Abstract 1

Merrill, M. David "First Principles of Instruction" Presented at AECT Denver October 28, 2000

"First Principles of Instruction" by M. David Merrill looks at a variety of design models. He poses the questions of whether they have equal value and do they have fundamental underlying principles in common. This is a preliminary report of findings, based on ongoing research, to identify first principles.

Merrill's purpose is to identify prescriptions for instructional design associated with these principles. He initially makes a differentiation between practice ("specific instructional activity"), program ("an approach consisting of a set of prescribed practices"), and principle ("a relationship that is always true under appropriate conditions regardless of program or practice.")

Merrill utilizes the premise that there are fundamental principles for instructional design. He then formulates two hypotheses.

  1. Learning from a given instructional program will be facilitated in direct proportion to the implementation of first principles.
  2. Learning from a given instructional program will be facilitated in direct proportion to the degree that first principles are explicitly implemented rather than haphazardly implemented.
Merrill then describes the five activities he underwent to attempt to identify the first principles. This paper details the fifth activity-"identify prescriptions for instructional design associated with these primciples." The principles in the paper are prescriptive as opposed to principles of learning.

Merrill looked at four instructional phases emphasizing problem based learning and placed the five of them at the top level of instructional design prescriptions. These five he has identified as: Problem-solving real-world problems Activation-new knowledge/skills builds on existing knowledge Demonstration-new knowledge/skills is demonstrated to the learner Application-new knowledge/skills is applied by the learner Integration-new knowledge/skills is integrated into the learner's world He then looked at Vanderbilt Learning Technology Center's Star Legacy which involves all five components of the First Principles. He also looked at McCarthy's 4-Mat and Andre's Instructional Episode both of which have slightly different ways of approaching instructional design.

Merrill then proceeds to elaborate the five phases and suggest specific prescriptions.

Activation Demonstration Application Integration

In the next section Merrill performs a brief analysis of five different instructional theories and compared them to his initial findings. To this point the author has found that all of the models he evaluated incorporate some of the principles although none include all of them. Some include other principles however none utilize any principles contrary to the stated ones. He also found that vocabulary used to describe the theories and the implementation of the theories varies greatly.

In conclusion after looking at the various models the author has identified first principles that are similar regardless of theory. A preliminary survey of data seems to indicate that the more of these first principles included in a model then the greater quality and amount of learning occurs. The author also qualifies his results by stating that more research is necessary.

Cheryl Briggs
September 14, 2001