Conceptual Tool Use in Instructional Design

Theories play a key role in the sphere of instructional design because they are used to provide frameworks and backgrounds for practice (Fyle, Moseley, & Hayes, 2012; Honebein & Honebein, 2014). In their article “Struggling with Theory? A Qualitative Investigation of Conceptual Tool Use in Instructional Design,” Yanchar, South, Williams, Allen, and Wilson (2010) focused on presenting the qualitative analysis of using theories and concepts in instructional design. The purpose of their research was to examine what views regarding the use of theories or conceptual tools were shared by instructional designers. Thus, it is important to focus on this qualitative research in detail.

Research Questions

In their study, Yanchar et al. (2010) chose to concentrate on answering the primary question that was supported by several sub-questions. Thus, the primary research question for the study was the following one: “What is the nature of instructional designers’ practical involvement with formalized theories?” (Yanchar et al., 2010, p. 42). To provide more detailed answers to the question, the researchers formulated sub-questions in order to focus on designers’ approaches to viewing theories, functions of theories, and barriers to using theories in work.

Significance of Research Questions

The proposed research questions can be viewed as important because conceptual tools are actively used in instructional design, but there is little research regarding the designer’s decision-making process (Haley-Mize & Reeves, 2013; Sheehan & Johnson, 2012). Those theories that function as conceptual tools in design require the further investigation, and it is important to understand designers’ motivation regarding the use of this or that theory (Khalil & Elkhider, 2016). Furthermore, the choice of theories depends on their functions, and this point should also be discussed in detail (Ley & Gannon-Cook, 2014). Therefore, the selected research questions can be regarded as appropriate to address gaps in the modern vision of theories in instructional design.

Qualitative Methodology and Rationales

The qualitative research proposed by Yanchar et al. (2010) was based on their use of a series of semi-structured interviews that were conducted with seven participants, who were selected according to the principles of purposive sampling. The interviews’ results were analyzed with the help of a hermeneutic approach and with reference to the principles of thematic analysis. It is possible to state that the rationale to use this qualitative methodology was the necessity of combining hermeneutic, phenomenological, and ethnographic approaches in order to receive the most detailed results. From this point, a semi-structured interview can be discussed as the most efficient method to collect the required data for the further thematic analysis.

Alternative Methodology

Yanchar et al. (2010) conducted three interviews with each participant in order to collect the required data. However, it is also possible to use another qualitative method related to phenomenology: a focus group. It is effective to minimize resources and organize the work of focus groups in three sessions (Jalongo, Boyer, & Ebbeck, 2014). Each session can have a certain topic for discussing and involve seven speakers. Thus, a focus group can be viewed as an alternative method to collect information and answer the research questions.

The Authors’ Writing Style

It is important to note that Yanchar et al. (2010) organized their article in order to present findings in the most efficient and concise manner. Thus, the article was divided into such main sections as the introduction, method, results, and discussion. The research questions were formulated clearly. Furthermore, in order to present the detailed narrative material in the section with the study results, the authors arranged findings according to the identified meta-themes. This approach allows readers to search the data easily.

Questions Other Scholars Might Ask

Although the methodology is used appropriately, and findings are explained clearly, other researchers can focus on some details associated with the study that require further discussion. First, it is possible to ask questions about the necessity of involving different researchers to conduct semi-structured interviews. It is important to develop a plan for conducting interviews that should be used by both researchers to avoid problems with the data analysis. Second, risks that participants cannot provide the required information are high; therefore, it is important to focus on questions that can be used by researchers to initiate the discussion of important topics (Yanchar & Hawkley, 2015). Third, the researchers have not answered the question about designers’ thinking and decision-making associated with theories. It is important to ask whether the authors plan to conduct one more study to answer this question.

How the Findings Can Further Knowledge

The findings of the study can contribute to improving the practice of applying theories by instructional designers. The study has identified the main themes determined by designers as important to influence their actions. As a result, the findings contribute to expanding knowledge regarding the functions of different theories and potential problems associated with their application to practice.

Other Approaches to Investigating Questions

In addition to qualitative methodology, it is also possible to use quantitative methods in order to answer the research questions. It is important to develop the descriptive research the aim of which is to describe what theories are usually selected by designers (Patry, Brown, Rousseau, & Caron, 2015). The research should be based on a survey, and results can be presented in the form of percentages.


The article represents how qualitative methods can be used to answer research questions that involve narrative data. The study is organized appropriately. However, the stated research questions can also be answered with the help of other methods.


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Haley-Mize, S., & Reeves, S. (2013). Universal design for learning and emergent-literacy development: Instructional practices for young learners. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 79(2), 70-79.

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Sheehan, M. D., & Johnson, R. B. (2012). Philosophical and methodological beliefs of instructional design faculty and professionals. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60(1), 131-153.

Yanchar, S. C., & Hawkley, M. N. (2015). Instructional design and professional informal learning: Practices, tensions, and ironies. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 18(4), 424-434.

Yanchar, S. C., South, J. B., Williams, D. D., Allen, S., & Wilson, B. G. (2010). Struggling with theory? A qualitative investigation of conceptual tool use in instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(1), 39-60.