Sequencing and Structuring Learning Activities in Instructional Design

The last step in the design phase is to determine the sequence and structure of the material to ensure the learning objectives are met. A proper sequence provides the learners with a pattern of relationship so that each activity has a definite purpose. The more meaningful the content, the easier it is to learn and, consequently, the more effective the instruction.

Proper sequencing also helps to avoid inconsistencies in the content of the instruction. When material is carefully sequenced, duplication is far less likely. Indeed, the presence of duplication often indicates that the program has not been properly sequenced.

Some of the techniques and considerations used in sequencing are:

If there are several objectives, then they should be organized into clusters that are conductive to learning. Sequencing is the basis for breaking the objectives down into clusters based on the class relationship between them.

If the training program is long, then reinforcement also has to be accounted for. One of the behavioral characteristics of learners indicates that not only is the rate of which people learn must be accounted for, but also the rate of decay that takes place after an objective is mastered must also be accounted for. To account for this decay factor, reinforcement loops must be built into the instructional process.

The decay factor also has to be considered once the learner graduates from the program. If a task is taught in the instructional program and then is not used for some time after the learners return to their duties, then some decay is likely to take place. The remedy for this is to coordinate with the learner's supervisor to ensure the learners perform their newly acquired skills as soon as possible upon returning to the job.

In any instructional program, there is usually a wide variety of abilities among the learners. Some will have extensive experience, while others are somewhat limited. The educational background may extend from high school dropout to college graduate. Many other variables will affect the progression and productivity of the learners. Provisions must be made to compensate for these differences.

In a self-paced course, extra modules can help the learners that are having difficulties. In a lock-step course, additional instruction, reading assignments, or study halls may be required to keep the slower learners on pace with the other learners.

The product of the sequencing step should be a learning map that shows the proposed layout of the objectives. An example is shown below.

learning map


Why Ed Wood is Not an Instructional Designer

Ed Wood (directing, observed by the film's financial backer): “Cut! Print! That was perfect!”

Backer: “Perfect? Mr. Wood, don't you know anything about the art of film production?”

Ed Wood: “Well, I like to think so!”

Backer: “That cardboard headstone fell over — this graveyard is obviously phony!”

Ed Wood: “No one will ever notice! Film-making is not about the little details. It's all about the big picture!”

Backer: “The big picture? Then how come a few minutes ago this scene was set in the daytime but now it's suddenly night?”

Ed Wood: “What do you know? Haven't you ever heard of suspension of disbelief?”

Unlike Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, learning needs to be performed in planned sequences so that the learners do not become utterly confused.

Next Steps

Return to the Table of Contents

Pages in the Design Phase


U.S. Army Field Artillery School (1984). A System Approach To Training. ST - 5K061FD92

U.S. Department of Defense Training Document (1975). Pamphlet 350-30. August, 1975.