Comparing Learning Design
and Instructional Design:
Key Concepts and Considerations

See also: Learning Styles

The demand for online educational content is higher than ever before. Traditional tools work well for simple and straightforward training methods, but they can waste time and resources when used for more complex programs.

This has led to the emergence of new and complex ideas - learning and instructional design have become important in education technology.

Creating Online Educational Content

Educational content creators use both learning design and instructional design during the various stages of developing training materials. Although these terms are two different approaches, they are both essential parts of creating learning content: one amplifies another. By using them together, an e-learning production company can create efficient digital education courses.

In this article, we will explore how these concepts differ, and the benefits of each. Keep reading!

Learning Design: A Definition

Learning design is a method for creating educational courses that focus on the needs and experiences of students. It involves setting learning goals, creating teaching tools and activities, and testing how well they work. The main goal is to achieve specific educational outcomes while making the learning process engaging and practical.

When it comes to content development, it usually includes the next processes:

  • Adapting a subject to the specific audience: To create an effective training course, it's important to study both the subject and the audience. This means gathering detailed information about the training topic and understanding who the learners will be. Otherwise, you will have another generic course. The essence of e-learning design is planning, collecting and analyzing data to build a strong foundation.

  • Setting learning goals: A clear outline of what students should know and what skills they have once they complete the course is vital. It should be measurable - this helps evaluate the success of the course and determine the potential return on investment of the money spent on designing and creating the training materials.

  • Creating an outline: This includes setting the total number of guided and non-guided learning hours. For convenience, there are breaking down lessons with brief descriptions, and defining the desired learning outcomes.

  • Involving SMEs: Subject-matter experts help in adjusting some materials, and they make suggestions for further course development.

What is Instructional Design?

Another method we are about to explore is also a well-defined systematic approach. Instructional design helps to create educational solutions that use pedagogical principles and theories at its core. To understand the difference between instructional design and learning design, keep in mind that instructional design focuses on creating a comprehensive learning experience. In contrast, learning design is more about the step-by-step development of learning materials, including content, tests, assignments, and quizzes. They are both vital, but they cover different aspects of creating e-learning experiences.

The instructional design includes the next stages of creation:

  • The creation of lessons: an instructional designer is supposed to deliver a clear and detailed curriculum and lesson plans. At this stage, it's important to define the technical needs of the course and create practical methods to achieve the goals set earlier.

  • Second session with SMEs: subject-matter experts have to make another review, and if everything looks good, they will approve it.

  • Production preparation: when the course structure is finalized, the focus shifts to getting the training materials made. Content creators approve the components of the course and set deadlines. Also, there is a discussion with other professionals: designers, copywriters, videographers.

What are the Main Differences Between Learning and Instructional Design?

Now, that you know well what each term means, let’s explore what are the differences between these two crucial e-learning processes.

Learning Design

The first thing you should know about learning design is that it is a high-level process. The focus here is on:

  • Analyzing data
  • Creating a learning request
  • Researching the relevant topics
  • Working to understand the targeted audience.

In the middle of the learning design process, key metrics are established to gauge the course's success. These metrics act as a roadmap for further course development. LD considers an integrated approach and various learning contexts. Based on that, the specialists will be able to deliver a well-developed and customized learning experience for a specific group of learners.

Instructional Design

Opposite to learning design, the processes inherent to instructional design are rather low-key. ID focuses on creating teaching content and dealing with important ideas. It usually follows a step-by-step approach to present the material. One big difference between learning experience design and instructional design is that ID pays a lot of attention to matching what students need to learn with how they will be taught and tested.

The Connection Between Instructional Design and Learning Design

As you understand now, these two design approaches both involve learning theory but focus on different aspects and stages of creating interactive learning content. If you think in terms of sequence, you’ll see that Learning Design comes first - its goal is to establish course direction. How is that happening? Developers figure out what the course should achieve and who the intended audience is. Content creation specialists then use this information to outline the course.

Once you move to the Instructional Design phase, the professionals in charge take the outline and start working on the curriculum, lessons, etc. Once the phase wraps up, the materials developed are used in the production phase.

You may notice that both of these types of learning design approaches at some point overlap. Experienced designers don't debate between instructional design and learning experience design; they use both to get the best results. Creating a clear course requires understanding its goals and audience. Having clear learning materials is crucial for the learning process. Thus, blending both approaches and creating mixed models is key for instructional designers to achieve effective results.


If you want to create high-quality educational content, it is crucial to apply both learning and instructional design. In this way, you will be able to deliver a top-notch learning experience. It is highly recommended to use a professional e-learning production company to ensure the best results.