Design Principles

According to Little (2015), good instructional design is rooted in three different areas of educational psychology, behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, and constructivism.

Behavioral Psychology

In behavioral psychology, we at “repetition and reinforcement in learning material” (Little, 2015). In the online environment, this repetition comes from consistency in layout from module to module. Additionally, we look for repetition of tasks such as read, watch, discuss. Good instructional design develops a rhythm for the learner as they move through a course. This rhythm quickly comforts the learner and increases student success (Trammel, Morgan, Davies, Petrunich-Rutherford, & Herold, 2018).

Venn diagram on information regarding the Community of Inquiry Cognitive Psychology

With Cognitive Psychology, we are looking at ways to engage actively with learners in the learning process through the development of presence. Stavredes (2011) identifies three areas of presence in online courses based on Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) Community of Inquiry (see Figure 1). These three types of presence are cognitive, social, and instructor. Developing and reinforcing all three types of presence greatly enhances the learner experience.


The constructivist approach looks to build knowledge of new concepts by designing instructional components that help students connect personal experiences to the content. By making the content relatable, the student experience is enhanced. Strategies to accomplish this include scaffolding the learning process throughout the semester beginning with low-level cognitive tasks (see information on Blooms Taxonomy and Alignment) and proceeding through higher-level cognitive tasks. Other strategies include journaling, blogs, case studies, and team-based learning (TBL).



Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Little, B. (2015, June 12). Principles of instructional design [Web log post]. (Link)

Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Trammell, B. A., Morgan, R. K., Davies, W., Petrunich-Rutherford, M. L., & Herold, D. S. (2018). Creating an online course shell: Strategies to mitigate frustration and increase success across multiple campuses. Scholaship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 4(3), 164-180.