Little Known & Extreme Potential: The Instructional Design Literature

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Instructional Design Literature

This blog is to orient you towards an area of the literature that I accidentally stumbled across thanks to Joe Layng, PhD. If it weren't for him suggesting it and explaining its value then I would have never had as good of a grasp of “why people do what they do” and how to teach as I have today. Of course there are other mentors and material that have shaped me into the practitioner I am today, but this is one area that is not as well known, and definitely worth the 1-2 year exploration if you are in a position where you’re expected to teach someone how to do something or help influence their behavior in any way. With that said I literally learn something new every day as I explore and utilize instructional design techniques in my life and business. 

Instructional Design

I first thought that instructional design was used only when you were talking about teaching something. I also thought that it was an area that was outside of behavior analysis when I first heard about it. I then came to realize that it was talked about by a few people the really behaved like behavior analysts and it was formalized by a few behavior analysts between the 1960s-1990s. It’s since became a part of my elevator pitch at times, as it’s been used in projects like Headsprout, which has been scaled up to about 3 million students while maintaining an integrity and outcome that far surpasses many other projects both within the same industry and outside (e.g., over 90% of learners complete the program without any additional assistance). But after exploring the area a bit I realized that any area of the world in which you are trying to influence human behavior (e.g., design websites, playing sports, creating engaging social media) are all subject to the concepts and processes in instructional design.

I won’t go into detail as to what it is beyond this quote – it’s up to you to explore the resources provided below, and know that there are communities that explore this content (linked below) if you’re interested in finding like-minded people to learn with and receive feedback and guidance as you explore the literature.

“In 1967 Sue Markle and Phil Tiemann described their instructional programming process and noted that the entire instructional design process determines whether or not an instructional product will fulfill its vision…

Markle and Tiemann’s programming process can be slightly updated and summarized as follows (See Figure 1.):

  1. Perform a content analysis
  2. State the objectives
  3. Determine the criterion tests
  4. Establish the required entry behavior
  5. Build the instructional sequence
  6. Use performance data to continually adjust the instructional sequence (5) until it meets the objectives (2)
  7. Build in maintaining consequences, an additional step in the process that was added from Goldiamond (1974).” (Tyman, Layng, Stikeleather, & Hobbins, 2004)
Instructional design: A little-known area of the behavior analytic literature that might just be our key to creating new behavioral technologies that can reach the mainstream. 

Must-Reads in Instructional Design

Designs for Instructional Designers - Click to purchase through Morningside Press.

Designs for Instructional Designers - Click to purchase through Morningside Press.

Analyzing Instructional Content: A Guide to Instruction and Evaluation - Click to Purchase through Morningside Press

Analyzing Instructional Content: A Guide to Instruction and Evaluation - Click to Purchase through Morningside Press

The New Mager Six Pack  - Click to purchase through Amazon.

The New Mager Six Pack  - Click to purchase through Amazon.

To Go Along with Instructional Design, Read These

Additional Resources

  1. Morningside Press has published content on how to learn and use instructional design in your practice, as well as materials produced utilizing instructional design. Explore their content, I've found each book useful to date!
  2. If you're looking for access to a free community where you can learn, collaborate, practice, and receive guidance on instructional design then check out this online group of doers: - however, know that they do go into everything behavior analysis, and not just the instructional design literature. Joe Layng is involved in this group and can serve as a bit of a high-level mentor (as well as a great resource of 'what's coming up').
  3. If you're looking for help in designing material, shoot me an email below, that's a service provided by our organization, the Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC (based in Reno, Nevada, but an online company). 

Contact the Institute of Meaningful Instruction

Name *


A Non-Linear Approach to Curriculum Design: The Role of Behavior Analysis in Building an Effective Reading Program 1 (PDF Download Available). Available from: [accessed Apr 17, 2017].

Goldiamond, I. (1974). Toward a constructional approach to social problems: Ethical and constitutional issues raised by applied behavior analysis. Behaviorism, 2, 1-84.

What to Read Next

Ryan O'Donnell

Reno, Nevada

Ryan graduated in 2013 from the Florida Institute of Technology and received his Board Certification that same year.  Ryan has provided over 2,000 hours of instruction and oversight in a variety of areas, including: Medicaid services, DOE Training, prosocial organizational projects, and Rehabilitation and various private entities.  He's active in the field of behavior analysis with over 60 professional presentations, posters, or workshops in the past 5 years.

Member Login
Welcome, (First Name)!

Forgot? Show
Log In
Enter Member Area
My Profile Not a member? Sign up. Log Out