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  • According to Martin Ryder, the The 4C-ID instructional model is characterized by four components: (1) Learning Tasks, (2) Supportive Information, (3) Procedural Information and (4) Part-Task Practice. The tasks are ordered by task difficulty and each task offers at the beginning a lot of scaffolding which is reduced as the learner progresses.

See also: Elaboration theory (a much earlier model from Reigeluth).

The design

4C/ID is what I call a "main-stream" Instructional Design Model that addresses the issue of how to teach complex skills, i.e. solid know-how that can be applied to real problem problems.

According to Merriënboer et al. (2002): “The 4C/ID-model [....] addresses at least three deficits in previous instructional design models. First, the 4C/ID-model focuses on the integration and coordinated performance of task-specific constituent skills rather than on knowledge types, context or presentation-delivery media. Second, the model makes a critical distinction between supportive information and required just-in-time (JIT) information (the latter specifies the performance required, not only the type of knowledge required). And third, traditional models use either part-task or whole-task practice; the 4C/IDmodel recommends a mixture where part-task practice supports very complex, "whole-task" learning.”

According to Merrill (2002:56), the model is clearly problem-based although not in the sense of typical problem-based learning models. “At the heart of this training strategy is whole-task practice, in which more and more complex versions of the whole complex cognitive skill are practiced. In ... the analysis phase ... the skill is decomposed in a hierarchy of constituent skills; ... classified as recurrent constituent skills, which require more-or-less consistent performance over problem situations, or nonrecurrent constituent skills, which require highly variable performance over situations" (p. 8). "While learners practice simple to complex versions of a whole task, instructional methods that promote just-intime information presentation are used to support the recurrent aspects of the whole task while, at the same time, instructional methods that promote elaboration are used to support the non-recurrent aspects of the task" (p. 10).”

The four components are described in detail in Merrienboer (2002) and from which this picture is taken: 4C-ID-Model.jpg

Some features of 4C/ID

This section are made from notes taken during a van Merriënboer keynote talk on March 14 2013.

4C/ID can be described as a method that will describe the backbone of a curriculum where each element is connected and does have a function with respect to the whole. It addresses two problems:

  • Students can't apply "knowledge"
  • Students and life-long learners are not self-directed learners

There is research-based evidence that transfer is improved when using a 4C/ID design.

Learning tasks

Create a "spiraled2 sequence of tasks, based on induction

  • Provide variability in each task
  • Provide task classes i.e. sequences of easy to difficult tasks. Each task should be meaningful right from the start. Make sure to offer several variants for each class, i.e. a series of task that address the same learning outcomes at same difficulty level.
  • Provide guidance: Scaffolding should be provided in each task. However, for task set, define a Zone of proximal development using a sawtooth pattern: First task in a class uses a lot of support, last task in a class should have no support. If learners are successful, then move them to a higher level.
  • Typical learning technologies for task support: Simulated/real task environments and development portfolios

Supportive information

Is information that helps learnings getting the tasks done. It shows how the domain is organized (e.g. anatomy in medicine) and shows how to approach a task. Design of supportive information is based on knowledge elaboration and is linked to all tasks in a given class. An other class may require more simple or more difficult information.

  • Can be provided before (tell "theory") or during a task sequence (typically in project-oriented designs)
  • "What should I study in order to be able to....." (self-directed learners)
  • Typical learning technologies: Hypermedia and Internet in General

Procedural information

Refers to knowledge needed to solve parts of the task. Based on knowledge compilation and may require drill and practise (see next item)

  • Routine aspects
  • How-to information that is used "just-in-time"

Part-task practice

Based on strengthening

  • Repetition and drill
  • However, part-time practice should only be presented within a cognitive context, i.e. a whole task
  • Sometimes more practice is needed for procedure learning

Use of simulation, real tasks and video

This section are made from notes taken during a van Merriënboer keynote talk on March 14 2013. 4C/ID also can be used as model for vocational training

Merriënboer presented three projects from which we point out a few highlights:

(1) STEP portfolio project with hairdressers.


  • Simulation in school
  • Select and do a task in the work context
  • Fill in a portfolio page that includes an evaluation grid, i.e. collect assessment information on each task
  • Coaching meeting in regular intervals (e.g. once per week) with the teacher


  • Both students and teachers like


  • Teacher's complain about missing time (e.g. time for coaching meetings)

A mobile app project called "PERFECT" tries to implement a self-coaching approach.

(2) Care Village project, targeting nursing education:

  • Web application
  • Provides tasks to complete in various contexts
  • A task describes a patient first, then defines 2 tasks one for the school and one for the workplace
  • Again, all tasks can be scored in a portfolio

(3) CRAFT - Mechatronics project:

  • Serious game
  • In the virtual world, simulated machines can be explored
  • In a virtual workplace, parts are made and then integrated into an attraction park
  • In the real workplace, parts are made and the student can obtained credits for the game


How to implement a 4C/ID design:

Work with a team:

  • more than one teacher
  • professionals (of the subject area)
  • one or more students
  • Media/technology specialists if needed

... i.e. have all stakeholders participate

Cost-effectiveness is an issue, ... being investigated now.


  • Merrill, David, First Principles of Instruction, ETR&D, Vol. 50, No. 3, 2002, pp. 43-59 ISSN 1042-1629. Preprint version
  • van Merriënboer, J.J.G (1997). Training complex cognitive skills: A four-component instructional design model for technical training. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications
  • van Merriënboer, Jeroen.J.G, Richard E Clark, Marcel B M de Croock, (2002) Blueprints for complex learning: The 4C/ID-model, Educational Technology, Research and Development. 50 (2);39-64, DOI: 0.1007/BF02504993, Abstract/PDF (Access restricted).
  • Frederick Kwaku Sarfo & Jan Elen, Powerful Learning Environments and the Development of Technical Expertise in Ghana: Investigating the Moderating Effect of Instructional Conceptions, IEEE Explore, ??? PDF