Critical Instructional Design is a term and concept introduced by Sean Michael Morris during the Digital Pedagogy Lab online event, MOOC MOOC: Instructional Design in January 2016. That event—and a subsequent course titled “Critical Instructional Design” and offered in Canvas—sought to explore the possibility of an intersection between Critical Pedagogy and instructional design. Because the two approaches to learning are at odds with one another (Critical Pedagogy encouraging learner agency and the ability to “read” one’s world and circumstance, and instructional design fixed on standardization, efficiency, and teacher-centered assessment of learners’ proficiency and achievement), the intersection between them necessarily birthed something new.

Critical instructional design is an early, emerging attempt to get at some concrete methodologies for creating agentive spaces in online and hybrid learning environments.

Critical Instructional Design is not an iteration of traditional instructional design. It does not find its roots in behaviorism or the tenets of an educational psychology that traces its roots to B. F. Skinner. Instead, Critical Instructional Design looks to educational pioneers like Paulo Freire, bell hooks, John Holt, John Dewey, Seymour Papert, and others. The Critical Instructional Design approach prioritizes collaboration, participation, social justice, learner agency, emergence, narrative, and relationships of nurture between students and between teachers and students. Critical Instructional Design also acknowledges that all learning today is necessarily hybrid, and looks for opportunities to integrate learners’ digital lives into their digitally-enhanced or fully online learning experiences.

As a social justice methodology, Critical Instructional Design seeks to create learning and educational opportunities for students of all backgrounds, leveraging techniques especially to give platforms for those voices most usually suppressed or oppressed, including the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, First Nation people, people with disabilities, and more. Too much, traditional instructional design is an instrument of standardization, and therefore an instrument of exclusion; Critical Instructional Design aims for the fullest inclusion possible.