Reclaiming the Discipline

of Instructional Design

ID2 Research Group
Utah State University

Education and its related disciplines continue to flutter this way and that by every philosophical wind that blows. In an uncertain science and technology, unscientific theories flourish. People are anxious for answers. When answers are slow in coming, uncertain in statement, and difficult to find; then the void is filled with wild speculation and philosophical extremism. This brief statement attempts to make clear that instructional design is a science and technology, to identify some of the assumptions underlying the scientific discipline of instructional design, and to clarify its role in the larger context of education and social change.

The discipline of Instructional Design

Those persons who claim that knowledge is founded on collaboration rather than empirical science, or who claim that all truth is relative, are not instructional designers. They have disassociated themselves from the discipline of instructional design.

Instruction and Learning

Students and Learners

Individual Learning

Knowledge and Skill

Instructional Principles

Many persons associated with educational technology today are engaged in a flight from science. Instructional design is a scientific and technological field. It is not merely philosophy; it is not a set of procedures arrived at by collaboration; it is a set of scientific principles and a technology for implementing these principles in the development of instructional experiences and environments.

Invention and Discovery

The development of instructional design procedures and instructional design tools, the technology portion of instructional design, is invention. The technology of instructional design is not a natural phenomenon. It is man made, designed to serve our needs. Design research involves inventing procedures and processes which incorporate what we learn from instructional science. These instructional design procedures are not governed by any natural laws. They are developed by creative invention to make them work better. However, they must incorporate those scientific principles involved in instructional strategies, just as the invention of the airplane had to incorporate the discovered principles of lift, drag, and flight. It was not until the Wright brothers discovered the correct principles of aerodynamics that they could invent an airplane that would sustain powered flight; it is not until we discover the correct instructional strategies that we can invent instructional design procedures and tools that will promote student learning.


Too much of the structure of educational technology is built upon the sand of relativism, rather than the rock of science. When winds of new paradigms blow and the sands of old paradigms shift; then the structure of educational technology slides toward the sea of constructo-babble. We're tired of the shifting sands of new paradigms and realities. We have drawn a line in the sand. We boldly reclaim the discipline of instructional design that is built upon the rock of science.

M. David Merrill
Leston Drake
Mark J. Lacy
Jean Pratt
ID2 Research Group
Utah State University


The buttons that appear below will be found at the top and bottom of each page of the discussion. The first button will take you back to the previous page (in this case, to the beginning of the ID2 paper). The middle button will take you to the ITForum home page. The last button takes you forward into the discussion as it progressed on-line.