Instructional-Design Theories and Models: Volume IV, The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education

Edited by Charles M. Reigeluth, Brian J. Beatty & Rodney D. Myers       2017


            How to help people learn better.  That is what instructional theory is all about.  It describes a variety of methods of instruction (different ways of facilitating human learning and development), and when to use – and not use – each of those methods.

            Volume I of Instructional-Design Theories and Models (1983) provides a "snapshot in time" of the status of instructional theory in the early 1980s. Its main purpose was to raise awareness of instructional theories, which were largely overlooked in the shadows of ADDIE and other ISD process models. Most of the theories are classics and are still very useful today.

            Volume II (1999) provides a concise summary of a broad sampling of work in the late 1990s on a new paradigm of instructional theories for the Information Age. Its main purpose was to raise awareness of the diversity of theories that provide a customized or learner-centered learning experience in all different domains of human learning and development. It also raised awareness of the importance of values in instructional theory.

            Volume III (2009) was born out of a concern about the extent to which instructional theorists seemed to be working in relative isolation from each other, building their own view of instruction with little regard to building on what knowledge already existed and what terminology had already been used for constructs they also describe. Therefore, Volume III takes some early steps in building a common knowledge base about instruction with a common use of terms.  It also describes some tools for continuing to build a common knowledge base.

            These three volumes cover very different territory. None of them was intended to replace its predecessors. We have made a conscious effort to keep duplication to a minimum, so readers interested in mastering the art and science of designing powerful instruction will benefit from all of them.  Each volume includes chapter forewords that summarize their main contributions, to give readers a quick sense of whether or not a chapter addresses their particular interests and needs.


Why a Volume IV?

            Our initial thought was to conclude this series with Volume III.  However, new instructional methods are continually developed as advances are made in brain sciences, information technology, and other relevant fields. Furthermore, as we have evolved deeper into the Information Age, it has become clear that a change in the paradigm of instruction from teacher-centered to learner-centered requires parallel changes in aspects of education and training systems that are technically beyond the scope of theories of instruction.[1]  

            Using systems thinking, we recognize that the learner-centered paradigm of instruction is closely interrelated with different paradigms of instructional management, assessment, and even curriculum.  First, regarding instructional management, truly learner-centered instruction requires student progress to be based on learning rather than on time.  This is an instructional management strategy as defined in Chapter 1 of Volume I (p. 8), and has consequently not been addressed by instructional theories.  Second, regarding assessment, truly learner-centered instruction requires student learning to be compared to a standard of achievement (criterion-referenced – to know when the learner is ready to move on) rather than to the learning of one’s peers (norm-referenced) and consequently should be integrated with the instruction rather than being a separate activity.  Third, regarding curriculum, truly learner-centered instruction requires decisions about what to learn that are responsive to student needs in a society that is much more complex than that of our Industrial-Age forebears.  

            In sum, decisions about what to teach, how to teach it, and how to assess it must all be dramatically different now compared to those that were appropriate for the Industrial Age, and those decisions should be made together because they are interdependent.  That interdependency has not been addressed in Volumes I-III, but it is addressed here in Volume IV.  This Volume provides a coherent, comprehensive set of guidelines for the learner-centered paradigm of education and training that addresses curriculum and assessment, as well as instruction, because effective design must address all three simultaneously.


Challenges with the Learner-Centered Paradigm

            Perhaps the greatest challenge with implementing the learner-centered paradigm of education and training is the difficulty that instructional theorists, researchers, educational policymakers, and practitioners face in transcending Industrial-Age mental models or mindsets about instruction in both education and training contexts.  It is hard for us to conceive of schools and universities without grade levels, without courses, without tests, without grades, and without terms or semesters (Reigeluth & Karnopp, 2013).  To implement the learner-centered paradigm effectively, many stakeholders must come to understand education in a very different way from traditional mental models.

            Another challenge with implementing the learner-centered paradigm is the difficulty of transforming Industrial-Age systems, which are designed to make change extremely difficult.  If piecemeal reforms are difficult within such a highly politicized and bureaucratic system, paradigm change is an order of magnitude more difficult.  It is like trying to transform a railroad system into an air transportation system.  It requires fundamental changes in all parts of the system, or at least enough parts to reach the tipping point where more pressure is exerted by the new parts to change the remaining old parts, than the old parts exert on the new ones to change back.  This means that the transformation process is more expensive and time-consuming than are piecemeal reforms, but there is good evidence that the new paradigm will be less expensive than the current one (Egol, 2003; Reigeluth & Karnopp, 2013).  The good news is that much is known about an effective process for transforming existing school systems on the school, district, and state levels, and there are already hundreds of schools that exhibit many features of the learner-centered paradigm, to serve as examples of what can be (see Reigeluth & Karnopp, 2013).


About this Volume

            The primary audience for this volume, like that of the previous three volumes, is instructional theorists, researchers, and graduate students. An additional audience is instructional designers, teachers, and trainers who are interested in guidance about how to design instruction of high quality.

            In Unit 1, Chapter 1 provides the top-level description of design theory for the learner-centered paradigm. Chapters 2-5 provide the first level of elaboration on that top-level description, with chapters on competency-based education, task-centered instruction, personalized instruction, and a new paradigm of curriculum.  Unit 2 offers the second level of elaboration, with chapters on maker-based instruction, collaborative instruction, games for instruction, instruction for self-regulated learning, instructional coaching, instruction for cognitive flexibility, and technology for the learner-centered paradigm.  Finally, Unit 3 provides descriptions of steps toward the LCE paradigm – instructional designs that can be done within the constraints of the Industrial-Age paradigm – including instruction for flipped classrooms, gamification in instruction, considerations for mobile learning, and just-in-time teaching.

            We have tried to make it easier for the reader to digest the instructional theories in this Volume by preparing the same kind of unconventional foreword for each chapter as was done for Volumes II and III.  Each chapter foreword outlines the major ideas presented in the chapter.  This offers something akin to a hypertext capability for you to get a quick overview of a chapter and then flip to parts of it that particularly interest you.  It can also serve preview and review functions and make it easier to compare different theories.  We have also inserted editors’ notes in most chapters to help you relate elements in a chapter to similar ideas presented in other chapters.  Finally, there is a unit foreword that introduces the chapters in each unit.

            It is our sincere hope that this Volume will help instructional theorists and researchers to further advance knowledge about the learner-centered paradigm of education and training.  We also hope it will help policymakers and foundations to support transformation to the new paradigm.  Finally, we hope this Volume will help instructional designers, teachers, and trainers to implement learner-centered practices in their educational and training systems.

                                                                                                                        –  C.M.R.,  B.J.B &  R.D.M.


Egol, M. (2003). The education revolution: Spectacular learning at lower cost. Tenafly, NJ: Wisdom Dynamics.

Reigeluth, C. M. (1983). Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M. (Ed.) (1999). Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Carr-Chellman, A. A. (Eds.). (2009). Instructional-design theories and models: Building a common knowledge base (Vol. III). New York: Routledge.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Karnopp, J. R. (2013). Reinventing schools: It’s time to break the mold. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


[1] For an explanation of the urgent need for paradigm change in education and training from teacher-centered to learner-centered and from time-based student progress to learning-based student progress, see Chapter 1 in Volume II (pp. 16-21), Chapter 1 in Volume III (pp. 13-17), and Chapter 1 in Reigeluth and Karnopp (2013).