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Athabasca University


MDDE 603: Foundations of Instructional Design: Systems Analysis and Learning Theory

Delivery mode: Online course using Moodle

Credits: 3 - Core course

Prerequisites: MDDE 601, MDDE 602 for MEd program students only

Instructors: Mary Kennedy and Robert Sochowski



Two major disciplines underlie MDDE 603: Foundations Instructional Design: Systems Analysis and Learning Theory. In this course you will be introduced to a broad range of learning theories and explore the role they play in instructional design. The contributions of various areas of psychology, including behaviourism and cognitive psychology, will be explored, culminating in an examination of instructional systems design and constructivist models of teaching and learning. You will also be introduced to systems thinking, distance education and training systems, and systems analysis.

MDDE 603: Foundations of Instructional Design: Systems Analysis and Learning Theory has been designed to foster new ways of looking at education, particularly distance education, and new perspectives of how complex systems work. It explores teaching and learning, and provides you with important insights related to learning theory and how it relates to instructional design. Together, the topics covered in this course will provide a foundation for MDDE 604: Instructional Design and Distance Education, where you will complete an actual instructional design project.

Course Goals

After completing this course students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the main epistemological orientations that underlie various theories of learning and interpret these orientations in light of their own views on the teaching-learning process.

  2. Compare and contrast the three major learning theories – behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism – that underlie instructional design theory and models.

  3. Explain how behavioural, cognitive, and constructivist theories apply to instructional design, especially those pertaining to distance education modalities and online learning environments.

  4. Describe the major theories of human motivation and explain how these inform instructional design, especially those pertaining to distance education modalities and learning environments.

  5. Explain how the neuroscience of learning informs instructional design, especially that pertaining to distance education modalities and learning environments.

  6. Develop a personalized theory of teaching and learning for use in the design of distance education and online learning environments.

  7. Explain the basis of systems theory that underlies instructional design.

  8. Explain why a systems theory framework is important in the design and delivery of distance education, and online learning.

  9. Analyse general education systems and distance education systems using various systems models, including soft systems methodology.

Course Outline

The course units for MDDE 603 include the following:

Unit 1: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning

Unit 2: Behavioural Theories of Learning

Unit 3: Cognitive Theories of Learning

Unit 4: Constructivist Theories of Learning

Unit 5: Roles of Motivation in Learning

Unit 6: The Neuroscience of Learning

Unit 7: Introduction to Systems Concepts and Soft Systems Analysis

Student Assessment

Your final course grade will be based on three major assignments, including the debate, and your participation in the discussion forums. The graded assignments are described briefly below.

Assignment 1 (30%) requires that you revise and update an existing blended and/or distance education course. This assignment requires that you apply research on behavioural and/or cognitive learning theory in revising the course. There is an option to select your own course for revision, with the approval of the instructor. 

Assignment 2 (25%) encompasses two activities: participation in a formal debate and a short paper on your personal theory of practice.

Assignment 3 (30%) is a team assignment on systems theory and systems analysis. You will work collaboratively to describe and analyse an educational context or system. You will use Banathy’s systems view as encompassed in his three lenses, selecting one lens for specific application to your context.  You will also employ Checkland’s soft systems methodology to analyse a specific problem situation in an educational context of your choice. This assignment is valued at 30% of your course grade.

Course Participation (15%) you are expected to participate in the discussion forums of the course.

Course Materials

Online study guide and readings.


Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. (eText).

Naughton, J. (1984). Soft systems analysis: An introductory guide. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press. (Online access).

Getting Started Early

Early access to the Moodle Learning Management System begins a few days before the official start date of your course. At that time you will have limited access to the course. On the Official Start Date of the course, instructors will be available and the discussion forums will become active.


Last updated by MM December 15, 2016

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