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E-learning Curve Blog is Michael Hanley's elearning blog about skills, knowledge, and organizational development using web-based training and technology in education

Constructivism and instructional design: more considerations

June 12, 2008 by Michael Hanley · No Comments · ADDIE, Cognitivism, ISD, Merrill, principle of demonstration, principles of instruction

In this series of blog posts, I am considering the implications of learning and development for knowledge workers in the modern workplace, the limitations of the Systems Approach to training, and how to implement a Constructivist learning environment that can effectively and efficiently support knowledge workers.

Now read on…

In yesterday’s post, and based on the work of Michael Molena, I suggested that the epitome of the Systems Approach, ADDIE, was less a development process and more a set of heuristics to facilitate instructional designers’ efforts to develop e-learning content. I also outlined M. David Merrill’s work to identify fundamental invariant principles of “good” instructional design, regardless of pedagogy. Merrill asserts that there is a core of consistent “Principles of Instruction” that we may use as the basis for content development regardless of the actual methodology used.

Merrill’s primary and central principle of instruction is task-centered learning. A task is an activity that represents a problem that may be encountered in a real-world situation. Learning objectives or samples of the types of problems learners will be able to solve at the end of the learning sequence may also substitute for a task. A progression through problems of increasing difficulty are used to scaffold the learning process into manageable tiers of difficulty. The courseware should relate to real world problems.

Learner guidance helps focus the learner’s attention on critical elements of the information and relate these critical elements to the portrayal. The learner guidance that enhances the demonstration is indicated by bullets.

(2006a, p.4)

Merrill recognizes three categories of classification that provide information and can be portrayed:

  1. Kinds-of
  2. How-to
  3. What-happens

Kinds-of category

Concept classification occurs when learners must discriminate among members of two or more related categories of objects or events. An effective presentation/demonstration for concept classification (kinds-of) requires the following instructional activities.

  1. Tell learners the name of each category or alternative procedure.
  2. Show learners an example of each category.
  3. Provide learners a definition for each category.
  4. Show learners examples of each category.

How-to category
Procedure learning occurs when learners must carry out a series of steps. A presentation/demonstration for a procedure (how-to) involves the following instructional

  1. Show learners a specific instance of the whole task.
  2. Demonstrate each of the steps required to complete the whole task.
  3. Show the consequence of each step.
  4. Summarize the steps in the procedure and their sequence.

What-happens category
Process learning occurs when learners understand how some device works or the process underlying some phenomenon. A presentation/demonstration for a process (what-happens) involves the following instructional activities.

  1. Demonstrate the process in a specific, real or simulated situation.
  2. Repeat the demonstration for several increasingly complex scenarios.

In tomorrow’s post we shall examine principles for the effective use of media in this learning environment.



Merrill, M. D. (2006a). First Principles of Instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth & A. Carr (Eds.), Instructional Design Theories and Models III (Vol. III). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Merrill, M. D. (2006b). First principles of instruction: a synthesis. In R. A. Reiser and J. V. Dempsey (Eds.) Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. Columbus: Ohio, Merrill Prentice Hall.

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