Master of Education in Distance Education (MDDE) 603

Foundations of Instructional Design: Systems Analysis and Learning Theory

Course cover

Delivery Mode: Group Study (with eTextbook)

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: None.

Availability: All terms

Note: MEd program students must complete Mdde601 & Mdde602 prior to all other courses
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 course access.


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

Learning Resources


Registration in this course includes an electronic textbook. For more information on electronic textbooks, please refer to our eText Initiative site.

Schunk, D. H. (2019). Learning theories: An educational perspective (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Other Materials

Online study guide and readings, including digital textbook:

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

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.

Activity Credit Weight
Assignment 1: 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.  30%
Assignment 2: Encompasses two activities: participation in a formal debate and a short paper on your personal theory of practice. 25%
Assignment 3: 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. 30%
Course Participation: You are expected to participate in the discussion forums of the course. 15%
Total 100%

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.