Friday, January 13, 2012

What is the Difference Between Instructional Design, Instructional Science, and Instructional Technology?

What is the difference between instructional design, and instructional technology, and instructional science? There are many different subsets of the field of instructional design, and in this post I will clarify the differences between these different terms.

Science* is "knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study" ( Instructional Science, therefore, is knowledge about instruction and learning and is based on systematic research and study of what works in instruction. Much of this knowledge is produced through research, and practicing instructional designers also acquire useful knowledge through experience.

Instructional Technology is a tool or technology used to aid learning. I perceive three main types of instructional technologies or tools (and describe them in more detail in another post):
  1. Instructional Theory - a set of prescriptions describing what the instruction should be like when it is finished. Instructional theory "offers explicit guidance on how to better help people learn and develop" (Reigeluth, 1999; also, see Wikipedia's article on Instructional Theory).
  2. Instructional Design Process - systematic guidance on specific steps or phases to follow to help ensure that the instruction is of high quality. Examples include the ADDIE Model and the Dick & Carey Model (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2006). Both of these are briefly described in Wikipedia's article here.
  3. Physical Technologies and Tools - physical objects used to create and represent the knowledge that is being taught in the instruction. These technologies are be used by the instructional designer to create the instruction.
So then what is Instructional Design? It is the deliberate planning and creation of materials used to provide knowledge to learners. I discuss this in more detail in previous posts entitled What is Instructional Design part 1 and What is Instructional Design part 2.

A degree in instructional design is different than a degree in instructional technology. Clearly there is a lot of overlap, but different programs have different emphases. I earned a master's degree in instructional technology, so in my courses we spent a fair amount of time focusing on the tools. In contrast, a degree in instructional systems design might place more emphasis on the instructional design process. I currently teach in the Master Program in Instructional Design and Performance Technology at Franklin University. This program focuses more on the design process and on linking design to business results.

*Random side-note: When I think of science, I think about 10th grade chemistry class. I thought the girl in front of me was really cute, so that was where my mind was, a lot of the time. The teacher did a bunch of experiments with test tubes and bunsen burners and by the end of the class, I knew two things: (1) there is a periodical table of the elements and (2) I was too scared to even talk to the cute girl.


Dick, W. O., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2005). The systematic design of instruction (6 ed.): Pearson/Allyn &; Bacon.

Reigeluth, C.M. (1999). What is instructional design theory? In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.) Instructional design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2, pp. 5-29). Manwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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