Towards a view of originary theory in instructional design


Theory, Instructional design theory, Imported theory, Originary theory, Instructional design, Learning


In this paper we offer a call for the development and utilization of originary theory in instructional design. Originary theory, which is generated by scholars within the field of its intended application, can be contrasted with imported theory, which is formulated in one field and later moved or “imported” into another for new purposes. In making our argument we first review the use of theories imported into instructional design and address limitations that might arise if these theories are overly relied upon, such as if they are treated as the primary source of insight for supporting the work of practitioners. Next, we define originary theory and argue that it should be emphasized within the field of instructional design because of the central role it can play in facilitating the field’s work of designing and developing excellent learning experiences. We further explore how originary theories can support instructional design practice by considering two examples of recent theoretical work that speak to the values, and challenge the assumptions, of instructional designers, disclosing aspects of the field that can help them better accomplish their work. First, we consider originary theory that conceptualizes instructional design as a design discipline; and second, we review originary theorizing that provides alternatives to common views about learners and learning. We conclude by considering what it might mean for the field to more intentionally develop and apply originary instructional design theory.

Original Publication Citation

McDonald, J.K., & Yanchar, S. C. (2020). Towards a view of originary theory in instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(2), 633-651. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09734-8

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date







David O. McKay School of Education


Instructional Psychology and Technology

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor