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5 Principles of Instructional Design

5 Principles of Instructional Design

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Author: Jody Waltman
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In this lesson, you will learn about five important principles that are common to most instructional design theories. Knowing these can help you design instruction that results in optimal learning outcomes for your students.

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At this point in your career, you may be familiar with many instructional design theories. And it's possible that you found some of them to be a better fit in your classroom environment than others. Interestingly, researcher M David Merrill studied various instructional design theories. And he indicated that there are five different design principles that are common to most of these different theories. These five principles are now known as Merrill's first principles of instruction. And they can be a really helpful framework to keep in mind when you're designing any type of instruction, including competency based instruction. Let's take a look at each of these principles in turn.

First, Merrill indicated that in all of these various instructional design theories, a common element is that students learn best when they are actively engaged in solving real-world problems. It's ideal to provide students with open-ended problems, maybe even messy problems, that they can really dig into in order to practice their new skills. Working on this type of open-ended real-world problem provides an opportunity for transfer of learning. That is, taking what has been learned in the classroom and extending it to different contexts.

The second common principle among all of these various instructional design theories is that students learn best when their background or existing knowledge is activated prior to the introduction of new information. This means that it's important for teachers to provide the proper foundation for students before we introduce new information.

Next, students learn best when new knowledge is demonstrated for them. Students need to be shown what they're going to be learning, rather than simply being told what they are going to be learning. You might find that technology tools can be really helpful here, because they can provide students with all sorts of different ways to approach the same content. Online demonstrations and simulations, for example, can be a great way to show students the new knowledge instead of just telling them.

The fourth common principle is that students learn best when they are able to apply their new knowledge in active learning tasks, instead of just being asked to passively recall knowledge using more traditional types of assessments. This might involve using a performance-based assessment, where students develop a product or perform a skill in order to demonstrate their learning, instead of just answering questions on a traditional paper and pencil test.

And finally, students learn best when new knowledge is integrated into the student's own world. We want students to be able to personally adapt their new knowledge and skills. And so having students do some personal reflecting on their learning, and maybe even publicly demonstrating their mastery of new knowledge, is a large part of this particular principle.

Here are a couple of helpful ideas to keep in mind as we're approaching this idea of helping students integrate new knowledge into their own worlds. The term zone of proximal development was introduced by Vygotsky, a well-known psychologist. And it refers to the difference between what a learner can do without help and what that learner can do with help. It helps provide a bridge for students between what they already know how to do and what they believe that they can't do yet.

So when the teacher helps students to zero in on that zone of proximal development, it helps students to stretch their skill set. Because in this in-between space, the zone of proximal development, is the realm of skills that students can perform with some help. And the teacher can provide that assistance that's necessary to help students move from the zone of what they can do to the zone of what they formerly were not able to do.

In this way, the teacher is playing the role of what's called an MKO, a more knowledgeable other. This is another term that is related to Vygotsky's work. The MKO models the desired behaviors or skills, and then the students emulate those behaviors, and eventually work towards internalizing them, again, helping to bridge that gap into the zone of proximal development.

In this tutorial, we identified Merrill's first principles of instruction. That is, the five principles that Merrill identified as common to most of the well-known instructional design theories. Merrill indicated that students learn best when they are actively engaged in solving real-world problems, when background or existing knowledge is activated prior to introducing new information, when new knowledge is demonstrated for them, when they are able to apply new knowledge in active learning tasks rather than passively recalling the knowledge using traditional assessments, and when new knowledge is integrated into the student's world.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Can you see these five design principles reflected in the instructional design theory with which you are most familiar? As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "5 Principles of Instructional Design"

(00:00 - 00:37) Introduction to Merrill's First Principles of Instruction

(00:38 - 01:09) Principle #1

(01:10 - 01:29) Principle #2

(01:30 - 01:56) Principle #3

(01:57 - 02:21) Principle #4

(02:22 - 04:00) Principle #5

(04:01 - 04:37) Review

(04:38 - 05:07) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Learn NC: Zone of proximal development

This is a University of North Carolina web page devoted to the zone of proximal development. This webpage is a useful resources for developing lessons and instruction within the ZPD.
http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/5075


Innovative Learning: Zone of Proximal Development

This page includes a useful infographic and an explanation of the ZPD. It is a helpful planning resource.
http://www.innovativelearning.com/educational_psychology/development/zone-of-proximal-development.html