Instructional Design Documents

The Role of the Design Document

At the end of the instructional design phase, the training specialist writes an instructional design document. This document provides more than just a simple course outline; it provides a high-level overview of the entire training solution.

A training specialist's instructional design document provides detailed instructions on how to build the course, but it doesn't contain any actual course content; it's similar to an architect's blueprint or a software engineer's design document.

Generally, an instructional design document will perform the following tasks:

  • Describe the overall learning approach
  • Identify instructional media choices
  • Cluster and sequence objectives
  • Describe course exercises, activities, and assessments

Together these five elements create the overall instructional strategy for the course. A short course might have a very simple design document, but complex and lengthy courses can have very detailed design documents.

The instructional design serves as a major quality assurance checkpoint. The training specialist and the client discuss and agree to the design before development begins. It's a lot easier to adjust the design than redevelop materials later in the project.

Benefits of the Design Document

ILLAFTrain's training specialists use the instructional design document for four main purposes:

  • Check that the design concepts are cohesive and complete
  • Present the proposed training solution to the client
  • Invite feedback about the design
  • Provide instructions to other training specialists who may work on the development phase of the project

Instructional design documents may also contain additional project-specific elements. For example, if the course has an e-learning element, the instructional designer might describe the interface's appearance and functionality.

Let's take a closer look at each of these four main purposes in greater detail.

Check the Design Concepts and Content

The course's instructional strategy should allow the learners to achieve the course's learning objectives. Once the instructional design document has been written, the training specialist can take a step back and look at the whole design, not just individual pieces. The design document makes it easier to spot areas that have unresolved questions or need additional information.

Present the Proposed Solution

ILLAFTrain's training specialists will present the instructional design document to the client. Often, we'll schedule a meeting or conference call to walk through the course design and explain our choices.

Our instructional designers base their choices on adult learning theories and methodologies, but we ask them to explain their choices in language that makes sense to non-specialists.

If you're not a training specialist, your eyes might glaze over if someone told you how each learning objective links to Robert Gagné's Nine Events of Instruction or Keller's ARCS Model of Motivation. You just want to make sure that the instructional design choices will actually fulfill the learning objectives. We use clear and comprehensible language to explain the choice.

Invite Feedback about the Design

After our training specialists present the instructional design, we ask for feedback from the client. We often collect suggestions from project leaders, leadership champions, subject matter experts, and other stakeholders.

The instructional design document specifies what the final course will be like. It's important to build consensus and agreement before starting course development.

Sometimes, when we walk through the instructional design with the client, we hear someone say, "oh, we really should add . . ." or even "that's been changed . . ." However, that's exactly the feedback we're looking for. It's much easier to revise the instructional design than to revise a fully-developed course.

Provide Instructions to Other Developers

Large training projects often require more than one training specialist. For example, an e-learning project may require a full team of training specialists—instructional designers, graphic artists, storyboard writers, editors, programmers, and voice talent. The instructional design document guides the complex project and allows everyone to be involved with the project's goals and structure.

The instructional design document is part of the ADDIE methodology, but it's also a real-world tool that guides projects and provides a high level of quality assurance. We'll take a closer look at real-world instructional design documents on our instructional design in the workplace page.

Once the client and the training specialist have agreed on the instructional design document, it's time to start creating the course materials. In the next section, we'll look at the ADDIE training development phase.