25 Terms Every Instructional Designer Should Know

As a newbie in the e-learning industry, you might hear a couple of terminologies, understanding which can be daunting. These words and phrases indeed become more apparent as you go; however, it is always advisable to have a basic understanding of them. This way, you will not lag when collaborating with the L&D team or communicating with your potential clients. 

25 Terms Every Instructional Designer Should Know

Since there is a wide range of instructional design terms every newbie needs to add to their dictionary, here are the top 25, mainly used terminologies every ID should know. This list doesn’t cover everything, but it can serve as a great starting point to get you started. 

1. Design Document

Consider the design document as a roadmap for your project. It is a specified outline highlighting everything you and your colleagues need to know about the goals, models, and workflow. With an excellent instructional design document, you can be well-prepared for making effective training videos for learners, employees, and more. It mainly includes: 

  • Purpose 
  • Objectives
  • Desired outcomes
  • Overview of learners
  • Content delivery methods
  • Media
  • Instructions 
  • Assessment strategies

For example, what is your goal, and how will you monitor the learner’s progress? How will you deliver the content? Using what activities and resources will help reinforce the key takeaway?   

2. Instructional Design Model

There are a variety of instructional design models that IDs follow to develop an effective e-learning experience. These models serve as guidelines to organize appropriate pedagogical scenarios to attain desired goals. They describe what needs to be done in order to create successful e-learning experiences. Instructional design models help trainers and teachers to guide and plan the entire process. 

Although there is a wide variety of design models, the most commonly accepted ones include: 

  • Kemp Design Model
  • Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • Merril’s Principles of Instruction
  • Social Learning Theory - Albert Bandura 

Learn more about Instructional design models by reading our article on Instructional Design Models for Employee Training.  

3. Blended Learning

If you are in the instructional design industry, there is no doubt you have heard about the blended learning term. Many institutions, especially K-12 schools, are now using blended learning due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is an approach to education that consists of online training as well as traditional face-to-face classroom interactions. With blended learning, you can engage every type of learner - those who are comfortable with a structured learning environment consisting of face-to-face interactions with the teacher and independent ones who are happy with semi-autonomous, online training.

4. Asynchronous/Synchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning is more of flexible online training. The system allows you to study whenever you want; however, you must access it within a particular time frame. You can log in and complete lectures, homework, readings, and other learning materials anytime within a one or two-week period. This means learners don’t have to be present at the exact same time when their instructor or other classmates are online. 

On the contrary, synchronous learning means you have to be online at the same time as your instructor and classmates. Despite the fact that you will be studying from home, you will have to attend the class at a particular time every week. The class will not be rescheduled in any case as it is an established weekly commitment. You can consider it as a live video lecture.     

5. SME

SME stands for Subject Matter Expert and is the go-to source of information. SMEs have niche knowledge and expertise in a particular area of interest. The majority of their work is facilitating knowledge transfer through coordination with instructional designers. For instance, you can determine what information learners need to know according to their job responsibilities.  

6. Storyboard

The storyboard is not as detailed as the design document, but it mainly focuses on the visual layout and activities.

25 Terms Every Instructional Designer Should Know

For instance, on the board, each panel highlights another page or screen of the course or placeholders to indicate assessments. You can also add audio elements, text blocks, and notes you may need to carry out the entire development process. As a rule, everyone must know how to use storyboards to handle their projects and understand the main goals and outcomes. 

7. Microlearning

In Instructional Design, microlearning is a bite-sized approach. In this, small chunks of information are presented to refresh and reinforce existing knowledge. For example, a quick simulation or video demo that illustrates how employees should complete a task. Microlearning is an ideal solution when learners face a problem because it allows learners to bridge gaps immediately. A comprehensive online course or certification, however, cannot replace it.

8. Rapid Learning 

On average, rapid e-learning is quick to create and consume. Rapid e-learning software that includes an asset library, templates, and other features is used by the design team. Using this method can quickly and easily develop content at a fraction of the cost and time. In some instances, the SMEs are also in charge of most design tasks. However, they usually consult an Instructional Designer to determine what method or model would be most effective for the audience.

9. Evaluation Criteria

Evaluation criteria help to assess whether or not you have used the right strategies. It should be included in every e-learning development project so that you can measure the project's success. Some courses use gamification or scoring systems, while others use qualitative analytics to gauge learner proficiency. For instance, they could be tested on how well they perform during a task simulation or branching scenario. You should also develop evaluation criteria to identify design problems. For example, maybe the ID model isn't appropriate for the subject matter or learner preferences.

10. Performance Gap

Point A tells what learners already are aware of and how well they are performing. Point B demonstrates where they have to be after the training. Between these two lies the performance gap. The instructional designer must also consider skills and knowledge gaps when developing the curriculum. For example, in order to improve customer service, students should develop their communication skills.

11. Objective Statement

A clear objective statement includes measurable outcomes and action verbs. In simple words, it explains the main objective of the online course or activity along with how the learners’ performance will be assessed. For instance, by the end of the online training course, the participant is expected to know every step of the task and demonstrate interpersonal skills. In some cases, it may be helpful to include specific figures or percentages when evaluating progress.

12. Prototype

A prototype is a sample module prepared for the client to be approved so that you and your team can begin working on the development of the actual project. Its primary purpose is to provide a general idea of how the course will look and function. 

13. User Interface Design

User Interface (UI) design is the process designers use to create software or computer interfaces that look or function well. Designers strive to design interfaces that are easy to use and enjoyable to the users. A user interface can be graphical or in other forms, e.g., voice-controlled interfaces. It may differ from course to course based on the content and purpose. 

14. Quality Assurance and Testing (QA)

A process that ensures the final e-learning solution is effective. A review of design elements like user interface, usability, content, media elements (graphics, video, audio), accessibility, etc., is usually part of this process.

15. Navigation 

A navigation component plays a critical role in e-learning since it provides guidelines as to how the information will be presented to the students. The app really walks the learner through each step of what they're learning, informs them of how they're progressing, and receives a status report on what they've accomplished and what's next. 

Moreover, navigation determines how learners are presented with information, which greatly impacts their ability to process and retain it. The students do not have much time to learn how to use e-learning navigation controls. It should not be difficult for them to figure out how to move from one page to another. 

16. Typography

Typography refers to the font and how it is presented in an e-learning module. Here the main thing to remember is to make sure that the font is readable.


SCORM is an acronym that denotes the Sharable Content Object Model. This standard consists of specifications to ensure the accessibility, reusability, and interoperability of an e-learning module. “Sharable Content Object" demonstrates that SCORM is focused on developing online training units that you can transfer between systems. In short, SCORM facilitates the exchange of content between Learning Management Systems. LMS systems often regard it as their ZIP file.

18. LMS

LMS refers to Learning Management System, a software application or web-based technology that facilitates planning, implementing, and assessing a particular learning process. In its most common form, this technology is used for eLearning practices and consists of two elements: a server, which performs the core functions, and a user interface, which is used by students, instructors, and administrators.

In general, a learning management system enables instructors to develop and deliver content, track learner participation, and evaluate student performance. Furthermore, learning management systems could allow students to participate in interactive features, including threaded discussions, discussion forums, and video conferencing.

19. Module

It is a unified instruction package that provides information necessary for mastery of a particular knowledge base or skill set and is one part of the entire course or curriculum.

20. Content Authoring Tool

In simple words, a tool used to create eLearning materials is called an authoring tool in eLearning. This software package provides instructional designers with asset libraries and design tools to help them create engaging and interactive online training materials. 

We recommend Cinema8 is the best authoring tool for beginners as it offers a wide range of pre-made templates and interactive features to make your videos fun and engaging. 

21. Cognitive Strategies

It consists of various methods for solving problems, including reasoning, planning, rehearsal, and linking newly-learned information to previously learned information. Metacognition (or "knowing about knowing") is a cognitive strategy that involves developing specific strategies for learning or solving problems.

22. Deliverables

A deliverable is a measurable, tangible, verifiable outcome that must be produced to complete a project or training course. Deliverables may include design documents, alpha, beta, and final versions of e-learning modules, as well as instructor and student guides.

23. Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies refer to the means that enable learners to understand and master course content and skills. For example, role plays, demonstrations, hands-on activities, practice, discussion, simulations, illustrated diagrams, lecture, step-by-step review; self-study exercises, on-the-job training, reviews, practice with coaching, video demonstrations, examples, and more. Activities typically fall into these categories: pre-instructional activities, content presentations, learner practice, and feedback.

24. Instructor Guide

Instructor guide or facilitator guide is the Resource used by the facilitator to deliver instruction. This can either be a printed document or an electronic document, such as a PDF. The development of this tool incorporates all aspects of analysis and design, enabling it to be the primary vehicle for storing all aspects of instruction: instructional strategies, learning objectives, testing strategies, content, pacing, introductions, timing, closures, transitions, and feedback.

25. Gamification

'Gamification' is the process of applying game design elements and mechanics to non-game applications, such as e-learning courses. The elements of gaming can include rewards, points, challenges, titles, levels, a leaderboard, and positive feedback.

To increase retention and help your learners grasp concepts faster, you present the learning materials in an engaging manner. Learners can stay engaged throughout the course, which allows for a better learning experience. Furthermore, Gamification enables employees to become more productive in the workplace by reducing the learning curve.


The expansion of your e-learning vocabulary can improve productivity and help avoid confusion with your clients and team members. In this concise article, you will find a quick look at some key terms and phrases in the world of e-learning. As you delve deeper into eLearning, you'll discover many more. If you use a few of these instructional design terms during your next meeting with your team or client, you're sure to impress.