Learning Theory vs. Instructional Theory vs. Instructional Design Model

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When I was working on my PhD I had a hard time figuring out the difference between an ID model and an ID theory. No-one in my supervisory committee was able to give me an answer that made sense to me. I come from science where theory and model mean something quite different from what they do in Education. They could not explain it to me using the scientific definitions for these terms and there didn’t seem to be a clear distinction between them in education (I’ve talked about this before). It didn’t help that people seem to use the terms ID theory and ID model almost interchangeably.

There are sections in my book that connect learning theories, instructional theories, and instructional design models to game based learning and pedagogy, so I needed to find a way to distinguish these categories that made sense to me.

Here it is in its simplest form:

Learning Theory: Ideas about how people learn.

Instructional (Design) Theory: Ideas about how people should teach.

Instructional Design Model: A recipe for creating an instructional intervention.


Below we have an example of each: Attribution Theory (a learning theory), Discovery Learning (an instructional theory), and ADDIE (an instructional design model, sort of).

Can you see a problem? For one thing, there are instructional theories that have the word “learning” in them rather than instruction, even though they are clearly meant as ways to teach, or at least to organize instruction. There are also a few that seem to fit into multiple categories, but that’s a topic for a different post.

attribution theory

Attribution Theory, Weiner (1974)


Discovery Learning, Bruner (1960)


The ADDIE Model



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Learning Theory vs. Instructional Theory vs. Instructional Design Model — 10 Comments

  1. Pingback: LTEC 5510 W4 Blog – Slush Designs

  2. Thank you so much for your information about that. Would you like to answer what the difference between learning and instruction? With example that support it. Thanks

  3. Pingback: Murky Waters: Learning and Instructional Design Theories and Models | The Becker Blog

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