The intention of instructional design theories and models is to ground or guide us in our learning design efforts to address learner and organizational needs. But let’s just say it out loud … there’s a lot to choose from. Do they all have equal value? Are they just variations on a theme?
Given the plethora of available choices, M. David Merrill sought to determine whether a set of core principles was present amongst the models. If the answer was yes, could they serve as a basis for designing effective and efficient learning regardless of program or practice? Here we go!
Do the selected theories and models have fundamental underlying principles in common?
According to this paper, a principle is a relationship that is always true under appropriate conditions regardless of practice (a specific instructional activity) or program (an approach consisting of a set of prescribed practices).
Merrill selected a variety of learning theories and models for analysis to determine a set of common (read “first”) principles that were present.
These theories and models included:
- Star legacy (Vanderbilt Learning Technology Center)
- 4-Mat (McCarthy)
- Instructional episodes (Andre)
- Multiple approaches to understanding (Gardner)
- Collaborative problem solving (Nelson)
- Constructivist learning environments (Jonassen)
- Learning by doing (Schank)
Five first principles emerged from Merrill’s research (2002). He constructed these into phases of effective instruction (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Phases of Effective Instruction
Table 1 describes these principles and is augmented with Merrill’s (2007) synthesis of the first principles and reflective questions for design.
Table 1: Augmented first principles and reflective questions for design
Learning is promoted when…
Questions to ask yourself
Problem and task centered
Learners are engaged in solving real world problems and tasks
Existing knowledge is retrieved or activated as a foundation for the new knowledge or learning
New knowledge (task) is demonstrated to the learner
The learner applies new knowledge
New knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world or context
Implications for eLearning design
The use of the first principles is meant to be prescriptive and applicable to any learning practice or program. For your eLearning design and development, ask yourself the associated design questions and include these phases of effective instruction. Being problem or task focused is the central principle and should be the starting point for all design efforts.
Merrill, M. David. “First Principles of Instruction.” Educational Technology Research & Development, 50. 2002. Retrieved from https://csapoer.pbworks.com/f/First+Principles+of+Instruction+(Merrill,+2002).pdf
Merrill, M. D. “First Principles of Instruction: A Synthesis.” Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, 2. 2007.
This article is the last in the Research for Practitioners series. We hope that you have enjoyed these summaries and found them useful. The authors of the individual articles would very much appreciate your comments, and would like to hear about your experience in applying what you learned from their compact presentations of some very long research reports!