Learning Design vs. Instructional Design: Differences Explained in Modern Education

Apr, 17, 2024
Senior Account Executive


The need for building quality educational content is constantly growing. While traditional tools are suitable for relatively simple and linear training methods, these educational methodologies can lead to wasted time and resources when creating more complex programs. As a result, concepts such as learning design and instructional design have emerged in the education technology (EdTech) industry.

Educational content creation teams work with both learning design and instructional design during the design, creation, and evaluation phases of the development of training materials. However, these terms are often presented as two fundamentally different teaching strategies. In fact, learning design and instructional design are both key steps in the creation of learning content, and only by using them together can specialists build a truly effective digital education course. 

Let’s explore what these two terms mean, how they are similar how they differ, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. In the course of our research, we will use Blue Carrot’s expertise as an example. 👨🏻‍🎓


  1. Understanding Learning Design
  2. Understanding Instructional Design
  3. Key Differences Between Learning Design and Instructional Design
  1. The Interplay and Overlap of Instructional and Learning Design
  2. How Blue Carrot Can Help Your Business

Understanding Learning Design

Learning design is an approach to creating educational courses based on student-centered teaching. It involves analyzing learning objectives, developing a system of didactic tools, and testing their effectiveness. Its main task is to set certain educational goals and achieve them while considering user experience in learning and teaching how to apply that knowledge in practice.

In the context of learning content development, this approach includes the following processes:

  • Studying the subject and the audience. To create an effective training course, it is necessary to gather a lot of data about the subject matter of the training and who the target audience will be. Thus the main difference in the design of e-learning vs. instructional design is that the former involves a phase that consists of analyzing, planning, and gathering statistics to lay a solid foundation and clearly understand the desired outcome.
  • Establishing learning objectives. Learning design includes defining clear learning objectives that outline the boundaries of what learners should know or be able to do after completing the course. It is important that the objective is measurable, as this will help to judge the success of the course and determine the potential ROI of the money spent on training material design and creation.
  • Creating a course outline. Based on the data discussed above, designers create an overall course outline. This includes setting the total number of guided/non-guided learning hours, a breakdown of lessons and their brief descriptions, desired learning outcomes, and so on.
  • Working with SMEs. In the learning design stage, all collected data is sent to subject matter experts (SME). They in turn evaluate the outline and make adjustments using their experience and expertise to create the right foundation for further work on the course.

Understanding Instructional Design

Instructional Design is a systematized approach to creating educational solutions that utilizes pedagogical principles and theories. To better understand the difference between instructional design vs. learning design, remember that the former term focuses more on creating a general learning experience and emphasizes analysis and planning while learning design principles focus more on the sequential development of learning materials. This includes developing content, tests, assignments, quizzes, etc.

Overall, instructional design is a more low-level approach. The process of working on instructional design consists of the following stages:

  • Lesson creation. The main task of an instructional designer is to create a clear and detailed curriculum along with lesson plans. This includes the design and approval of lessons, working layouts for different sections, and evaluation of each element. The main thing at this stage is to clarify the technical requirements for the future course, as well as to develop practical ways of achieving the goals approved in the previous stages.
  • Second stage review with SMEs. Of course, the lesson plans need to be resubmitted to the experts for approval. Only after their approval can the course be ready for production.
  • Preparation for production. Once the course structure is ready and detailed, the actual production of the training materials can be prepared. Content creation specialists approve all the necessary assemblies required for the course creation, set deadlines, and discuss methods of realization with videographers, graphic designers, copywriters, etc.

Key Differences Between Learning Design and Instructional Design

So now you have an idea of both terms. Let’s compare instructional design vs. learning technology design to clearly understand the difference between these two processes.

📌 Learning design:

  • LD is a higher-level process. It focuses on analyzing data, creating a learning request, researching the issues, learning about the target audience, and working on its immersion. Its ultimate goal is to create an overall plan for future work and define e-learning strategies.
  • The LD phase sets the overall metrics which will determine the success of the course. These metrics will serve as a guideline for further work on the course.
  • LD takes into account an integrated approach and learning contexts. Based on this information, it focuses on creating a specific learning experience that only needs to be detailed and broken down.

📌 Instructional design:

  • ID stage’s main tasks are the creation of lesson plans and scripts.
  • ID deals with more substantive concepts and focuses on instructional content creation. As a rule, this process is rather linear as it is about the consistent presentation of instructional material.
  • One of the main differences between learning experience design vs. instructional design is the strong emphasis on matching learning objectives with instructional strategies and assessment methods.
  • ID is more rigorous and prescriptive. It operates with clear terms and concepts to provide guidelines for the design and delivery of instruction.

The Interplay and Overlap of Instructional and Learning Design

As you may have realized by now, comparing learning design to instructional design is not quite right. These two design thinking approaches both operate with learning theory but focus on different processes and cover different stages of interactive learning content development.

LD takes place before ID and sets the general direction of the course. It involves analyzing the target audience and related factors that may affect the success of the course. Here, an understanding of what the course should achieve is formed through development techniques, and based on who the intended audience will be. Based on the data gathered, content creation specialists develop a course outline.

In the ID phase, specialists take the outline created during LD as well as the information gathered, and use that data to create the curriculum, lessons, etc. Once the ID phase is complete, the materials developed in this phase are used in the production phase.

As you can see, LD and ID overlap. Experienced designers don’t even question instructional design vs. learning experience design. Instead, they use both approaches to achieve the best possible result. A good and clear course can only be created by understanding its goals and target audience. Similarly, understanding the overall path of the learning process will only be useful with clear learning materials. Thus, only by combining both approaches and creating blended models, can instructional designers achieve a truly effective result.

How Blue Carrot Can Help Your Business

Creating quality content involves a clear understanding of what is the difference between e-learning vs instructional design, and utilizing the best practices of both modern approaches. We at Blue Carrot understand this and therefore both frameworks are tightly integrated into our processes. With over 10 years of experience, we have a clear understanding of how to achieve the best possible result within a given timeframe. We always thoroughly research the audience and subject matter for our courses, create an optimal learning UX design, and then create effective training courses utilizing the support of the best subject matter experts and technology tools.

👉 Learn more about our content creation process through our e-learning design services offering or check out our case studies to see how learning materials can be effective, visually appealing, and involve digital learning innovations. One great example where we combined learning design together with instructional design is the Course on Healthy Relationships project. During its development, we conducted two audience research sessions, developed material for five dynamic e-learning hours, and finally created a beautiful course with 232 engaging interactive slides. Contact us now to get started on your course. We are committed to meeting your expectations and delivering exceptional results.



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