THEORY NAME: Merrill's First Principles of Instruction
ASSOCIATED LEARNING THEORY
First Principles is an attempt by Merrill to identify what Reigeluth
calls basic methods but which the author prefers to call first principles.
The author will refer to variable methods as programs and practices.
A principle (basic method) is a relationship that is always true under
appropriate conditions regardless of program or practice (variable methods).
A practice is a specific instructional activity. A program is an approach
consisting of a set of prescribed practices. Practices always implement
or fail to implement underlying principles whether these principles are
specified or not. A given instructional approach may only emphasize the
implementation of one or more of these instructional principles.
First, learning from a given program will be facilitated in direct proportion
to its implementation of first principles.
Many current instructional models suggest that the most effective learning environments are those that are problem-based and involve the student in four distinct phases of learning: (1) activation of prior experience, (2) demonstration of skills, (3) application of skills, and (4) integration or these skills into real world activities.
At the top level the instructional design prescriptions based on first principles are as follows:
Learning is facilitated when learners are engaged in solving real-world
CONDITIONS OF LEARNING
First, media represents referents in the real world. Effective instruction depends on these representation roles to be complete and appropriate.
Second, media is a delivery system to convey the instruction to the student. A wide variety of delivery systems are available and all have a role to play. When used appropriately one delivery system is unlikely to be more effective than another.
Gratuitous illustrations make little or no instructional contribution and are often ignored or may interfere with efficient learning.
ROLE OF THE LEARNER
ROLE OF THE FACILITATOR
Learning is facilitated when learners are shown the task that they will be able to do or the problem they will be able to solve as a result of completing a module or course.
Learning is facilitated when learners are engaged at the problem or task level not just the operation or action level.
Learning is facilitated when learners solve a progression of problems that are explicitly compared to one another.
Problems should be authentic, real world, and, if possible, personal. Showing learners the task or problem they will be able to solve is more effective than stating abstract learning objectives. Learning to solve a problem involves four levels of instruction: the problem, the tasks required to solve the problem, the operations that comprise the tasks, the actions that comprise the operations.
Effective instruction must engage students in all four levels of performance: the action-level, the operation-level, the task-level, and the problem level. Too much instruction is limited to the action or operation level and does not involve learners in the more integrative task or problem levels. Some of the problems that students must learn to solve are very complex. A sink-or-swim approach is likely to discourage students.
To master a complex problem students must first start with a less complex problem. When the first problem is mastered then students are given a more complex problem. Through a progression of increasingly complex problems the students’ skills gradually improve until they are able to solve complex problems. In too much instruction, even when it is problem-oriented, students are given only a single problem. Learning is best when there is a progression of problems to solve and when the problems start easy and then get harder and harder.
Sometimes it is difficult to find a simple version of a complex problem. In this situation the coach must actually do some of the problem solving for the students and assist the students to accomplish the remaining tasks or operations. With each successive problem the coach does less and less, while requiring students to do more and more, of the operations and tasks required.
Learning is best when there is a series of problems to solve and when coaching is gradually withdrawn for each succeeding problem. When successive problems are directly compared with each other students are able to tune their mental model of the problems and build a better abstract mental model that is more likely to transfer to new
Learners are directed to recall, relate, describe, or apply knowledge from relevant past experience that can be used as a foundation for the new knowledge.
Learners are provided relevant experience that can be used as a foundation for the new knowledge.
Learners are given the opportunity to demonstrate their previously acquired knowledge or skill.
It has long been a tenant of education to start where the child is.
If students have had relevant experience then the first phase of learning
is to be sure that this relevant information is activated ready for use
as a foundation for the new knowledge. If students have not
Activation is more than merely testing prerequisite knowledge. It is activating those mental models that can be modified or tuned to enable learners to incorporate the new knowledge into their existing knowledge. When learners feel that they already know some of the material to be taught, then their existing experience can be activated by an appropriate opportunity to demonstrate what they already know. This activity can be used to help direct students to the yet to be learned new material and thus result in more efficient instruction. Requiring students to complete a pretest of the material to be taught when they don’t feel that they know the material is frustrating and not productive in activating prior experience. A simple recall of information is seldom effective as an activating experience.
Learning is facilitated when the demonstration is consistent with the learning goal.
Learning is facilitated when learners are provided appropriate learner guidance including some of the following: (a) learners are directed to relevant information, (b) multiple representations are used for the demonstrations, or (c) multiple demonstrations are explicitly compared.
Learning is facilitated when media plays a relevant instructional role.
Knowledge to be learned exists at two levels: the general-level and
the specific-level. Too often information is presented at the general
level rather than at the specific level of examples. Learning is best
when students are shown (examples) rather than told (generalities).
Merrill (1994, 1997) identifies the knowledge structure, presentation, practice, and learner guidance for each of these different kinds of learning outcomes that are consistent with this kind of learning. Learning is facilitated when the information is consistent with the learning goal. Instructional consistency was stressed by Gagné (1965, 1985) and elaborated by Merrill (1994). van Merriënboer (1997) has extended this work in the context of problem-based instruction.
The consistency criterion should be applied first. If demonstrations are inconsistent then it doesn't matter if there is learner guidance or if the media is relevant. One role of instruction is to provide appropriate learner guidance to facilitate learning. One form of guidance is to focus students’ attention on relevant information. Early in an instructional presentation this attention focusing function facilitates knowledge acquisition. However, as the instruction progresses this information focusing role should be faded and students expected to attend to and focus their own attention on the relevant aspects of the information. Learning is facilitated when learners are directed to important information and when this direction is gradually faded (Andre, 1997).
Another form of guidance is to provide learners with multiple representations of the ideas being taught and the demonstration being provided. When learners are explicitly directed to compare different viewpoints they are forced to tune their mental models to provide a broader perspective.
RESEARCH AND APPLICATION
RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESIS
1. Learning from a given instructional program will be facilitated in
direct proportion to the implementation of first principles of instruction.
CONSTRUCTS / VARIABLES
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