Module 4b - Instructional Design: Analysis

Needs Assessment and Goals
Learner Analysis
Learning Environment
Learning Outcomes/Objectives
Task Analysis
Further Resources

Basically, instructional design is a process for helping you to create effective learning. As discussed in the previous lesson (4a), there are many instructional design approaches and models, usually structured around the five phases shown at the right. In many instances, it is a matter of choosing a model that works well for you. By reflecting on the activities in a 'traditional' analysis phase, this module will help you to think critically about planning and scoping-out effective e-learning programs. 

What we really want to do when we begin developing online instruction, is to clarify its actual purpose. Usually, this includes finding a way to close the gap between what we think we should teach and what learners are actually doing. To do this, we need to specifically definine the knowledge, skills and/or behaviour that they require. In the analysis phase, we assess the real needs, the learners and the environment. This information will allow us to write broad goals and learning outcomes, from which we can develop instruction that will help learners to achieve them. Learning outcomes are based on workplace performance, or what the learner will be able to do when the instruction is successfully completed. This phase in the instructional design process will help youto ask the right questions and make the right decisions to produce a viable learning product.


A front-end analysis provides answers to basic questions. What is the purpose of the course? Is there a real need for instruction, or only a perceived one? What exactly needs to be learned? There are various ways to get this information, including surveys, interviews, stakeholder discussions and workplace observations. General goals describe a broad or abstract intent, state, or condition. They describe what the goals are for the instructional program and not the specific behavior or performance of the learner. They may be philosophical in nature (similar to a vision or mission statement), and describe what the goals are for the instructional program - but not the specific behavior or performance of the learner.  By creating a list of general goals and ranking them in order of importance, you can begin to examine how the goals will be met. Any discrepancies will help you to prioritize the ‘gaps’ - which are actual the instructional needs. Goals that are new are designated for training and fundamental skills that learners already have are not included.

The discrepancy between ‘what should be’ and ‘what is’ identifies the need for instruction. Apart from general goals, analysing the 'gaps' will allow you to write course goals, which describe the overall purpose and scope of a course and what knowledge and skills the course is meant to provide (in general terms).

what should be - what is + why = needed instruction

Key questions: Are there problems that need solving through training/education?

Key activities: Gather and synthesize information to help identify the problems and create a list of goals to see what is missing so that you can define what is actually needed.

Output examples:

1) The goal for this e-learning program is to teach participants how to change a flat tire.

Before you think about developing the actual instruction, it is helpful to consider who your learners are. What related skills and knowledge do they have? What are their perceptions? What is their experience? Where are they located? What will motivate this particular group to learn this material? How do these factors influence the instruction required? Answering these and other similar questions will help you to determine the starting points and methods needed to further develop the needed instruction.

knowledge+skills+experience+attitudes/perceptions/beliefs+age+gender+?=who they are

Key questions: Who are my learners and what are their attributes?

Key Activities: Compile general research on your learning audience.

Output examples: This training is specifically for taxi drivers in Northern Ontario that have completed the Introduction to Vehicle Maintenance workshop. Participants will already have an appreciation for the importance of maintaining their cab and responding to roadside emergencies.

How many learners will there be? What facilities will I use? What types of resources are available? How much time do we have to develop the instruction? Many of these types of learning environment factors influence instructional content design decisions. For example, learners may be geographically dispersed, which may mean that many of them will not be able to attend a traditional classroom, and would perhaps require an alternative/optional delivery mode. Surveys are a useful tool for investigating the learners and the learning environment. 

who+when+where+timing+tools+resources=the learning environment

Key questions: What are all of the components that constitute your learning environment?

Key Activities: Gather and synthesize information on components related to the learning environment.

free survey tool here
(not available in demo)

Goals (set in step 1) are broad, general intentions of required changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes. They deal with the big picture in specifying overall competencies or outputs that you expect from your learners. 

Learning Outcomes are more defined than goals, in that they describe the behavior or performance that the learner will be able to exhibit to meet the goal. Learning outcomes can also be referred to as learning objectives. Without learning outcomes, it would be virtually impossible to design and deliver effective education! Learning outcomes provide the framework for the development of lesson plans and other training materials. Importantly, they also tell your learners exactly what you are trying to accomplish, and what is expected of them. 

The format known to work for stating clear learning outcomes includes four components: 

      • Who will be doing the behaviour or performance? 
      • What should the learner be able to do? 
      • Under what conditions do you want the learner to be able to do it? 
      • How well must it be done? 
An easy way to remember these components is to use the acronym: A B C D
Identify who it is that will be doing the performance (not the instructor).

[The learner]

Behaviour (performance)
What the learner will be able to do. It is important to use verbs that indicate observable and measurable learning activities. Refer to the quick tutorial on 'Using Bloom’s Taxonomy' in the resource section for some examples of useful verbs in the cognitive domain.

[The learner] [will be able to create a curricular-based Web page

State the conditions you will impose when learners are demonstrating their mastery of the outcome.

· What will the learners be allowed to use?
· What won't the learners be allowed to use?
· Under what conditions must the mastery of skill occur?

[The learner] [will be able to create a curricular-based Web page] [using the X, Y and Z programs vailable in the ed-lab]

Degree (or criterion)
A degree/criterion is the standard by which performance is evaluated. The communication power of an objective increases when you tell the learners how well the behaviour (performance) must be done. Common degrees include speed, accuracy and quality.

[The learner] [will be able to create a curricular-based Web page] [using the X, Y and Z programs available in the ed-lab] [that is engaging and meets the learning outcomes of lesson 12 ].

who needs to do what, when and how well = learning outcomes

Key questions: What are the behaviors or performances that the learner will be able to exhibit in accordance with your goals?

Key Activities: Create learning outcome statements that meet your goal(s). 

    A learning outcome or objective is a statement of the intended outcome of the instruction, and not the actual process of the instruction itself. These types of objectives describe what the learners will be able to do in relationship to your goals at the end of the instruction. However, to help further develop instruction, we can think about the more specific tasks that our learners will have to perform. This is known as task analysis. Terminal objectives address the elements, skills, and knowledge required to support a task. Enabling objectives are even more specific about each step or sub-task. Instructors can develop task analysis in a number of ways:
        • perform the activity yourself and note the steps. 
        • observe or video tape others who are successfully performing the steps. 
        • think through the activity while noting the steps. 
        • use or adapt task analyses from other sources. 

    These types of exercises will ensure that you include all of the components learners will need to achieve meaningful learning outcomes. The tasks may be procedural - as in analyzing what to do next, or sequential - as in one ordered step at a time. There may be a number of steps required to meet each learning outcome. For example, changing a tire can represent a learning outcome with several steps. We can refer to these steps as sub-tasks or enabling objectives. Enabling objectives are based on terminal objectives, and are very specific and measurable

    Consider the steps or sub-tasks involved in changing a tire from which learning objectives are created:

This type of scalar diagram ensures that each supporting element - components and sub-components - are considered for training. Sequencing or organizing your objectives can take advantage of the relationships within the subject and reduce the time needed to meet the objectives. Sequencing of these objectives may also help to establish the order in which instruction will be organized and presented. 
(X)terminal objectives/enabling objectives = 1 learning outcome/objective
Key questions: What are the actual steps and tasks that need to be performed in order to meet each learning outcome?

Key activities: Assess each sub-task to determine whether the learners will need instruction in order to perform it. Separate the 'need to know' from the 'nice to know'. Group the sub-tasks according to importance and their relation to each other. Write a brief learning objective for each sub-task.

Output examples: 

1) Terminal objective: 

Given the jack placement diagram from the manual, participants will be able to 'jack up the car' high enough so that there is 5 inches of ground clearance from the tire. 
2) Enabling Objectives: 
a) Given the owner's manual, participants will be able to identify all parts of the jack with 100% accuracy. 
b) Given the owner's manual and parts of the jack, participants will be able to assemble the jack within 5 minutes time and with 100% accuracy.


Although all instructional design phases are important, the analysis phase may be the most critical. It helps to define and focus the real need for the e-learning program, and lays out the ground work for all subsequent activities. Creating learning outcomes from your general goal(s) can help you to perform a task analysis. Terminal and enabling objectives can help you to sequence the instruction in the program.

Go on to the Introduction to Design section of this module. Here we will begin to examine various strategies for matching objectives to various e-learning design and delivery modes.

© 2001, Michael Shaw,