Instructional Technology/Instructional Design is science, philosophy or technology?

What is design, technology, and philosophy?


Before the discussion of science, philosophy, and technology, there should be comparison and explanation of these concepts. It is better to take a look at these pages:

  • What is Design? [1]
  • What is Technology? [2]
  • Technology is Related to Science? [3]
  • What is philosophy? [4]

Instructional Design is science?


Rowland (1993) explains that both Charles M. Reigeluth and Rita Richey emphasize the science of instructional design because "they feel that design principles accurately predict future phenomena - in this case, learning - and therefore can be used to prescribe instructional events" (p.89) Based on this statement, one can say that instructional designers seek understanding and then apply the principles of design while they are engaged in designing instruction; therefore, instructional design is a science.

Apart from being able to predict future phenomena, and prescribe instructional events, the complexities of the design process require scientific principles and approaches to handle instructional problems. For example, instructional design employs empirical methods in analysis, design, and repeated tryout and revisions to validate the effectiveness of the instructional materials. Through experiments, science simulates natural processes in controlled environments in order to better understand natural phenomena. If through the creation and design of instruction, learners can exhibit observable changes in behavior, knowledge and skills which can be attributed to the use of the instruction (or such attributes can be predicted in a defined instructional context), then why can't instructional design be categorized as science?

In a multifaceted definition of instructional design as a process, a discipline and a reality, Penn State staff also view instructional design as "the science of creating detailed specifications for the development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of situations that facilitate the learning of both large and small units of subject matter at all levels of complexity." (Adapted from "Training and Instructional Design", Applied Research Laboratory, Penn State University [5])

Instructional Design (ID) is philosophy?


Whether you are a practicing instructional designer or a student learning in the field of Instructional Design, you will make instructional and learning decisions for others and yourself. Your design decisions are based on your own beliefs and values. Smith and Ragan (2005) state "fields of study, such as instructional design, do not have educational philosophies; people who study in these fields do" (p.18). In other words, instructional designers bring to their craft their own unique ideas, beliefs and values about the process of education and this serves as a backdrop which exerts both overt and subtle influence on how designers practice. These practice decisions include how designers choose particular design models, how designers carry out assessments, what evaluation measures are chosen, what direction to take when confronted with conficting development needs, just to name a few. Solomon (2000)effectively synthesizes a rich body of literatures in the field and aims to "provide insight into understanding that various ways in which philosophy shapes instructional design practice" (p.23).

There are four critical philosophies had impact on ID theory: (a) modernism, (b)critical theory, (c)pragmatism, and (d) post modernism [6]. They have shaped paradigms that construct ID models. In fact, the ID theory is stemmed from philosophical roots but not directly. The paradigms play critical role here.

In spite of Smith and Ragan's (2005) assertion, Gagne & Merrill (1990); Merrill (1993); and Spector (1994) have explored extensively the philosophy of instructional design. The nature and elements of the building blocks of instructional design, as well as practical application of learning situations have been discussed. Instructional design is based, in part, on the concepts of sequencing instructions, mastery of learning, and is performance-oriented. ID relies on the principles of andragogy, which emphasize experiential learning and other fundamental theories of learning such as cognitivism, behaviorism, and constructivism. According to Spector (2000)[7]learning essentially involves a change in abilities, attitudes, beliefs, capabilities, knowledge, mental models, patterns of interaction or skills. Differentiating and exploring these concepts will further expand the basis of instructional design philosophy.

The advent of distance education added another layer of complexity and Ely (1999) predicts that the growing application, need and interest of distance education may foment the "philosophy of humanistic technology" in the field of instructional technology.

Instruction Design is technology?


In his discussion on the philosophy of instructional technology, Ely says "it may seem strange that in the above discussion of the relationship between a field and a discipline that technology was not considered to be one of the roots of the field. After all, it is the most frequently mentioned term used in the various attempts to give identity to the field" (p.3)

To further muddy the waters of this discussion, we must make mention of the fact that there is considerable thought and numerous writings devoted to the "philosphy of technology." David Blacker of Illinois State University, for example, as written an essay on "The Philosphy of Technology and Education: An Invitation to Inquiry" [8].


  • Ely, D. (1999). Toward a philosophy of instructional technology: thirty years on. British Journal of Educational Technology v30 no4 (pp.305-10).
  • Rowland, G.(1993). "Designing and Instructional Design.". Educational technology research and development (1042-1629), 41 (1), p. 79.
  • Solomon, D. L. (2000). Philosophical inquiry in instructional technology: the forgotten pathway to learning. Paper presented at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) 2000 International Convention (22nd, Long Beach, CA, February 16-20, 2000).