First principles of instruction

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1 Definition

  • First principles of instruction is a attempt by M. David Merrill to identify fundamental invariant principles of good instructional design, regardless pedagogic strategy. It can be used both as an instructional design model and as evaluation grid to judge the quality of a pedagogical design
  • First principles of instruction is the title of a frequently cited on-line paper in several versions, e.g.
  • Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instructions, Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.
  • Merrill, M. D. (2010). First Principles of instruction, in C. M. Reigeluth and A. Carr (Eds.). Instructional Design Theories and Models III. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

2 The five principles of instruction

Merrill's first and central principle of instruction is task-centered learning. Task centered learning is not problem-based learning, although it shares some features.

The task / problem

A task is a problem 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 problem. A progression through problems of increasing difficulty are used to scaffold the learning process into manageable tiers of difficulty.
Does the courseware relate to real world problems?

  1. ... show learners the task or the problem they will be able to do/solve ?
  2. are students engaged at problem or task level not just operation or action levels?
  3. ... involve a progression of problems rather than a single problem?

This progressive teaching approach is also related to Merriënboer's 4C/ID model.

The five principles of instruction (Merrill, 2006)
  • The demonstration principle: Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration
  • The application principle: Learning is promoted when learners apply the new knowledge
  • The activation principle: Learning is promoted when learners activate prior knowledge or experience
  • The integration principle: Learning is promoted when learners integrate their new knowledge into their everyday world
  • The task-centered principle: Learning is promoted when learners engage in a task-centered instructional strategy
Phases / Components of Merrill's First Principles of Instruction

The task (or problem) is center stage. Here is a summary of the four remaining components

  1. Activation of relevant previous experience promotes learning by allowing them to build upon what they already know and giving the instructor information on how to best direct learners. Providing an experience when learners previous experience is inadequate or lacking to create mental models upon which the new learning can build. Activities that stimulate useful mental models that are analoguous in structure to the content being taught can also help learners build appropriate schemas to incorporate the new content.
    Does the courseware activate prior knowledge or experience?
    1. do learners have to recall, relate, describe, or apply knowledge from past experience (as a foundation for new knowledge) ?
    2. does the same apply to the present courseware ?
    3. is there an opportunity to demonstrate previously acquired knowledge or skill ?
  2. Demonstration through simulations, visualizations, modelling, etc. that exemplify what is being taught are favoured. Demonstration includes guiding learners through different representations of the same phenomena through extensive use of a media, pointing out variations and providing key information.
    Does the courseware demonstrate what is to be learned ?
    1. Are examples consistent with the content being taught? E.g. examples and non-examples for concepts, demonstrations for procedures, visualizations for processes, modeling for behavior?
    2. Are learner guidance techniques employed? (1) Learners are directed to relevant information?, (2) Multiple representations are used for the demonstrations?, (3) Multiple demonstrations are explicitly compared?
    3. Is media relevant to the content and used to enhance learning?
  3. Application requires that learners use their knew knowledge in a problem-solving task, using multiple yet distinctive types of practice Merrill categorizes as information-about, parts-of, kinds-of, and how-to practice that should be used depending upon the kind of skill and knowledge identified. The application phase should be accompanied by feedback and guidance that is gradually withdrawn as the learners' capacities increase and performance improves.
    Can learners practice and apply acquired knowledge or skill?
    1. Are the application (practice) and the post test consistent with the stated or implied objectives? (1) Information-about practice requires learners to recall or recognize information. (2) Parts-of practice requires the learners to locate, name, and/or describe each part. (3) Kinds-of practice requires learners to identify new examples of each kind. (4) How-to practice requires learners to do the procedure. (5) What-happens practice requires learners to predict a consequence of a process given conditions, or to find faulted conditions given an unexpected consequence.
    2. Does the courseware require learners to use new knowledge or skill to solve a varied sequence of problems and do learners receive corrective feedback on their performance?
    3. In most application or practice activities, are learners able to access context sensitive help or guidance when having difficulty with the instructional materials? Is this coaching gradually diminished as the instruction progresses?
  4. Integration in effective instruction occurs when learners are given the opportunity to demostrate, 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.
    Are learners encouraged to integrate (transfer) the new knowledge or skill into their everyday life?
    1. Is there an opportunity to publicly demonstrate their new knowledge or skill?
    2. Is there an opportunity to reflect-on, discuss, and defend new knowledge or skill?
    3. Is there an opportunity to create, invent, or explore new and personal ways to use new knowledge or skill?

3 Implications for educational technology

The task-centered principle
This section needs to be completed a lot, see First principles of instruction: a synthesis, p 7ff.

Learning is promoted when learners engage in a task-centered instructional strategy 'and' when a progression through problems of increasing difficulty is used to scaffold the learning process into manageable tiers of difficulty and whole-tasks are broken down to part-tasks (components)

The Instructional Sequence in Merrill's First Principles of Instruction

To design the first four phases (activation - demonstration - application - integration), whole tasks have to be broken down into components and the components have to be analyzed. Then one has to decide what should be taught in what way.

Merrill suggests to teach individual components with a direct instruction approach (which is more efficient and often also more effective). Most tasks or problems include five different instructional compontents. Firstly. initial "telling" should always activate prior knowledge. Demonstration (phase 2) should focus on adequate portayals of components (but linked to the whole), before the application phase is entered. Here are few hints on how to tell/demonstrate different sorts of components:

  • Information-about
    • Tell facts or associations and link them to previous knowledge
  • Parts-of
    • Tell names and descriptions
    • Portrayal: Show location
  • kinds-of
    • Tell definition
    • Portrayal: Show examples and counter-examples
  • how-to
    • Tell about steps and sequence
    • Portrayal: Illustrate steps for specific cases (work-through examples)
  • what-happens
    • Tell about the process as a whole, conditions, consequences
    • Portrayal: Illustrate specific conditions and consequences for specific cases

In the third (application) phase students have to work on skills related to portayals and then put "things together" in the forth (integration) phase.

Each increasingly difficult whole task (problem) requires going back and forth from (1) demonstration of the whole task (2) to component "teaching" and (2) back to integration. Once the whole task is mastered, this procedure is repeated which the next whole task until the "real world" problem is mastered without much "direct component teaching".

A few principles for teaching materials and learning activities
Components of Merrill's First Principles of Instruction
Navigation
  • Learners should see how contents are organized
  • They should be able go forth and back, correct themselves
Motivation
  • Learning environments should be interesting, relevant and achievable
  • Real tasks are more motivating than formal objectives, glitz and novelty
  • Known content is not motivating, students should be able to skip over
  • Performing whole tasks is more motivating then decontextualized actions and operations
  • Immediate feed feedback decreases motivation - delayed judgement increases (interesting, this is not like direct instruction)
Collaboration
  • Favor small groups (2-3) to optimize interactions
  • Group assigments should be structured around problems (whole tasks), i.e. "real" products or processes
Interaction
  • Navigation is not interaction (i.e. it is not cognitive interactivity)
  • Interaction means solving real-world problems or tasks
  • Key elements are: a context, a challenge, a learner activity and feedback.

See also the pebble in the pond model that outlines a simple instructional design method that can be used to design a learning environment according to Merrill's principles of instruction. Additionnally there is also the issue of levels of instructional strategies , i.e. what we get when we do less ...

4 Links

5 References

  • Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59. PDF, retrieved 15:47, 7 November 2011 (CET).
  • Merrill, M. D. (in press). First Principles of instruction, in C. M. Reigeluth and A. Carr (Eds.). Instructional Design Theories and Models III. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. PDF, retrieved 15:47, 7 November 2011 (CET).
  • Merrill, M. D. (In Press). 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. PDF, retrieved 15:47, 7 November 2011 (CET).
  • Merrill, M. D. (2009). Finding e3 (effective, efficient and engaging) Instruction. Educational Technology, 49(3), 15-26. PDF, retrieved 15:47, 7 November 2011 (CET). This paper includes course evaluation forms.