Monday, March 02, 2020

Merrill - Instruction principles for offline and online learning…

David Merrill’s wanted to provide an evidence-based approch to instruction in any field. His ‘First Principles of Instruction’ claim to be a set of activities that are common across all subjects. They are very much centred around learning by doing but also sensitive to prior knowledge and cognitive science. He also recommended instructional frameworks for online learning that were ahead of their time.

First Principles of Instruction

His instructional theory recognises the need for integration with existing knowledge and emphasises the active retrieval, demonstration and application of knowledge and skills.
Teach towards real-world tasks or problems, from the simple to complex.
Get learners to recall prior knowledge. This allows new knowledge to be integrated with greater ease.
Show or demonstrate knowledge or skills in a real context, based on what research shows works well.
Do it. Learners need to demonstrate their knowledge or skills by demonstrating that they know or can perform that skill.
Integrate knowledge or skills through reflection, discussion, debate or presentation of new knowledge. This means applying your knowledge into real life contexts.

Instructional Transactional Theory

Merrill was actively involved in the emerging field of learning technology and was prescient in seeing the need for an instructional design theory for new, emerging technology. He was ahead of its time in recognising that online instruction must move beyond the flat, media presentation model towards capturing the sophistication of learning activities suggested by cognitive science. 
He saw the first generation instructional design as largely presentation and proposed a second generation design approach based on technology mediating instruction through algorithms that draw on content and data to deliver to the learner or learners. This approach allows learning experiences to be produced faster and cheaper. He proposed the creation of knowledge objects that can be related to each other and sequencing with algorithmic guidance. This is the essence of contemporary adaptive learning.

Component Display Theory

To help design optimal learning experiences, Merrill also constructed a matrix approach that matches two dimensions:

·      Content: facts, procedures, concepts and principles
·      Performance: remember, use and find

He based this on the idea that we have associative and algorithmic memory, which need different approaches. He later expanded this approach to cover entire courses with a more sophisticated approach to what we would now call ‘blended learning’.


Merrill has had an influence on those involved in o line learning, then adaptive learning as well as AI-content creation tools. He recognised that the old multimedia production methods and processes, were not only pedagogically shallow, but far too long-winded and expensive. Algorithms, he claimed, would be more efficient and allow online experiences to be created quickly, cheaply and with more effectiveness. His strength is also in relating his recommendations to memory theory and cognition. 


Merrill, M. D. (2001). "Toward a theoretical tool for instructional design." Instructional Science, 29(4- 5), 291-310.
Merrill, M. D. (2002). "A pebble-in-the-pond model for instructional design." Performance Improvement, 41(7), 39-44.
Merrill, M. D. (2002). "First principles of instruction." Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.
Merrill, M. D. (2006). "Levels of instructional strategy." Educational Technology 46(4): 5-10.
Merrill, M. D. (2006). Hypothesized performance on complex tasks as a function of scaled instructional strategies. Handling Complexity in Learning Environments: Theory and Research. J. Enen and R. E. Clark. Amsterdam, Elsevier: 265-281.
Merrill, M. D. (2007). "A task-centered instructional strategy." Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(1), 33-50
Merrill, M. D. (2007). "First principles of instruction: a synthesis." In Reiser, R.A. and Dempsey, J.V. (Eds) Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, 2nd Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Merrill/Prentice Hall. 2: 62-71.
Merrill, M. David (2008). "Converting e3 learning to e3 learning: an alternative instructional design method". In S. Carliner & P. Shank (Eds.), The E-Learning Handbook: Past Promises, Present Challenges (pp. 359–400). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.
Merrill, M. D. (2009). "Finding e3 (effective, efficient and engaging) Instruction." Educational Technology, 49(3), 15-26.
Merrill, M. D. (2009). "First Principles of Instruction." In C. M. Reigeluth & A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional Design Theories and Models III. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Merrill, M. D., & Gilbert, C. G. (2008). "Effective peer interaction in a problem-centered instructional strategy." Distance Education, 29(2), 199-207.
Merrill, M. D., Li, Z., & Jones, M. K. (1990). Limitations of first generation instructional design (ID1). Educational Technology, 30(1), 7-11 
Merrill, M. D., Li, Z., & Jones, M. K. (1991). Instructional Transaction Theory: An Introduction. Educational Technology31(6), 7-12.
Merrill, M. D., & ID2_Research_Group. (1996). Instructional transaction theory: instructional design based on knowledge objects. Educational Technology, 36(3), 30-37
Merrill, M.D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Merrill, M.D. (1987). A lesson based upon Component Display Theory. In C. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories in Action. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

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