Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction

Merrill’s organizing principle of instruction is task-centered learning. Not to be confused with problem-based learning which is a distinct and separate instructional strategy, Merrill’s task-centered learning relates to a real-world situation or reflects a problem that a learner will be able to solve based on the learning. Merrill then prescribes a process including activation, demonstration, application, and integration to promote the learning process:

Merrill's First Principles of Instruction

Activation. Do learners possess relevant previous experience? Connecting to what they already know helps make the subject relevant and meaningful. Alternately, when relevant experience is absent or lacking, providing a story, expository, metaphor or advance organizer can help build those mental models.

Demonstration. Use simulations, visualizations, modeling, examples, etc. to demonstrate the new task or ability. Guide learners through multiple representations of the same concepts differentiating and comparing cases.

Application. Provide practice activities. Have the learner use new knowledge or skills to solve a varied sequence of problems. The application phase should be accompanied by feedback and guidance that is gradually withdrawn as the learners’ capacities increase and performance improves.

Integration. Provide opportunities to demonstrate, adapt, modify and transform new knowledge to suit the needs of new contexts and situations. Reflection through discussion and sharing is important to making new knowledge part of a learner’s personal store and giving the learner a sense of progress. Collaborative work and a community of learners can provide a context for this stage. Encourage learners to integrate the new knowledge or skill into their everyday life.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First Principles of Instructions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

Instructional Design Strategy

We can’t open a learner’s head and poor knowledge in, so understanding how people learn and what strategies might support that process is essential in the instructional design process. Ultimately, learners must do the learning. Gagne reminds us that instructional design is the purposeful application of learning theories and strategies (external instructional events) that support the internal learning process to achieve an intentional outcome. (Gagne et al, 1992)

Learners construct meaning by associating what they already know with new information and creating symbolic links for retrieval. Gagne suggests four parts of the learning process where an external instructional event can influence and affect the learning process: drawing attention to important points, practice and application of the new knowledge, providing organization for structured association of the new knowledge, and connecting long-term memory with working memory. These parts of the learning process are all exposed in Gagne’s nine events of instruction which can be categorized into three main stages: (1) learner preparation, (2) guiding content acquisition, and (3) reinforcement.

Gaining learner attention is essential before any learning can occur. A learner must be ready and willing before they can engage in opening themselves to exerting effort and potentially uncomfortable changes in the ways they’re used to thinking about things. Adults can make great learners because they often seek instruction to solve a problem or fill a gap. Ultimately, every learner must find an intrinsic form of motivation to connect with a learning experience. Strategies that help learners invest in their own learning involve connecting with a predicament or desired skill that the learner can gain from the learning opportunity.

Julie Dirksen in her recent book, Design for How People Learn, describes an e-learning module presenting a course in statistics for high school students. The course began, “Welcome to this course. Let’s start with the…history…of…statistics!!” Regardless of exciting graphics, there is nothing for the learners to connect with in this introduction. The instruction has lost before it’s started. Dirksen suggests some possible instructional make-over’s: use attention-grabbing statistics that are highly interesting or relevant and have the students analyze what realities the numbers represent; or present a scenario that is motivating to them such as money or the purchase of a new car based on statistical data. (Dirksen, 2012) The reality of workplace training is that the instruction (and thus the learning) is driven by the organization’s ROI – hardly an attention-grabber. The motivation needs to be presented in terms of the learner, not the presenter or the organization.

Strategies for guiding content acquisition have been well-developed by numerous sources. Which strategies are the right strategies will depend on the type of knowledge addressed in the instruction. Pointing back to Gagne again, he categorizes learning outcomes into five categories:

  • intellectual skills including procedural knowledge and rules; 
  • cognitive strategies such as problem solving and critical thinking, 
  • verbal information or declarative knowledge,
  • attitudes encapsulating the learner’s affective domain and 
  • motor skills or physical capacity.

Karl M. Kapp in the July, 2011 issue of T+D Magazine presents a number of strategies based on knowledge types. For instance, if the knowledge type is verbal information, strategies might include providing mnemonics, segmenting, or story-telling. For procedural knowledge, instruction might include starting with the big picture, teaching “why”, and transcending simplified procedures with a highly complicated scenarios where things don’t run smoothly. (Kapp, 2011) The winning strategy is one in which the outcome and what a learner is supposed to be able to do following the instruction is aligned with the knowledge type. For instance, if it is determined that training is to be provided because a procedure is not being properly followed, but the instructional designer ascertains that the learners know how to perform the procedure correctly, the instructional designer may conclude that the gap has little to do with knowledge and more to do with attitudinal gaps. Thus, the winning strategy would address attitudinal change over rehearsing the procedural concepts.

Reinforcing strategies recognize that outcomes may take time to realize and adopt. Spaced learning, mentorship, and social strategies can all help reinforce newly acquired skills and abilities. Taken together, focus on strategies for learner preparation, guided content acquisition, and reinforcement will create greater transfer and the realization of new skills and abilities. Gagne asserts that teaching is only one event in the instructional process and that, “Instruction must be planned if it is to be effective.”



Dirksen, J. (2012) Design for How People Learn, New Riders, Berkeley, CA

Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J. & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Kapp, K. M., (Jul-2011) “Matching the Right Design Strategy to the Right Content”, ASTD Press, Alexandria VA

Adult Learner Characteristics

How Adult Learners Are Unique

First, there’s a lot of diversity among adult learners which makes it very hard to lump them together and say that they are this way or that way. As is pointed out in the text, age may be a pretty reliable predictor of maturity among youth, but adults can have dramatically different levels of maturity, readiness and abilities. Typically, adult learners are very motivated; they have an agenda and a purpose for seeking the instruction. They are autonomous and self-directed which means they are typically engaged, listening and are disciplined about completing assignments. The flip-side is that they tend to have an agenda and may be more critical of instruction when they don’t believe it is meeting their needs. They may be more inclined to pick-out the pieces that they need to solve their immediate needs or disengage completely if they don’t believe the instruction is useful.

Adult Learner Motivations & Life Issues

Adults have typically encountered challenges and changes in their lives that may come from career, finances or family dynamics. As they face change, they may be more inclined to engage in instruction to help them bridge the gaps. For instance a new technology may suddenly make their skills or job obsolete, or a divorce may affect them financially and impact their time commitments to raising children alone. The stakes in an adult life are significant and are the driving force behind their commitment. From this perspective, adult learners can become overly focused on evaluations or grades rather than learning.

Adult Learner Expectations, Experience & Skills

Mature adults are shaped and impacted by significant experience and accomplishments. They typically have a strong sense of identity which can work for or against them. They may have self-limiting belief about themselves and feel intimidated by tasks they don’t feel capable of. It is common for adult learners to avoid situations where weaknesses may be exposed and they may feel threatened when pushed into a defacing situation. Importantly, they don’t want to be treated nor is it appropriate to treat them like someone just starting out. In many cases, they have “paid their dues” and want to be valued and acknowledged for their hard-won achievements. Their breadth of experience is an asset providing a wider framework and maturity that helps them make meaningful connections and creates a more fertile context for learning.

Technical Tools for Learning

How can teachers assess the change-creating potential of new and emerging educational technologies?

To understand how technology can benefit the classroom, educators have to first give it a try. One teacher put it succinctly, “How can anyone reflect on something if they haven’t been exposed to it and experimented with it?” (Vrasidas, 2010) A two-year research project conducted at the University of Washington found that teachers faculty, though aware of the need for technology in the classroom, still struggled with barriers including lack of skills, lack of time, and lack of incentives. (Gustafson and Kors, 2004)

As any working professional can tell you, no one has time to research the most recent trends in applied technology for their field on their own. Most professionals depend on affiliations and professional groups to feed that information to them. Teachers who are not connected to professional groups may be at a disadvantage as these groups can suggest what technologies are most relevant and show the greatest promise for enhancing the educational experience. Forums that publish questions and conversations provide peer-to-peer support for issues a teacher may be trying to understand. Group-sourcing a question can generate some advantageous and unexpected answers.

A couple groups an Instructional Designer might consider are ASTD, eLearning Guild, eLearning Magazine, and the LinkedIn eLearning Global Network group.

How can students investigate the impact of new and emerging educational technologies on their learning in school?

A plethora of technical tools are available to students to aid in academic activities such as research, presentation tools, mind-mapping tools, note taking tools, and electronic books just to name a few. David Jonassen stressed the need to focus not on the technical tool, but on the concepts it allows you to explore. (Hill, 2009) While some tools may automate the educational experience making a more efficient use of time in academic activities, the student should also explore what technical tools are used in the field of study. Ultimately, the student’s literacy and fluency around technology used in real-life scenarios is the objective end of their pursuits.

Download this article: Wk3_Asgmt2.doc

H.T. Hill (2009) Mindtools. Retrieved 10-10-2011 from

C. Vrasidas (April, 2010) Why Don’t Teachers Adopt Technology? Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. Retrieved 10-10-2011 from

K. K. Gustafson and K. Kors (2004) Strategic Implications of an Educational Technology Assessment. Retrieved 10-10-2011 from

Teaching with Computers

How did the teacher learn to use computers and software?

The teachers modeled for the students what a high-quality project should be. The example serves two purposes: 1) it helps the student know what to aim for and spawns more creative ideas about fulfilling the objectives;  2) it gives the teacher a trial run to understand what potential problems could arise and to prepare to handle those situations. The teachers have collaborative planning meetings where they share and critique each other’s work. They also involve the students in the formative evaluation process.

What advice did this teacher have for teachers who are new to using technology?

The teachers didn’t get bogged-down in process and planning. They first acted on values and “hunches” about how to create effective and engaging learning experiences. After some trial and error, they documented what worked and what didn’t work to develop best practices which lead to institutionalizing the methodologies at the school.

“When it came to the best practice of learning and teaching here at the school, nobody thought about it first and did it second. Everybody here had ideas that were driven by values and hunches about how education should work. And then we started doing that. And then we started to catalog our success. And that cataloging of success led to looking at the practices that made that possible and then institutionalizing those practices over time.” (David Grant, Edutopia, 2010) [4:00]

What do you want to know about teaching with computers? How might you gain that information?

I want to learn how to be an e-learning developer and what that looks like in the real world. In the classes I’ve been taking I’ve learned some valuable theory and issues facing schools today, but I’ve not learned about issues facing professionals in the corporate arena and what developing e-learning looks like in the real world. I’ve not had any hands-on experience doing that, so I’m reaching out to professionals in the field to talk to them, ask them questions, and hopefully see what the products they produce actually look like.


Edutopia (March 24, 2010) Teacher-Training Coordinator David Grant Describes a Framework for Project Learning Success. Retrieved 10-5-2011 from

Download: Wk1-Asgmt1_Teaching_with_Computers.doc

New Paradigm in Education

Sir Ken Robinson discusses Changing Education Paradigms


Kids entering today’s mechanism of education face a less-certain future where a degree doesn’t necessarily equate to success as it used to. When what kids are learning in school lacks of relevance to their current world and the future they face, meaning and purpose is sapped out of education for them. Sir Robinson states, “Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information, that pulls their attention from every platform — computers, from iPhones, from advertising hoardings from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them from getting distracted.” He describes an Aesthetic Experience as one where your senses are operating at their peak. An education system based on standardization values students on their conformity. Divergent thinking, the ability to see lots of possible answers, appears to decline as children mature into adulthood. Sir Robinson urges that we have to think differently about human capacity and what it means to be “educated”. He states that most great learning happens in groups and propels growth by collaboration.

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Social Web for Grown-ups!

It’s not just for your teenager anymore

The advent of web has forever changed how I communicate, learn, and complete transactions. The initial inception of web was information and transaction-based, but social web (Web 2.0) has meant more ways to connect. To say it has been life-changing is an over-statement, but it has opened new opportunities to stay in touch with social and professional contacts, find people such as an old friend or a new contact with some background you’d like to tap – say, for a new job. And, it’s changed the nature of information. A world of people can contribute which means that everyone benefits from a wealth of information that hadn’t been available previously.

For instance, if you have vacation plans that involve visiting a new location you’ve never been to before, you can visit Google maps and not only get maps and a satellite view of the area, but photos from people who have visited the place. For my trip to Europe last September, I was able to use Google maps to find hotels near the sites I wanted to visit AND read reviews of customers who had stayed at those establishments. The research provided me and my husband a European experience that could have been riddled with unanticipated complications, and because of the use of Web 2.0 was outstanding.

We’re all familiar with web site searches, but do you make good use of image searches? Whether you’re searching for a specific product, or a new travel destination, you can gain a wealth of information. An image search of the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland turned up some curious images of waterfalls coursing through caverns carved through stone. Trümmelbach Falls! Wouldn’t have known about it any other way. And, it was stunning in person, too!

For the working professional, LinkedIn is a quintessential part of your career. It has helped me maintain connections and continuity with past work associates to create a more robust networking experience. When I was looking for opportunities at particular companies near my home, I used LinkedIn to identify a friend and associate who was able to introduce me to a contact at one of the companies and endorse me in the process. It put me in touch with other individuals who have helped me gain new directions in my career – I had no idea my friend, Jim, was involved in instructional design until I conducted a search on LinkedIn. Out of hundreds of contacts, his name popped to the top of the list which then empowered me to open a conversation with him. Recruiters have caught-on, too. I’ve received numerous inquiries from recruiters via LinkedIn. The complication I haven’t figured-out, yet, is what to do when your boss asks for a connection on LinkedIn – yikes! Dammed if you do! Dammed if you don’t!

What’s your take? Accept? Or, come up with a lame excuse? (Add your comment.)

Do you find it difficult staying current with the onslaught of latest updates in your field? Wish someone would just notify you of all the changes? Numerous forms have popped-up in every profession. I get latest web site optimization news and latest developments from the Google Webmaster Blog, and joined the ASTD for Learning Professionals. Webcasts on relevant topics by experts who know are fed to my email to keep me up to date.

What can’t you learn on the web? I wanted to learn beading, so I typed “beading” into and found video demonstrations on the techniques. When I needed to learn PHP and CSS3, W3Schools provided tutorials, try-it-yourself examples, and tests to certify to yourself and the world that you had a level of mastery. Lynda and VTC have provided video-based training in every technical tool and scripting language imaginable. When I needed mentorship and an instructor-lead learning experience to explore greater depths JavaScript, I registered for on-line courses through the IWA. Degrees are offered online, too. Can’t take a sabbatical from your job, but need to further your education – I don’t go to school. I take school with me everywhere I go. On my last vacation, I enjoyed Caribbean shore excursions during the day and completed homework online in the cruise ship’s library at night.

Social web has expanded opportunities. It can also become consuming. Every once-in-a-while I peak up from my lap top as I sit in front of the TV at the end of the day and peer over to my husband flicking away on his iPad. Oh, yeah – we’re connected. Just not to each other. Thankfully, those moments are fewer and real life takes up the majority of our days. Technology is great, but it has it’s place. When your on-line social life becomes more real than your real life, it’s time to make a change…

If you have thoughts or comments you’d like to share – type away!…