Pebble in the pond

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A Pebble in the Pond is an instructional design method proposed by M. David Merrill. It is based on his First principles of instruction that he sees as being the underlying elements shared by many effective instructional models and theories.

Designed for problem-based learning, the model is perceived as a series of cocentric circles at whose heart lies the problem to be solved. Radiating outwards are the steps ('ripples') to be taken in the design of a unit of instruction.

refers to the task to be accomplished
the identification of smaller problems that increase in complexity, leading to the acquisition of the capacities required to solve the problem set out.
identification of skills and knowledge needed to complete the progression defined above
refers to the instructional strategy to be used to engage students and take them through the progression of tasks (any number of instructional design models can be used at this point, eg. 5e or 7e learning cycles).
the design of the interface design and the instructional architecture of the system that will be used in the instructional context.
production of instructional materials and interface


  • Merrill, M. D. (2002). A pebble-in-the-pond model for instructional design. Performance Improvement, 41(7), 39-44. PDF Preprint