Andrew S Gibbons

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Andrew S. Gibbons is a practitioner and theorist in the field of Instructional Design and Technology. He has proposed an architectural theory of instructional design[1][2] influenced by the structural principles of artifact modularization drawn from a number of design disciplines, as exemplified by the work of Baldwin and Clark.[3]

Gibbons' work departs from prior work in learning design, which has historically been based on identification of design processes. Architectural design concentrates on the abstract inner architecture of the entity being designed. This architectural approach purports to make possible more nuanced and innovative designs. An architectural approach is considered by Gibbons to be essential in the design of adaptive learning experiences, including both those delivered by automated systems and those delivered by live teachers or a combination of live and automated means.

In another departure from the standard approach, rather than beginning with the assumption of a formal design process, the architectural approach assumes that the sequencing of design decisions should be controlled by recognition of the beginning constraints given with the design problem and then by the successive placement of additional constraints through design decision making.[4]

Gibbons' philosophy of design emphasizes functional rather than physical characteristics of the entity under design. This architectural theory of design identifies at least seven functional areas of designed learning artifacts, including but not limited to: provision of content, execution of strategy, formation of messages, creation of representations, provision of user controls, data management, and execution of media logic. Design oscillates between functional area design and whole-design integration. The seven functional areas are termed "layers", a term borrowed from Stewart Brand in his description of the functional areas of a building's design.[5]

Layers define functional modules whose design can be approached semi-independently in the same manner as the functional modules of computers or other complex systems. Modular design assumes the involvement of specialists such as artists, writers, and design psychologists early, in the creative phases of design. The revision and expansion of designs becomes less disruptive because foundational interests and decisions are separated from the less foundational, the ornamental, and the derivative ones.


In 1969 Gibbons earned a B.A. in English with a Chemistry minor from Brigham Young University. In 1974 he completed a doctorate in Instructional Psychology at Brigham Young University.[6] During that time, he worked on the research team of M. David Merrill, assisting in the conception of Component Display Theory.[7] Component Display Theory provided the basis later for Merrill's Instructional Transaction Theory.[8]

Academic career[edit]

Gibbons accumulated eighteen years of practical design experience as a project director and consultant for two start-up instructional design consultancies: Courseware Incorporated, and WICAT Systems (World Institute for Computer-Aided Instruction). The idea of computer-based instruction did not exist in the thinking of the business and educational leaders in 1974, though research was conducted in high-tech laboratories as early as the 1950s,[9] but cost and technology factors prohibited widespread dissemination. The opportunity for creating large-scale new-technology-based designs for a variety of training clients provided Gibbons many insights into the issues of creating instructional experiences efficiently that were also effective.

In 1993 Gibbons transitioned to a teaching and research position at the Department of Instructional Technology of Utah State University, associating himself once more with M. David Merrill's ID2 research team. From 1993 to 2003 the conceptual basis for an architecture-oriented design theory grew, resulting in the publication of a book that began to show architectural themes that would evolve into the architectural design theory.[10]

In 2003, Gibbons became the department chair at Brigham Young University for the Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology in the David O. McKay School of Education.[11] During this time, the architectural design theory took its published form in a series of articles and a book.[12][13][14] Professor Emeritus status was awarded in 2016. Gibbons continues to remain active in researching and writing on architectural design theory.

Research and books[edit]

Gibbons' architectural design theory unifies what otherwise would appear to be separate threads of his work on design theory. The question had to be addressed early whether "theory" was an appropriate term to use referring to a system of design thinking. Gibbons supported his position that it was, citing the description of a uniquely design-related type of theory by Herbert Simon in Sciences of the Artificial.[15] Gibbons addressed the issue in a paper titled Explore, Explain, Design[16] with co-author C. Victor Bunderson. In this view, explanation, which is the goal of science, is carried out in search of theories about how things work, leading ideally toward a hypothesized, unifying theory of everything; in contrast, research on design processes and principles is carried out in search of theories of how things can be made to work. Vincenti,[17] Klir,[18] Edelson[19] and others describe research in engineering (design) that can lead to design theory that is distinct from scientific theory in several ways.

Overall, Gibbons' published work represents the gradual emergence of the architectural theory and then multiple attempts to demonstrate the viability of the theory by fleshing out details. His theory of model-centered instruction,[20] for example, separates two major concerns of instructional designers: content and strategy. The term content in this context refers to abstracted subject-matter and not media resources. Model-centered instruction proposes that the most appropriate form of content is a dynamic interactive model and that experiencing and exploring the model should be augmented by support of different types. This counters the common intuition that verbal and visual expressions of content are sufficient. Model-centering forces the designer to separate decisions about subject-matter from decisions about its expression (messaging and representation) and from the means of leading learners into interactions with it (strategic interaction). It also begs the question of the means (expression controls) by which the learner might carry out the interactions.

Gibbons and his colleagues explored design considerations for simulations in the light of model-centering.[21] As the architectural theory emerged, this led to a description of how designers might use it as a tool to guide the production of simulation designs without relying on a process design model.[22]

In the early 1990s, the interests of large-scale training distributors turned toward standard approaches for producing and distributing technology-involved instruction on a massive scale. A standard plan for product modularization was considered by them to be a solution. The question was, which dimensions to standardize. The U.S. Department of Defense funded the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, and a large number of commercial interests subscribed to the [IMS Global Learning Consortium][1]. Each major project created a unique product packaging standard, with its own centralized data collection and learner management functions. Both standards are widely used.

Both modularization plans focus on software element interoperability rather than on design element interoperability. Both prescribe how products with disparate internal architectures can be placed into standardized software containers for distribution, in the same way that any standard DVD can be played on a standard DVD player. This was a production and distribution issue. Gibbons' responded to the modularization problem from the designer's point of view, taking into consideration the inner architecture of instructional experiences. He speculated that modularization based on the internal architecture of the artifact's instructional functions could lead to the creation of a pool of executive engine routines (applications) centered on the functions, rather than on the packaging of media products. Gibbons expects that future standards will evolve toward this new focus on artifact functionality, as the demand for more innovative and learner-responsive experiences increases, a view expressed in The Nature and Origin of Instructional Objects.[23] (See also The interplay of learning objects and design architectures)[24]

In a different line of work, Gibbons and Langton conducted a two-year project to validate one of the claims of the architectural theory: the claim that for every functional design layer there are numerous theories from the literature of related design fields capable of informing design within that layer specifically. The control layer was selected for study, the layer within which the designer determines the kinds of expressive controls the learner will be given. An extensive literature review revealed a number of such theories that could improve the design of an interactive instructional control system.[25] This has encouraged further studies of additional layers.

As the architectural theory emerged, Gibbons proposed that, in addition to bodies of theory, there exist a pools of design language terms related to different layers and that the expertise of a designer can be expressed in terms of the designer's familiarity with the languages of the different layers. Moreover, from these languages individual designers and group designers draw their preferred stock of design constructs. A study of design languages of dancers and their expression through notation was described by Waters and Gibbons,[26] which demonstrated that design notation makes possible the public sharing of designs and the coordination of design concepts among design team participants.[27] Rather than being static, it was shown that pools grow and contract as terms fall into and out of use through innovation and that, though terms may be shared among design team members, the ultimate range of an individual designer is set by the individual's knowledge of terms in the pools or the ability to invent new terms.[28][29][30] This led to a proposal that designer training should expose novice designers to the existence of these terminologies and their usefulness in generating innovative designs within teams.

On the question of the comparison of theories, Gibbons and a team of collaborators studied a group of published instructional theories, seeking a basis for comparing them critically and in greater detail. This study revealed that theories had to be read in terms of the theorist's unwritten but implied conceptual categories, since theorists were found to use different terms when clearly referring to the same phenomena.[31]

Selected book chapters[edit]

  • Graham, C. R., Henrie, C., Gibbons, A. S. (2014). Developing models and theory for blended learning research. Blended learning: Research perspectives Volume 2 (pp. 13–33). Routledge.
  • Gibbons, A. S. (2014). Eight views of instructional design and what they should mean to instructional designers.. In B. Hokanson and A.S. Gibbons (Ed.), Design in educational technology: Design thinking, design process, and the design studio.. Springer.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Boling, E., Smith, K. M. (2014). Instructional design models. Handbook of research on educational communications technology, 4th ed. (4th edition ed.). Springer.
  • Graham, C. R., Henrie, C. R., Gibbons, A. S. (2013). Developing models and theory for blended learning research. Blended learning: Research perspectives II. Routledge.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Boling, E., Smith, K. M. (2012, in press). Instructional design models. In M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. Elen, and M. J. Bishop (Ed.), Handbook of research in educational communications and technology (4th ed.) (4th Edition ed.). Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Rogers, P. C. (2009). Coming at design from a different angle: Functional design. In L. Moller, J. B. Huett, and D. M. Harvey (Ed.), Learning and instructional technologies for the 21st Century. Springer.
  • Stubbs, S. T., Gibbons, A. S. (2008). The power of design drawing in other design fields. In L. Botturi & T. Stubbs (Ed.), Handbook of Visual Languages for Instructional Design: Theories and Practices (pp. 18). Information Science Reference.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Botturi, L., Boot, E., Nelson, J. (2008). Design languages. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. van Merrienboer, & M. Driscoll (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 3rd ed. (pp. 12). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Gibbons, A. S. (2008). Model-centered Instruction, the Design, and the Designer. In D. Ifenthaler & P. Pirnay-Dummer (Ed.), Understanding models for learning and instruction: Essays in honor of Norbert M. Seel (pp. 12). Springer.
  • Stubbs, S. T., Gibbons, A. S. (2007). Using ID layers to categorize design drawings. In Botturi, L & Stubbs, T. (Ed.), Handbook of Visual Languages for Instructional Design: Theories and Practices. Information Science Reference.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Sommer, S. (2007). Layered design in an instructional simulation. In Shelton, B. & Wiley, D. (Ed.), The Design and Use of Simulation Computer Games in Education. Sense Publications.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Lawless, K., Anderson, T. A., Duffin, J. R. (2000). The Web and Model-Centered Instruction. In Khan, B. (Ed.), Web-Based Instruction (vol. 2). Educational Technology Publications.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Fairweather, P. G. (2000). Computer-Based Instruction. In Tobias, S. & Fletcher, D. (Ed.), Training and Retraining: A Handbook for Business, Industry, Government, and Military. Division 15 of the American Psychological Association and Macmillan Reference USA.

Selected journal articles[edit]

  • McDonald, J., Gibbons, A. S. (2009). Technology I, II, and III: Criteria for understanding and improving the practice of instructional technology. Educational Technology Research and Development, 57, 377-392.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Merrill, P., Swan, R., Campbell, J. O., Christensen, E., Insalaco, M., Wilcken, W. (2008). Re-examining the implied role of the designer.. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9, 127-137.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Waki, R., Fairweather, P. (2008). Adding an expert to the team: The expert flight plan critic. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39, 324-335.
  • Boot, E., Nelson, J., Van Merrienboer, J., Gibbons, A. S. (2007). Stratification, elaboration, and formalization of design documents: Effects on the production of materials. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38, 917-933.
  • Gibbons, A. S., Fairweather, P. G. (2000). Distributed Learning: Two Steps Forward, One Back? One Forward, Two Back?. IEEE Concurrency, 8(2), 8-9+.


  1. ^ Gibbons, A. S. & Rogers, P. C. (2009). The architecture of instructional theory. In C. M. Reigeluth & A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models, Volume III. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  2. ^ Gibbons, A. S. (2014). An architectural approach to instructional design. New York: Routledge.
  3. ^ Baldwin and Clark (2000), Design Rules: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  4. ^ Gross, M., Ervin, M. Anderson, J., and Fleisher, A. (1987). Designing with constraints. In Y. E. Kalay (Ed.), Computability of design. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. ^ Brand, S. (1994). How buildings learn: What happens after they're built. New York: Viking Press.
  6. ^ Andrew S. Gibbons. (n.d.). Retrieved from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-07. Retrieved 2015-02-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Merrill, M. D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed). Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status, pp.279-333. Hillsdael, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  8. ^ Merrill, M. D. (1996). Instructional Transactional Theory: An Instructional Design Model based on Knowledge Objects. Educational Technology. 36 (3): 30–37.
  9. ^ Atkinson, R. & Wilson, H. (1969). Computer-Assisted Instruction: A Book of Readings. New York: Academic Press.
  10. ^ Gibbons, A. S. & Fairweather, P. G. (1998). Computer-based instruction: Design and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  11. ^ Biographical page for Professor Andrew S. Gibbons
  12. ^ Gibbons, A. S. & Rogers, P. C. (2009). The Architecture of Instructional Theory. In C. M. Reigeluth & A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models, Volume III. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  13. ^ Gibbons, A. S., McConkie, M., Seo, K. K., & Wiley, D. (2009). Theory for the design of instructional simulations and microworlds. In C. M. Reigeluth and A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models, Volume III. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  14. ^ Gibbons, A. S. (2014). An Architectural Approach to Instructional Design. New York: Routledge.
  15. ^ Simon, H. A. (199). Sciences of the Artificial, 3rd Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  16. ^ Gibbons, A. S. & Bunderson, C. V. (2005). Explore, explain, design. In K. Kempf-Leonard (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social measurement. New York: Elsevier.
  17. ^ Vincenti, W. G. (1990). What Engineers Know and How They Know It. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  18. ^ Klir, G. (1969). An Approach to General Systems Theory. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  19. ^ Edelson, D. (2002). Design research: What we learn when we engage in design. Journal of the learning sciences, 11(1), 105-121.
  20. ^ Gibbons, A. S., Model-Centered Instruction. Journal of Structural Learning and Intelligent Systems. 14: 511-540, 2001.
  21. ^ Gibbons, A. S., Fairweather, P. G., Anderson, T. A., & Merrill, M. D. (1997). Simulation and computer-based instruction: A future view. In C. R. Dills and A. J. Romiszowski (Eds.) Instructional development paradigms. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Instructional Technology Publications.
  22. ^ Gibbons, A. S., McConkie, M., Seo, K. K., & Wiley, D. (2009), Theory for the design of instructional simulations and microworlds. In C. M. Reigeluth and A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models, Volume III. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  23. ^ Gibbons, A. S. (2000). The nature and origin of instructional objects. In D. Wiley (Ed.), The instructional use of learning objects. Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
  24. ^ Gibbons, A. S. (2006). The interplay of learning objects and design architectures. Educational Technology. 46(1), 18-21.
  25. ^ Gibbons, A. S. & Langton, M. B. (2016). The application of layer theory to design: The control layer. Journal of computing in higher education, 28(2), 97-135.
  26. ^ Waters, S. H. & Gibbons, A. S. (2004). Design languages, notation systems, and instructional technology: A case study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(2), 57-68.
  27. ^ Gibbons, A. S. (2003). What and How Do Designers Design: A Theory of Design Structure. Tech Trends, 47(5), 22-27.
  28. ^ Gibbons, A. S. & Brewer, E. K. (2005). Elementary principles of design languages and notation systems for instructional design. In J. M. Spector, C. Ohrazda, A. van Schaack & D. Wiley (Eds.), Innovations in instructional technology: Essays in Honor of M. David Merrill. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  29. ^ Stubbs, S. T. & Gibbons, A. S. (2008). The prevalence of design drawing in instructional development. In L. Botturi and S. T. Stubbs, Handbook of visual languages for instructional design: Theories and practices. New York: Information Science Reference.
  30. ^ Gibbons, A. S., Botturi, L., Boot, E., & Nelson, J. (2008). Design languages. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. van Merrienboer, & M. Driscoll (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology, 3rd ed.. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 633-645.
  31. ^ Bostwick, J. A., Calvert, I. W., Francis, J., Hawkley, M., Henrie, C. R., Juncker, J. & Gibbons, A. S. (2014). A process for the critical analysis of instructional theory. Educational technology research and development, 62(5), 571-582.