Instructional Design – Is It Any Different for CBT than for the Classroom?

David M. Peter
Program Coordinator – Instructional Design
Texas Engineering Extension Service, Knowledge Engineering Center
DIR Training Expo ’99


The presentation will include an introduction to and applications of the traditional instructional design model to CBT. Specific applications of the model will be discussed for curriculum revision, enhancement and development. Finally, a discussion on advantages and disadvantages of the model will illustrate the flexibility of the model to specific applications.

Introduction – statement of problem

Instructional design principles have served many purposes: traditional instruction, on-the-job training programs. Yet, recently, instructional design has been a key element in the design of computer based training. For the traditional instructional designers, there are little similarities between traditional instruction and computer-based training. Yet, after a careful examination, there are many similarities between the processes, regardless of the product.

Instructional design process

Training, whether it is delivered in a classroom, or on a intranet or internet, is designed to do one thing, teach someone something (Gagne, 1985). And while there may be instructional designers, graphic artists, web developers, database programmers involved in each product, they all follow a similar design structure (Dick & Carey, 1996). For instructional designers, regardless of the delivery medium, the structure is basically the same.

But, before we consider any training, many steps must be completed. First, there should be a need for training. This need can be identified through a task analysis, where individuals are observed in their workplace setting. Perhaps a new piece of equipment has been added, perhaps during a quality review deficiencies have been identified; each of these may indicate a need for training. Employees will be promoted, requiring new job skills; new employees will be hired, requiring entry level skills. For any employer, the key to employee satisfaction is a well-defined career ladder, with appropriate milestones to be reached prior to moving up the ladder.

Training will provide the mechanism to correct any possible situation that might arise. Yet, when the decision to train is made, a subsequent decision should be made, "How will we train them?" This is the decision to present the training in either a more traditional setting, or a computer-based training environment.

While the content for instruction will remain the same regardless of the delivery medium selected, and the process will generally be the same, there are some critical differences between designing instruction for traditional use, and computer-based use. One standard model for instructional design is known by the acronym "ADDIE". ADDIE is a process of Analyzing learners, Designing instruction, Developing instruction, Implementing instruction and Evaluating instruction (Instructional systems development/systems approach to training and education, 1999).

"ADDIE" model


Regardless of the medium, all learners are analyzed, determine their level of expertise (novice, beginning, intermediate, advanced, expert), their background. A needs analysis or simple task analysis determines the need for some sort of training. Also, the analysis phase involves examination of the area that training will occur, classroom, or computer-screen. While these steps are not critical to the design and development, they should be included into any analysis phase. With the analysis phase, some initial determinations will be made as to the potential content or even indications of the structure of the course. Some learners may have an extensive background in the subject, and will only need refresher training. Some, on the other hand, may require a more in-depth and intensive training program, to bring their knowledge base up to an acceptable level for the particular job they may be performing.

The analysis phase will also involve identifying the goals of the educational process. Is there a need to develop a workforce that is technically proficient in their particular job? If this is the case, there is an overwhelming indicator that training, of some sorts, may solve this problem.

The analysis phase can be thought of as identification of the problem. What do we need to do to get better is, by simplistic terms, train the people. Identification of the problem can be a more in-depth problem, relying on many outside sources to validate or clearly identify the problem at hand.


Instructional design, during this phase, attempts to define the learning objectives (What will the students learn? Will the objectives be linked to the goals, identified in the analysis phase), identify assessment elements (how will we know they have learned what we want them to learn? Any assessment must, to be considered valid, be linked to the objectives. As a site note, for training to be "good" it should be based in an authentic setting. Asking students to DO something that they would find as a part of their job will significantly enhance their internal motivation. Objectives will drive instructional content and structure; assessment should come directly from objectives. Students know then that they are evaluated on what they learned, not something completely different, and the beginnings of determining what medium the final product will assume.


For traditional instructional design, the development of lesson plans involves chunking the material into manageable units. For CBT, the development phase will include the development of user interfaces, and decisions on navigational elements. This could be the most labor-intensive section of the design process. The development stage is the actual combination of analysis and design. Here, some ideas that were thought of as key or critical for the success of the project might be significantly revised. This phase provides the opportunity, for the designer and design staff, to see the relationship between analysis and design, and if necessary, revise or reorganize the structure developed in the design phase.

Ideally, many of the problems would be worked out in this phase, before the project is implemented. This phase could consist of alpha and possibly beta testing of the design product. Sections of the design phase, once developed, could be tested here to ensure reliability before proceeding to a combined development with all of the relevant sections of the project.


Regardless of the medium selected, after the analysis phase, the design phase, and the development phase, training is put into use. Designers observe the training, noting any potential areas for improvement or revision. Many instructional units will undergo both an alpha and beta testing, to "iron" out the problems prior to full-scale deployment.


Formative evaluation involves checking the effectiveness of the instructional module. Summative evaluation involves checking the effectiveness of the module on the intended audience.

Instructional Design for CBT and "Traditional Instruction"

Though both products, CBT and traditional instruction, differ in their outward appearances, they are both designed following the similar instructional design processes. While the basic process is similar, certain portion will differ based on the medium selected.

One method that has embraced both products is rapid prototyping. This method, "has been used successfully in software engineering" (Tripp & Bichelmeyer, 1990, p. 31) and "that rapid prototyping is a viable model for instructional design, especially for computer-based instruction" (Tripp & Bichelmeyer, 1990, p. 31).

For both, there is a detailed process, from analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. Traditional instruction and CBT both require a detailed plan, to develop a sound instructional module. CBT, on the other hand, requires much more detail "including a complete sequence of scripts for an entire course, complete with specifications of anticipated responses, procedures for diagnosis, and management" (Venezky & Osin, 1991, p. 97).

Analysis Phase for CBT and Traditional Instruction

Perhaps one of the most important elements for instructional design is the analysis phase. "Analysis is the cornerstone to the SAT process. Job and task analyses identify on-the-job performance. In analysis individual tasks are identified, task lists verified, and tasks selected for training and training locations determined" (Training Development Handbook, 1987, p. iii). There is no significant difference between analysis for CBT and analysis for traditional instruction (Kearsley, 1983). Identification of "job/task analysis, objectives, and lesson specifications are needed to develop effective courseware regardless of what type of CBT is involved" (Kearsley, 1983, p. 105). Any analysis should "identify what has to be taught based on learning deficiencies" (Molina, 1995, p. 27) before proceeding to designing the actual instructional model.

Yet, for CBT, there are some significant differences within the analysis phase. The first, and possibly foremost, are learner limitations. For some, using the computer is filled with problems. "Computer-phobia and user-fatigue are two recent additions to the growing list of human frailties. To be able to accommodate the limitations of the learner is an important element of design" (Ng, 1983, p. 4).

Design Phase for CBT and Traditional Instruction

The design process is by far, the most potentially labor intensive section of instructional design. The design phase, for both products, involves structuring the course based on the learner analysis, for instance. "Instructional strategy and tactics are then designed and a course organization is developed, dividing the knowledge to be taught into sessions, lessons, and (potentially) units. Finally, model lessons are designed and development and evaluation begun" (Venezky & Osin, 1991, p. 116). The identification of tasks from the analysis phase will be incorporated into the design of lesson objectives.

Perhaps one of the most striking similarities is the linking or sequencing of instructional objectives (Cook & Kazlauskas, 1992; Training Development Handbook, 1987). Both products will be based around the notion that the instructional modules must be sequenced in such a way that the learner will build on previous knowledge. There is both an implied and implicit structuring of the lesson modules.

As one would imagine, CBT implies a particular media selected to deliver the training (Kearsley, 1983). Yet, for this process to occur, there are several areas that require attention of the designer: (1) continuity between lesson modules, (2) interaction between the learner and the computer, (3) screen design appropriate not only to the instructional content, but also facilitative of the learning process, (4) use of graphics to illustrate rather than confuse, (5) hardware available for the learner, (6) software, (7) learner’s limitation (8) documentation and packaging (Ng, 1986).

Design, within CBT, carries a certain idea that the product may be created much quicker than traditional instruction (Tripp & Bichelmeyer, 1990). Some will view the medium for CBT as much more conducive to the learning process than traditional instruction (Kearsley, 1983).

Development Phase for CBT and Traditional Instruction

Development, for CBT, is, by the nature of the medium selected, different from development within the traditional sense. One key element within development is user interaction. The nature and extent of interaction depends on the type of CBT, testing, drills, tutorials, simulations, dialogues, simulators, that has been selected (Kearsley, 1983).

The development phase is a culmination of the analysis, design, and development phases. This is the point where the training that has been developed will be done. Students will be assembled, the instruction presented, students evaluated, and then, hopefully, evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction (Training Development Handbook, 1987).

Implementation Phase for CBT and Traditional Instruction

Implementation, for CBT, involves a modified evaluation, in the form of a beta or alpha test. This is where the instruction will be presented to a small group of students; whose progress through the instruction will be monitored (Kearsley, 1983; Venezky & Osin, 1991).

For traditional instruction, the implementation phase may also involve a beta or alpha testing (Training Development Handbook, 1987).

Evaluation Phase for CBT and Traditional Instruction

Both products have evaluation as the main force for any revision of the product (Kearsley, 1983; Training Development Handbook, 1987). There are two forms of evaluation; internal and external. "Internal evaluation determines if the analysis, design, and development documents track and if instruction and testing follow outlined procedures. External evaluation determines if course graduates can perform on the job" (Training Development Handbook, 1987, p. iii).

Applications to technical training

Implementation of process

Need for processprocess for instructional design is crucial to ensure goals and objectives are met. Regardless of medium selected, process is and should be team-centered, form instructional designers, to graphic artists, to assessment specialists. CBT process will be similar, but involve GUI personnel, database programmers, HTML editors.



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