Discovering Instructional Design 12: the ICARE Framework

Last time, we introduced the Kemp Model, and in this article I will outline the key features of the ICARE framework for e-learning.

Features of Instructional Design

In the broadest sense, instructional design has been described as

…an emerging profession, (2) focused on establishing and maintaining efficient and effective human performance, (3) guided by a model of human performance, (4) carried out systematically, (5) based on open systems theory, and (6) oriented to finding and applying the most cost-effective solutions to human performance problems and discovering quantum leaps in productivity improvement through human ingenuity.

(Smith & Tillman, 2004 p.1)

More prosaically Gustafson & Branch  consider instructional design (ID) as

a system of procedures for developing education and training programs in a consistent and reliable fashion. Instructional design is a complex process that is creative, active, and iterative.

(What is Instructional Design? 2002, p. 17)

The latter assert that instructional design is a complex systematic process with the following characteristics;

  • interdependent – no elements can be separated from the system
  • synergistic – all the elements can achieve more than the individual elements alone
  • dynamic – systems can adjust to changing conditions in environments
  • cybernetic – elements communicate among them efficiently

According to Gustafson and Branch, adhering to a instructional systems design process and can make instruction more effective and relevant to learners.

The ICARE Framework


High level view of the ICARE Model

With these parameters in place, let’s take a look at the ICARE approach to designing instruction. Based on the venerable Dick and Carey Model and pioneered by San Diego State University in 1997, the ICARE framework has found a place in the higher education sector. According to Vincent Salyers (2006) ICARE has potential “as one possible means for structuring and organizing course content.” As we’ll see in my next blog post, the Centre for Learning Development at Middlesex University has adapted the ICARE framework, designed templates with built-in guidelines for use by academics with little experience in instructional design, and extended the model as the basic pedagogy  for their ‘Global Campus’ instructional framework for distance education (Mojab & Huyck, 2001).

According to the ICARE Model’s primary proponents Hoffman and Ritchie (1998), the model is distilled from basic instructional design practice (see Table 1), and emerged as a result of the authors adapting various systems to what seemed to be particularly useful components for e-learning course design and development.

Table 1. The ICARE Model

IntroductionThis phase consists of the introduction to the unit of instruction including:
- Context
- Objectives
- Prerequisites
- Required study time
- Equipment required
- Essential reading materials
Connect or Content (MDX iteration)Almost all content will reside in this section
Apply All ActivitiesExercise, thinking questions, etc are implemented in this phase
ReflectThis phase provides an opportunity for learners to reflect on their acquired knowledge and articulate their experience. This section may include: topics for discussion, a learning journal/log, a self test, formative and summative assessment
ExtendAn amalgamation of all the previous phases which offers materials and learning opportunities which can be remedial, supplemental, or advanced, depending on learner performance
In this context for example, when refactoring course content into online modules (what the authors term “distance learning units”) a conventional 20-credit module is deconstructed into twenty units worth nine hours of study each. Table 2 describes the pedagogy includes the seven “good practices” (2001, pp.8-9) across six distinctive but interrelated components applied to individual lesson/lecture ‘units.’

Table 2: Middlesex University Implementation of the ICARE Model

Good PracticeLocal support CentresDiscussion questions, bulletin-board & chat room facilitiesStudent activities and exercises (answers provided)On-line Review questions (answers provided)On-line learningStudy plan
1. Encourage contacts between students and facultyXX
2. Develop co-operation among the studentsXX
3. Use active learning techniquesXXX
4. Give prompt feedbackXX
5. Communicate high expectationXXX
6. Respect diverse talents and ways of learningXX
7. Place time on taskX

Next Time: ICARE Model – Middlesex University’s experience



Gustafson, K. L., & Branch, R. M. (2002). What is instructional design? In: R.A. Reiser & J. A. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (pp. 16-25). Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.

Hoffman, B., & Ritchie, D.C (1998). (2005). Teaching and learning online: Tools, templates, and training. In: J. Willis, D. Willis, & J. Price (Eds.), Technology and teacher education annual – 1998. Charlottesville, VA: Association for Advancement of Computing in Education.

Mojab, D. & Huyck, C. (2001). The Global Campus at Middlesex University: A Model for E-Learning. [Internet] Available from: http://www.cwa.mdx.ac.uk/chris/draft6.doc Retrieved 3 June 2017

Salyers, V. (2006, July). Using the ICARE Format for Structuring Online Courses. Impact 2006, WebCT, 8th Annual Users Conference; San Antonio, TX.

Smith, P.L., & Tillman, J.R. (2004) Instructional Design (3rd Ed). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Books.