Useful Instructional Methods

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Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc. (DSA) helps organizations design and develop learning and performance solutions that get results. DSA works cooperatively with organizations to:

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DSA would like to thank Dr. Peter Honebein for contributing this month's tip. Dr. Honebein is an active associate, working on several DSA development projects.

What if I told you there was an instructional design (ID) tool that was so versatile that it could be used, with minor modifications, throughout the entire ID process to create good instruction? You’d use it, right? It exists and is a criterion-referenced checklist.

The selection of instructional methods is a favorite activity of trainers. It is the part of training design where you fully exhibit your creativity. After all, figuring out the most effective, efficient, and appealing way to teach learners new skills is fun! Learners love it when you make the right choices and it makes you feel great. However, make the wrong choices and you may suffer the loathing of your audience. In this article I discuss how you can enhance your success.

Instructional methods broadly categorize a variety of instructional strategies and tactics. A method can describe how instruction is sequenced (presentation, practice, feedback), how it is presented (expository or discovery), or how it is delivered (instructor led or self-paced e-learning). The focus of this article, however, is on tactics, such as lectures, role plays, and drill and practice.

Charles Reigeluth, my colleague at Indiana University’s Instructional Systems Technology department, suggests that the selection of instructional methods is dependent on two factors – conditions and outcomes. Conditions include everything from the learning domain associated with the content to the number of students in a class. Outcomes, on the other hand, involve efficiency (delivering the greatest number of skills for the lowest cost), effectiveness (learners acquiring desired skills), and appeal (learners having fun in the course).

I recently conducted a pilot study that asked ten training professionals who are enrolled in a Masters-level instructional strategies course their opinions about the most useful instructional methods. The group evaluated 31 instructional methods in relation to learning domains, number of students, and desired outcomes. Each interaction was rated on a five-point scale, where 1 equals not useful and 5 equals very useful. We collected a total of 837 individual measures, which we then aggregated so that each instructional method was represented by a single score. The results show the top 16 most useful instructional methods as being:

Instructional Method

Mean Score
(5-point scale)



Role Play


Problem Solving/Lab






Guided Laboratory


Field Trip


Team Project




Discovery, Group


Cooperative Group Learning


Think Tank/Brainstorm








Case Study


The group found the results consistent with their beliefs and practice. A high score means that the instructional method is perceived as being more useful under more conditions than one with a low score. As we examined and discussed the results further, we agreed on two key things. First, the methods that floated to the top of the list represent what we would prefer to use if the conditions are right. Other conditions that we did not investigate, such as budget, development time, and so on, would further shape (and possibly limit) our ultimate choice. Second, the key condition that trainers consider first is the learning domain of the content. This involves classifying content as being cognitive, affective, psychomotor, or interpersonal, and then deriving the best instructional strategy based on that content.

Do you agree? Examine the data for yourself. Below are links to the summary statistics from the pilot study. Take a look and see whether or not you agree with the results. Compare our results with your own opinions and practice. I’ve also provided links to additional resources that should help expand your understanding of instructional conditions and methods.

See you next time,