially as it relates to online learning and Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

Self-Paced Learning: Learner determines the pace that s/he completes reading, testing, or other instructional assignments. Typically, the learner completes a course or module at their own pace but within a fixed timeframe or deadline.

Simulations: A learning environment that is designed to model one or more real scenarios. Typically incorporates interactive multimedia components.

Source File: An editable version of a published asset.

Storyboard: A planning tool used to visually “sketch out” the actions of a learning activity. Designers typically storyboard a course during the Design phase and can use such aids as a flowchart, an information map, or even sketches on a piece of paper in order to design the flow of the course or activity.

Subordinate Skill: The supporting information or knowledgebase that learners need to be able to perform a higher level skill or function. Also known as a prerequisite or enabling skill.

Subordinate Skills Analysis: The process of analyzing each goal step and corresponding substeps to determine what prerequisite skills or knowledge are required to be able to adequately perform that step.

Subordinate Task(s): One or more tasks or steps that must first be achieved before a higher level task can be accomplished.

Subject Matter Expert (SME): A person who has mastery of a particular subject or topic.

Summative Evaluation: An assessment conducted after the completion of training in order to determine the ultimate effectiveness of such training on the learner.

Synchronous Learning: Takes place when two or more participants participate in the learning process at the same time. Communication methods between learners can vary but must be live (real time).

Systems Approach Model: (Dick & Carey) Views instruction as an entire system, focusing on the interrelationship between context, content, learning and instruction.


Takeaway: Conclusion of topics covered during a meeting or class session. May include a list of action points (i.e., “to-do’s”) for participants.

Task Inventory: Consists of all the tasks that are required in order to accomplish a desired function, role, or outcome. Each and every task performed by the learner must be listed on the task inventory. It also provides information about the skills, knowledge, and abilities required to perform the desired outcome.

Terminal Objective: Specifies what the learner is to accomplish by the end of a course.


User Interface: The point where human and machine interaction occurs. This interaction can be performed by use of both hardware and/or software components.


Virtual Classroom: A method of instructional delivery whereby and instructor communicates with learners via the Internet. The use of such programs as Adobe Connect can allow for video conferencing, simulations and other learning aids to be used within a virtual learning environment.

Vodcast: A type of podcast file that also contains video.


Web-based Training (WBT): Training that is delivered online over the web or an organization’s internal computer network.

Workbook: A learning aid designed to provide the learner with questions, exercises, and simulations that reinforce the learning objective(s).

Useful Articles

7 Top Tips For Effective eLearning Voice Overs

April 24, 2015
How To Create Engaging And Effective eLearning Voice Overs (p. March 13th, 2015)

Instructional Designers by the Numbers

April 19, 2015
CNN Money says that being an Instructional Designer is the 38th best job in America. (p. March 19th, 2015)

Topics covered:
- Job Growth Over Next 10 Years
- National and Local Salary Averages
- Current Salary Average across the U.S. is $69,800*

Checkout the article for additional information.

*According to