Roots and Connections of ISD - 1940s to 1960s

While Ludwig von Bertalanffy created the general systems theory in the 1950's, it took several others to create a few basic instructional, learning, and training concepts that tied system theory to the ISD or ADDIE model that we know today.

Robert Gagnè - Instruction Design - 1965

The direct theoretical basis of ADDIE or ISD is the cognitive theory of Robert Gagnè in that it classified learning outcome into five domains of learning (Hannum, 2005; Gagnè, Briggs, 1974):

In addition, Gagnè's Nine Steps of Instruction's provides ISD with instructional techniques::

  1. Gain attention: Present a problem or a new situation.

  2. Inform learner of Objective - Allows the learners to organize their thoughts and around what they are about to see, hear, and/or do.

  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge. Allows the learners to build on their previous knowledge or skills.

  4. Present the material - Chunk the information to avoid memory overload and blend the information to aid in information recall.

  5. Provide guidance for learning - This is not the presentation of content, but rather the instructions on how to learn.

  6. Elicit performance - Practice by letting the learner do something with the newly acquired behavior, skills, or knowledge.

  7. Provide feedback - Show correctness of the learner's response, analyze learner's behavior.

  8. Assess performance - Test to determine if the lesson has been learned.

  9. Enhance retention and transfer - Inform the learner about similar problem situations, provide additional practice, put the learner in a transfer situation, review the lesson.

B.F. Skinner - Behaviorism and Programmed Instruction - 1940s

While ISD is now mainly based on cognitive theory as noted above, it still somewhat influenced by behaviorism. Although John B. Watson founded behaviorism, B. F. Skinner refined and popularized it. His book, Walden Two, shows how behaviorism's principles could be applied to society. His later book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, is an analysis of culture and becomes a best seller.

Skinner's main principle, operant conditioning differs from classical conditioning in that operant conditioning applies to voluntary behavior, while classical conditioning applies to reflexes. Its influence on ISD in that behavior, in this case learning, can be influenced by manipulating the environment. That is, put the correct system or process in place and you can provide an environment for learning.

Skinner's second contribution is programmed learning that is characterized by clearly stated behavioral objectives, small frames of instruction, self-pacing, active learner response to inserted questions, and immediate feedback regarding the correctness of a response. Individualized instruction in essence replaces the trainer with systematic or programmed materials.

Benjamin Bloom - Taxonomy of Intellectual Behaviors - 1956

Bloom's (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is also a popular cognitive theory that is often used by instructional designers.

For more information, see Bloom's taxonomy.

Robert Mager - Learning Objectives - 1962

Robert Mager's (1962) learning objective is perhaps the key cornerstone of ISD as it gives the system a purpose. A learning or performance objectives allows everyone involved with the learning process know what the learners must be able to perform once they have completed the learning process. It is composed of three parts:

Robert Glaser - Testing - 1962

Robert Glaser was the first to use the term criterion-referenced measure. Glaser indicated that such instruments could be used to assess student entry-level behavior and thus, determine the extent to which students had acquired the needed behaviors or objectives. Such measurements not only allowed one to test the learners, but also test the system.

Next Steps

Next Section: Ludwig von Bertalanffy - General System Theory - 1950

Return to: History of Instructional System Design

See the ADDIE Timeline


Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Gagnè, R.M. (1965). The Conditions of Learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Gagnè, R.M. and Briggs, L J. (1974). Principles of Instructional Design (2nd ed.). Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Glaser, R., & Klaus, D. J. (1962). Proficiency Measurement: Assessing Human Performance. In R.M. Gagnès (Ed), Psychological Principles in System Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Hannum, W. (2005). Instructional Systems Development: A 30 Year Retrospective. Educational Technology, 45(4), 5-21.

Mager, R. F. (1962). Preparing Instructional Objectives. Palo Alto, CA: Fearon Publishers.