instructional design, architectural theory of instructional design, design layers, message layer design, instructional development


The number and variety of messages conveyed by an instructional experience is astonishing, but most designers are unaware of their number, subtlety, and impact. Many of those messages they would not choose to send if they recognized their existence in practice. The design of invisible and abstract message structures receives less attention from designers today than those parts of the design given to more vivid, colorful, and showy surface structures. Invisible message structures work behind the scenes to produce the smooth surface performances in front of the curtain; they are seldom seen directly, but their power is indisputable. The purpose of this chapter is to shed light on the message construct—a structure implicit in the writings of instructional theorists and design psychologists for decades and across multiple epochs of psychological theory. Without realizing the values conveyed by message design—or the lack of it—designers miss one of their most useful tools for disciplining the everyday design of more interactive, adaptive, generative, and scalable instruction experiences: instructional conversations.

Original Publication Citation

Gibbons, A. S. & Boling, E. (2020). The invisible message. Paper presented at the 2020 AECT Annual Summer Symposium, Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

Document Type

Conference Paper

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Permanent URL




David O. McKay School of Education


Instructional Psychology and Technology

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor