Instructional transaction theory

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  • Merril's Instructional transaction theory aims to develop instructional algorithms.

The model

The instructional transaction

Merrill et al. propose an activity-based model of instruction that is based on two important concepts: The instructional transaction and a delivery tool, the transaction shell. See also the more recent IMS Learning Design educational modeling language.

Instructional transactions are instructional algorithms, patterns of learner interactions, usually far more complex than a single display and a single response, which have been designed to enable the learner to acquire a certain kind of knowledge or skill. Different kinds of knowledge and skill would require different kinds of transactions. The necessary set of these instructional transactions are designed and programmed once, like other computer applications such as spread sheets. They can then be used with different content topics as long as these topics are of a similar kind of knowledge or skill.” (Merrill, Li and Jones, 1991).

“An instructional transaction is a mutual, dynamic, real-time give-and-take between an instructional system and a student in which there is an exchange of information. It is the complete sequence of presentations and reactions necessary for the student to acquire a specific type of instructional goal. It requires active mental effort by the student. Its effectiveness is determined by the match between the nature of the student's interaction and resulting mental processing with the type of task and subject matter content to be learned.” (Merrill, Li and Jones, 1991).

“A transaction shell is the structure of a transaction identifying the interactions, parameters, and knowledge representation needed for a given class or family of transactions. When a transaction shell is instantiated with a particular subject matter and with particular values for its parameters, it is called a transaction instance. Both a transaction shell and a transaction instance are pieces of computer code that, when delivered to a student via an appropriate delivery system, cause a transaction or set of transactions to occur.” (Merrill, Li and Jones, 1991).


  • Merrill, M.D, Instructional Transaction Theory (ITT) : Instructional Design Based on Knowledge Objects, Instructional Technology Forum (1997) HTML (part 1) HTML (part 2) HTML (part 3)
  • M. David Merrill, Zhongmin Li & Mark K. Jones (1991). Instructional Transaction Theory: An Introduction. Educational Technology. 31(6), 7-12. PDF preprint
  • M. David Merrill, Zhongmin Li & Mark K. Jones (1992). Instructional Transaction Shells: Responsibilities, Methods, and Parameters. Educational Technology, 32(2), 5-27. PDF (preprint)
  • M. David Merrill, Mark K. Jones, & Zhongmin Li (1992). Instructional Transaction Theory: Classes of Transactions. Educational Technology, 32(6), 12-26. PDF (preprint)