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Clearing the Muddy Waters:
A Response to Barbara Bichelmeyer

Charles M. Reigeluth, Ph.D
Department of Instructional Systems Technology
Indiana University


I wholeheartedly support Barbara Bichelmeyer in her attempts to raise greater awareness of the difference between matters relating to instruction and matters relating to the ISD process. However, I am concerned that the waters of our field may have become a bit muddier, rather than clearer.

The distinction she is making is one that was clearly made in both of my “Green Books.” It is inaccurate to say that those books are examples of the confusion between the nature of instruction and the nature of the ISD process.

I believe that the true confusion is found in the terms used by professionals in our field. The ISD process is typically viewed as composed of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation (ADDIE). There is pretty good agreement on the meanings of those five terms. The problem comes in the term we use to refer to the whole process. Those at Florida State usually refer to it as the “Instructional Systems Design” process (see for example the Dick and Carey textbook), whereas most others tend to refer to it as the “Instructional Systems Development” (or just “instructional development”) process.

Aside from the lack of agreement on these terms, there is the problem that both alternatives duplicate terms used for two of the parts of the whole process. Therefore, when someone uses the term “instructional design” or “instructional development,” it is difficult to know whether they are referring to the part of the process or the whole process. It is precisely this problem that I attempted to address in chapter 1 of Volume I.

I imagine that many readers would feel comfortable substituting “development” for “design” and “developer” for “designer” in Barbara’s piece. Doing so would immediately clear up much of the confusion she describes.

I propose that our field needs to clearly identify the concepts that are most useful to researchers and practitioners, and then agree on the terms we will use to label those concepts. I propose that we use “ISD process” rather than “instructional design” or “instructional development,” because unlike the latter two terms, it is unambiguous. In this way, we can reserve the terms “design” and “development” for the respective parts of the ISD process. Using my proposed terms, Barbara’s message is that we need to understand the difference between instructional design knowledge (what the instruction should be like) and ISD knowledge (what the ISD process should be like). I agree that that message is of great importance to our field.

However, I don’t think the “design” phase of the ISD process should rely solely on instructional-design theory (what the instruction should be like). There is also need for guidance (design theory) on how to apply an instructional-design theory to a particular context (e.g., course), and this requires analysis activities as well as design activities. Therefore, it would be a mistake to think of our field strictly in terms of the ISD process and its parts. Barbara points out that we need (1) a knowledge base (aka design theory) about what instruction should be like and (2) one about what the process for creating instruction should be like, but we also need (3) a knowledge base about how to evaluate existing instruction (independent of the ISD process) and perhaps (4) one about how to manage instruction (unless you view that as part of #1). These are all different but highly interdependent knowledge bases, and until we recognize that they are different and that they are all important, we will be gripped by the kind of confusion of which Barbara writes.

September 2003 IDT Record