What is an instructional method?

I was recently asked what is an instructional method. This is an incredibly important question especially in higher education where most faculty are experts in their field but have little to no formal instructional-design education or instructional-design experience.

Reigeluth (1999) defines an instructional-design theory (i.e. model) as “a theory that offers explicit guidance on how to better help people learn and develop.”  He goes on to say that one of the characteristics of an instructional-design theory is that it identifies instructional methods and explains conditions where the particular method is most effective. As instructional designers we typically speak at the macro level of our craft (learning theory, instructional design models, and processes), but many in my experience use their intuition in the actual practice, learned and developed from their experiences, rather than explicit instructional methods; they just know what works.

It is tough on new people entering the field. Lack of instructional methods elongates their time-to-competency. It can be very challenging in higher education for the faculty we serve who strive to create effective learning environments for their students. On the other hand, explicit and detailed instructional methods can limit creative ideas; thinking outside of the box. I think the answer is to write instructional methods as design guides with explicit instructions where needed (i.e. how to setup the instruction in a particular learning management system) complemented by thoughtful suggestions and examples allowing the user to adapt the method to their situation.  


Reigeluth tells us that the effectiveness of an instructional method depends on the instructional conditions (the situation and I would include the technology at our disposal) and it is informed by learning theory as well as influenced by values.

A couple of years ago I started posting procedures on our faculty support site for our learning management system. I have since added a knowledge base to my blog site where I can document methods that I successfully used.  Here is an example on using the first-post discussion mode in a discussion forum. Provided are instructions on setting up the discussion forum in Angel with suggestions on how this type of instructional method fits in a larger instructional strategy.

The characteristics of this type of instructional method include:

  • An explanation on how the method can be used; the pedagogy of the method.
  • An example with a sample learning outcome, and an example of the instructional strategy (the method in context of the larger design).
  • Suggestions on how the student may be assessed; for example a grading rubric template may be provided.
  • Instructions on how to setup the method using the technology provided.

I will have plenty of opportunities to improve these methods over the next academic year since they are situational and we just replaced Angel with Canvas :-). 


  1. This is really helpful, Mark!

    I’m interested in obtaining more tools to “put in my toolbelt” ( instructional methods) as well as an explanation of which situations they’d be most helpful in.

    I found a few resources here:

    Which ones stick out to you as being methods that we’d most likely leverge/be most helpful?

    1. http://thetrainingworld.com/faq/indexmethods.htm

    2. How to identify performance gaps- something to use when evaluating what method to use – http://work911.com/products/i-ctrainingneeds.htm

    3. http://www.adprima.com/teachmeth.htm

    4. What to consider when choosing a particular method – http://www.skillsoft.com/assets/white-papers/blended_learning_strategies_wp.pdf

    5. Types of instructional methods – http://faculty.weber.edu/dattig/ResourceTopicIndex/IResourceTopicsList/Instructional%20Methods%20%20Types%20Of.pdf

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