There are a lot of opinions about how to design quality instruction. New technologies, theories, and processes are continually created and touted as the next greatest thing for instructional designers. And while these new technologies can be powerful, there are a few key instructional strategies that must be implemented to maximize learning effectiveness.

These principles have consistently been shown to increase learning and engagement, but often instructional designers become enamored by the new technologies and fail to implement these strategies effectively. In this post, we will describe these strategies and show how you can use them effectively in your design.

The basic strategies for designing instruction

We can categorize all instructional activities into two basic categories:

  1. Stuff that the Instruction or Instructor does, and
  2. Stuff that the Learner does. Within these categories there are four basic strategies for creating excellent instruction: tell, show, do, and apply.

The Four Basic Strategies for Creating Excellent Instruction

  1. Tell
    The first component of good instruction is the Tell strategy. This is the strategy used to provide the learner with key information related to their learning. Facts, concepts, rules, and procedures can all be conveyed using the Tell strategy. For example, if you were designing instruction to teach customer service representatives how to offer a new product to their existing customers, you would tell them the specific steps they would go through to offer the product and even show a visual outline of the steps.
  2. Show
    The second component of good instruction is the Show strategy. This is the strategy used to demonstrate examples of what you want to teach. In the customer service example, you would show a variety of real examples of an agent offering the product to the learner. You would probably show "non-examples" as well- examples of what not to do when offering the products. These examples will help the learner see how the information you told them is applied.
  3. Do
    After providing a variety of examples, you should provide your learners with the opportunity to Do what you have taught them. In the customer service example, the learners take several calls with actual customers and offer them the product. Trainers and managers listen in on these calls and provide the learners with feedback and guidance. It is important that learners be given plenty of feedback as they apply what they have learned so that they can improve their skills and abilities. As in this example, the is application of the new knowledge should replicate the real-world environment as much as possible to make the learning experience authentic and engaging.
  4. Apply
    The final component is Apply. In this step, learners plan out how they will apply their knowledge in their own environments. In the customer service example, the learners plan out their own personalized scripts for specific situations and set goals for offering and selling products to their clients.

These basic strategies align with several known theories of instruction. For example, they support Merrill's First Principles of Instruction, a well-known theory of instruction that is based on extensive research. Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction also align well with these strategies.

The next time you design a piece of instruction, ask yourself how well you are using these strategies. If you will conscientiously apply them, you will find increased student learning and instructional design effectiveness.