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Why is there such a close relationship between architecture and instructional design?

Most college professors know little or no education, at least when they start their career. They generally stand out as experts in a certain area –biology, law, engineering, etc.–, but knowing little or nothing about teaching and much less instructional design. This is one of the fundamental reasons why it is common to find university professors who handle their subject very well, but are not able to facilitate the learning process of students.

Those who understand and worry about having no idea how to carry out a pedagogical process can confront the problem and start a learning process. Either through a formal education process or with the support of more experienced colleagues, a path of growth is carried out that implies - at least - knowing how to design an effective course and knowing some learning models.

Since I started my teaching career in 2009, I have always been concerned about this gap, I knew well how to do my job, but I had no idea how to make it understood by others. For this reason, I relied on many teachers who reached out to me and accompanied me in the early stages of the process. In parallel, I got involved in different preparation courses. The most important was the one-year Diploma called Comprehensive Training for the teacher Aletheia, where I learned about topics such as: micro-teaching, instructional design, technological innovation in the academic field, evaluation models, communication and motivation.

In that program I was able to share with professionals from different careers and I began to notice that my training as an architect had facilitated the process of approaching education. At that time it was no more than a curious observation, but over the years I have been systematizing the common points between architecture and instructional design; the same ones for which the transfer from one area to the other was natural for me. Briefly, I present a list of some of those similarities below.


Instructional design is just that: design. Design theory is a body of knowledge that can be considered independent of the specific fields where design takes place. [1] The theory and methodologies of design do not belong to a single discipline, on the contrary, they are common to many of them, with architecture perhaps being one of the cases where work is done in greater depth. An example of this fact is ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation), the instructional design method that is probably the most widespread and whose stages are perfectly applicable in other design processes. [2]

Gráfico circular que muestra 5 etapas: analizar, diseñar, desarrollar, implementar y evaluar.
Typical structure of Instructional Design. Drawing by the author.

A point that helps to understand this phenomenon is the typical cyclical condition of the design. The cyclical process sees each stage overlap with those that are adjacent to it, while at the same time being related to the others. All development is always seen from the perspective of the author who has the responsibility of maintaining coherence throughout development. [3] This condition is transversal to design, regardless of the discipline in which it is developed.

In my case, for example, not only did I take the typical architecture training centered around project design, but I also had the opportunity to apply this knowledge both in the field of architecture and the visual arts. This fact was extremely valuable to me when designing training courses, most of which were in turn on methodological and design issues, thus becoming process and content at the same time and allowing me to deepen and specialize in their management.

Visual communication

Much of the instructional design seeks to structure knowledge that is transmitted visually, especially when talking about online education or distance education. The graphic material becomes the index and the center of the courses and this usually has an important weight in the probability of success of the process. In this sense, it should not be surprising that much of instructional design is based on the way humans process graphic information. [4]

In a setting like this, the architect also often performs outstandingly. Through his training and experience, he develops the knowledge and sensitivity necessary to communicate visually successfully. He does it from the beginning of his career, be it with drawings, pictures, presentations, from a very young age he must handle concepts such as balance, hierarchy, rhythm, in addition to exploring color theory, scale relationships and many other elements necessary to achieve a effective visual communication. Additionally, with the advancement of representation technologies in recent decades, the architect has been able to complement his capacity for freehand representation with digital programs and instruments that have diversified his spaces for expression. Finally, the architect is able to incorporate a significant aesthetic value within a process that could be considered functional, at the same time that he is able to explore new solutions.


By nature, education seeks to innovate, promotes innovation. Even so, in instructional design it is common to find the application of proven methods and processes that allow to achieve predictable results and meet the objective, but restrict the possibility of innovation. [2] Surely following proven procedures is useful and important, but - at the same time - innovation has become one of the fundamental requirements in many sectors, such as education. Technologies advance rapidly, the dynamics experienced by the participants in the programs are changing, the contents are increasingly complex, etc. In other words, it is necessary to handle the knowledge of instructional design fluently in order to apply it successfully, but it is also necessary to put it to the test so as not to be left behind.

The architect seldom follows to the letter the procedures he has previously worked with. As a front-line chef, he does not stay with the initial recipe, but seeks to move forward, turning each task into a new opportunity to browse and use his imagination. [2] Innovation is part of the psyche of the architect, who has grown through the development of his creativity and knows the ways to connect new ideas with their implementation. In this sense, he can apply this capacity for innovation to other areas of knowledge.


The fundamental objective of education is that students learn how to learn, that is, seek, test and apply new information so that they can start from known facts in order to explore new solutions. [5] On the contrary, when the instructional design drowns the student with a lot of principles, facts and theories in the hope that she will be able to apply them later, she hardly achieves her goal. [5] Instead of a kind of transmission of information from the teacher to the student, a large part of the teaching process occurs by doing, that is, it is a practical process, a simulation in which the learner faces problems similar to those that could be encountered in the classroom. future and is trained in formulating solutions.

In this way, the training process has an important practical component that it shares with architecture, a discipline that develops around practice. The apprentice architect spends his career trying to integrate new accumulations of knowledge through a project design process where real situations are simulated. This process motivates and trains the translation of theory into practice. In other words, the architect experiences and learns analysis and implementation processes that are applicable in instructional design.

In my case, when I started working in instructional design and although I was not at all sure what I was doing, I had the instinctive reaction to propose courses that not only cared about providing the new content to students, but also had space to the application of said knowledge. Only with time did I understand the importance of this simulation space to consolidate learning and I understood why it turns out to be one of the good practices of instructional design.


Instructional design is not the same in all parts of the world, it depends closely on the student to whom it is directed, their age, their process, their needs, even their geographical and cultural reality. In this way, it is a process that is built for a specific reality. Generally, first the most common characteristics of the target students are gathered to build an image that brings them together as best as possible and then adapts to the particularities and special needs of those who require it.

In the practice of architecture, the same logic is followed, projects are developed according to the clients to whom they are directed. In many cases, this client is an idea that includes the most common characteristics of a population, because it is not known exactly who will live in a certain space, but there are also cases where the architecture is designed to respond to the requirements of a specific person.

Instructional design often forgets about people and focuses almost exclusively on the knowledge that it seeks to convey. Conversations rotate between chapters, content, priorities, etc. When approached in this way, design forgets that the true center and starting point are the people to be trained. Only by understanding people can we build courses and programs that are interesting and effective for them.

The way of working

The last condition to point out in this article is not a similarity, but a way of acting. Hokanson, Miller and Hooper define the facets of the instructional designer as an artist, engineer, architect and craftsman, and when they speak of an architect, they point out several points that I have been commenting so far: [2]

  • They have a balanced approach between utility, usability and aesthetics.

  • They give value to aesthetics.

  • They bet on innovation.

  • They apply the research.

  • They seek to increase the motivation, interaction and commitment of the participant.

  • They push resource limits to enhance the participant experience.

Most of these points have already been covered and some will remain for a future article, but before concluding, it is worth reflecting on the balance (utility, usability and aesthetics) due to its close similarity to the Vitruvian triangle. Vitruvius lived a century before Christ and formulated a theory according to which the architecture had to fulfill three conditions: utility, firmness and beauty. This triangle is still used as a fundamental reference even today, a framework to recognize good architecture. Considering the similarity between these two triangles, it is evident that the architect can excel as an instructional designer by transferring and applying some of the basic principles of his discipline.


Considering how naturally I was able to migrate from architecture to instructional design, I always thought it couldn't be casual, but it took me time to understand why. Over the years, through readings, conferences, discussions, I have been able to begin to glimpse some of the peculiarities why this trip has been so comfortable, pleasant and fruitful.

Those who were trained as an architect obviously will not have the title of pedagogue, but thanks to that very fact and after training as an instructional designer, the architect can add enormous value to this training exercise.

Those of us who have made a career turn must humbly acknowledge that we are entering an area for which we were not initially trained. Over time, we can learn and, if we intend, to stand out and make a significant contribution thanks to complementary knowledge and the interdisciplinary nature of education. In other words, we can see it from another point of view, with other tools and knowledge that promote the innovation process.




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