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The core idea of Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction is that learning is promoted when learners engage in problem-centred learning in which component skills are taught in the context of a simple-to-complex progression of whole real-world problems. Merrill’s focus on problem-centred instruction is closely related to (and influenced by) the 4C/ID instructional design model advocated by van Merriënboer and Kirschner and to Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory.

Topic-centred vs Problem-centred learning

A problem-centred learning approach is not common in the design of learning in UK higher education where the most common design approach is based on a sequence of topics. Wiggins and McTighe (2011), advocate a similar approach to Merrill which they term ‘backwards design’: “…we must design backwards from complex long-term performance where content is used, not from discrete topics or skills where content need only be recalled. Such performance lies at the heart of genuine expertise.”

A topic-centred strategy has two main limitations: firstly learners may have partially forgotten critical information presented and demonstrated in early topics before having the opportunity to apply it in the context of a whole problem. Secondly, learners may not see the relevance of a specific topic or skill because they are unfamiliar with the whole problem. For Merrill, a problem centred-learning approach aims to help learners see the relevance of each skill and to have the opportunity to apply these skills to a whole problem as they progress through the teaching. In a traditional curriculum sequence, it is still common for a single assessment to occur at the end of a module, which gives no time for adequate feedback to learners to help them improve their work.

A problem-centred learning strategy has several advantages over the more traditional topic based sequence as it:

  1. Helps learners to see the relationships between skills.
  2. Demonstrates the component skills in the context of different problems.
  3. Provides multiple opportunities for learners to apply component skills.
  4. Provides multiple opportunities for learners to receive feedback on their application of the component skills.
  5. Provides an opportunity for learners to revise their work.

Problem-solving events

Merrill uses the term ‘problem’ to refer to both complex problems to be solved and complex tasks to be executed. He suggests identifying a series of progressively more complex mini problems or tasks which make up a whole complex problem or task. Learners should receive coaching which is gradually removed as they become more proficient.

A problem-solving event is defined as a step and the condition it changes. Both steps and conditions have properties. A set of changed conditions bring about a consequence. The diagram below shows a set of three problem-solving events which together make up a whole problem:

A problem-centred learning approach where problem-solving events make up a whole problem

Whole problems

When teaching whole problems Merrill recommends three strategies:

  1. A demonstration of a specific instance of the whole problem which describes and shows (a) the steps which lead to each of the conditions, (b) the conditions which lead to the consequence and (c) the consequence or solution or correct execution.
  2. Teaching each problem-solving event or component skill in a way which (a) describes and shows the execution of the steps and (b) describes and shows the conditions.
  3. An opportunity for learners to engage with problem-solving events which are part of a whole problem or task and requires them to (a) identify steps and conditions and (b) execute steps and identify conditions (know whether the step was successful).

In order to execute a step, learners must first be able to identify an effective execution of the step when they see it. If there are several ways of executing a step then learners need to be able to identify which execution of the step is the most effective. Learners also need to be able to correctly recognise any change in the condition after the step has been executed.

Learners should be able to predict a consequence from a set of conditions for instances of the problem, find faulted conditions or steps for unanticipated consequences and execute all of the steps for instances of the whole problem. When conditions are inadequate or missing learners have to recognise that they need to execute the appropriate steps that either modify the inadequate conditions or supply the missing conditions required for the problem solution or task completion. Therefore, problem-solving requires a combination of at least three different component skills: conceptual, procedural, and principles. Some conditions also require the acquisition of facts and part-whole relationships component skills.

A Problem-centred learning strategy

A problem-centred learning strategy involves presenting learners with a series of increasingly difficult problems where the teaching of component skills is distributed across the problem progression. This approach provides learners with frequent feedback which they can use to improve their work. It also teaches component skills in the context of a progression of problems with different component skills distributed across the problems.

  1. Show learners a simple whole problem or task and an overview of the solution or execution. This provides context for learners, shows them what skills they will be acquiring and helps make the relationship between learning outcomes clearer.
  2. Demonstrate each integral component skill and explain how it contributes to the problem solution or task execution.
  3. Show learners a second more complex whole problem.
  4. Give learners the opportunity to apply previously learned component skills to solve this problem.
  5. Demonstrate any new component skills and explain how they contribute to the problem solution or task execution.
  6. Repeat the explanation, demonstration, application cycle for subsequent problems until all elements of all component skills have been demonstrated and applied.
  7. Finally, learners are asked to independently complete a new whole problem.

Next in this series: Merrill’s Pebble-in-the-pond instructional design model

A summary of Merrill’s Pebble-in-the-pond instructional design model which uses a problem-centred, iterative prototyping approach.

References

Merrill, M. D. (2012). First Principles of Instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Reigeluth, C. (n.d.). Elaboration Theory. Retrieved 7 March 2019, from InstructionalDesign.org website: https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/elaboration-theory/

van Merriënboer, J. J. G. V., & Kirschner, P. A. (2018). 4CID.org – About 4C/ID. Retrieved 6 August 2019, from Four-Component Instructional Design (4C/ID) website: https://sites.google.com/view/4cid/about-4cid

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2011). The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units. Alexandria, United States: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

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Merrill uses the term ‘what-happens’ component skill to refer to the teaching of principles. I will use the term ‘teaching of principles’ component skill. He defines a principle as “an explanation of why things happen in the world” (Merrill, 1983). A principle describes a relation between concepts which can often be represented by if-then propositions or rules: If the conditions are true, then a consequence follows. The content for the acquisition of facts, part-whole relationships and conceptual knowledge component skills describes the environment, however, the content and activities for the teaching of principles component skill provides ways for learners to act on or modify their environment. Learners can be asked to predict a consequence from a set of conditions or to find faulted conditions for an unexpected consequence. This component skill is most appropriate when the content involves a process to be learned. For example, when a set of conditions leads to a specific consequence; when the conditions change, the consequence changes. A change in a condition or multiple conditions can be a naturally occurring event or can be an event caused by an action taken by the learner.

A teaching of principles component skill has four content elements:

  1. A specific situation to which a process applies (the problem)
  2. The name of the process
  3. A set of conditions that should lead to the consequence
  4. A consequence resulting from the conditions

A condition is a property of a situation that can hold different values. A consequence is a property of a situation that changes when there is a change in the conditions. A process is a change in a consequence as a result of changes in the conditions of a situation.

Demonstration for the teaching of principles

For teaching of principles component skills, Merrill advises that the demonstration should describe the conditions necessary for each event while simultaneously showing the consequence of the process. Learners should be shown the process in a real or simulated situation. Attention-focusing guidance should direct learners attention to the conditions and the consequence of each event in the process. Multimedia should follow Richard Mayer’s principles for designing pedagogically effective multimedia. If the process is complex, then the demonstration should show a progression of at least three increasingly complex scenarios.

Merrill’s view is that passive demonstrations of a process are less effective than having learners trigger the events by setting a parameter for a condition or executing an action that is a condition for the event to occur. Enabling learners to manipulate the conditions for an event and to see the consequences allows them to explore what happens for different values of the conditions. Effective guidance provides learners with an explanation of any unexpected consequence during their exploration of the process. Ideally, this explanation should identify and explain the conditions that resulted in this adverse consequence.

Demonstration of principles

Practice / Application for the teaching of principles

Learners should be asked to predict the consequence of a process given specific conditions of the device or system. They should be given the opportunity to diagnose an unexpected consequence in a specific situation. Coaching should be provided for instances early in the progression and then gradually withdrawn. Learners should receive intrinsic feedback by being able to confirm their prediction or diagnosis by triggering the process and observing the consequence of the execution. Ask learners to predict or diagnose a series of at least three increasingly complex problems. An alternative application activity is to present learners with a correct or flawed consequence for a specific un-encountered situation and ask them to identify the condition or conditions that were met or not met that resulted in the observed consequence.

Practice application of principles.

Effective strategies for the teaching of principles

Merrill suggests the following instructional strategies:

Demonstration

Enable learners to set different values for the conditions and to observe the effect on the consequence.

Application for the teaching of principles

  1. Given a set of un-encountered conditions, asks learners to predict the consequence by selecting hypotheses
  2. Given an expected consequence ask learners to identify condition or conditions that were met that resulted in the observed consequence
  3. Given an unexpected consequence and asked to identify the missing or flawed conditions responsible for the consequence

Teaching of principles example: Fluid pressure in physics

The simulation below is from the PhET project (the acronym originally came from Physics Education Technology, but it is now known as PhET as their interactive simulations evolved to cover a range of maths and science subjects). PhET also provides learning and teaching resources to be used alongside their simulations. This fluid pressure example is aimed at secondary/high school-aged learners.

It is worth noting that PhET’s pedagogic approach seems to be based primarily on enquiry/discovery learning whereas Merrill’s approach is generally based more on explicit/direct instruction. The PhET resources do not provide a demonstration, perhaps assuming that teachers will provide this as part of their teaching process. Merrill advises providing directions for interacting with the experiential environment and also starting with a demonstration to introduce learners to the principle.

Learning outcomes

  1. Investigate how pressure changes in air and water
  2. Discover how you can change the pressure
  3. Predict pressure in a variety of situations

Learner activities (extract only)

  1. Explore the simulation to find out how pressure changes in air and water
  2. Describe your findings and include specific data from your explorations to support your ideas
  3. Test your ideas by predicting what the air pressure would be two meters above sea level and two meters underwater

Teaching of principles example: Depth of field in photography

What if there isn’t an open-source simulation available which meets your learning outcomes and you don’t have the same resources as the PhET project? In First Principles of Instruction (2012), Merrill shared a lower fidelity, less interactive, template example which he developed as a prototype using PowerPoint and macros. He also provided a specific example which explained depth-of-field in photography. I have developed a similar example using H5P.

Learning outcomes

  1. Define the terms aperture and depth of field
  2. Identify photographs which use a low f stop
  3. Identify photographs which use a high f stop

Demonstration

Enable learners to set different f stop values (vary the condition) and to observe the effect on the consequence:

A post-demonstration summary can be used to help ensure that learners inferred the correct relationship among conditions and consequence:

Application / Practice

  • Given a set of un-encountered conditions, asks learners to predict the consequence by selecting hypotheses
  • Given an expected consequence ask learners to identify condition or conditions that were met that resulted in the observed consequence

More complex simulations would have more conditions, therefore learners could be given an unexpected consequence and asked to identify the missing or flawed conditions responsible for the consequence. For example, if learners are being taught about photographic exposure this involves several conditions (aperture setting, shutter speed and the ISO setting).

Next in this series: Problem centred learning

A summary of Merrill’s problem centred learning strategy where skills are taught in a simple-to-complex progression of real-world whole problems.

References

Mayer, R. (2016). Principles of Multimedia Learning. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from Center for Teaching and Learning | Learning House Inc. website: https://ctl.learninghouse.com/principles-of-multimedia-learning/

Merrill, M. D. (2012). First Principles of Instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

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Merrill uses the term how-to component skill to refer to the teaching of procedures. I will use the term procedural knowledge component skill. He defines a procedure as an “Ordered sequence of steps necessary to accomplish some goal, solve a particular class of problems, to produce some product” (Merrill, 1983). A procedural knowledge component skill provides ways for learners to act on their environment. This component skill is necessary when the subject matter specifies a sequence of activities which learners must carry out in order to accomplish a specific goal or to bring about some consequence. The learning content may be objects, symbols or social events:

  • Object procedural skills: how to operate a microscope
  • Symbol manipulation tasks: how to multiply numbers in a spreadsheet application
  • Social events: how to sell a specific product

A procedural knowledge component skill has seven content elements:

  1. An object or situation to be modified by the procedure (the task)
  2. The name of the procedure
  3. A list of the steps or activities for executing the procedure
  4. The sequence for executing the steps
  5. A demonstration of the task illustrating the individual activities or steps required
  6. The consequence of each step
  7. The consequence of completing the whole procedure

Demonstration for procedural knowledge

For procedural knowledge component skills, Merrill advises that it is best to demonstrate a specific instance of the task. The execution of each step should be demonstrated and the consequence of executing each step shown. The defining and ordering properties of each step should be described. Guidance should direct learners’ attention to the name of the step being executed, the action that is taking place, and the consequence of the action.  Multimedia should follow Richard Mayer’s principles for designing pedagogically effective multimedia. If the task is complex, then the demonstration should show a progression of at least three increasingly difficult procedures.

Demonstration

When teaching procedural knowledge skills with the aim of transfer back to the job environment Clark (2003) recommends:

  • Using descriptions of the sequence of actions and decisions necessary for achieving goals which are derived from expert-based cognitive task analysis.
  • Using worked examples (Sweller, 1988).
  • Providing the opportunity for part-whole practice that is scaffolded to reflect the learner’s prior knowledge.
  • Providing a conceptual elaboration of the declarative knowledge base in the form of concepts, processes, and principles that explain why the procedure works.
  • Complex expert procedures should be chunked into segments of seven to nine new (to the learner) steps (to avoid cognitive overload).
  • Practice of parts of a procedure must be followed by “whole task” practice where procedural chunks are gradually assembled into larger “wholes,” and feedback should focus on closing the gap between current and required performance (Druckman & Bjork, 1994).

Application for procedural knowledge

If the task cannot be performed using the actual device or system, then learners should have the opportunity to practice with a simulation of the device or system. The simulation should enable learners to perform the task in a way that is similar to carrying out the procedure with the actual device or system. Functional fidelity, meaning it acts like the real thing, is more important than appearance fidelity, meaning it looks like the real thing. Application, even with a simulation is beneficial for learners as they can immediately see the consequence of the actions taken. It also has the advantage of allowing learners to play with the task to explore what happens when they don’t carry out the correct step.

Learners should be provided with un-encountered real or simulated portrayals of the task. They should be given opportunities to identify new instances of each step and to execute each step. For complex tasks with many steps or difficult steps, application should move from coached practice to an opportunity to perform the whole task without any coaching. Intrinsic feedback, where learners see the consequence of their actions, is most effective, but extrinsic feedback about the appropriateness of a given learner action or set of actions, should also be available. Ask learners to carry out a simple to complex progression for at least three tasks.

Application

Object procedural knowledge example: Production of beer

Learning outcomes:

  1. Recognise and identify key steps needed to produce beer.
  2. Apply the correct series of steps needed to produce beer.
  3. Evaluate the consequence for the whole procedure of making changes to a given step.

Learning events:

  • One presentation (information-centred) learning event: Present the names of the procedural steps, their defining properties and describe the sequence of steps required to complete the whole procedure. (1)
  • One demonstration learning event: Show the execution of each of the steps in an instance of the procedure. (2)
  • Practice/application learning events: learners are required to execute each of the steps (ideally for un-encountered instances of the task). (3)

Presentation (information-centred) and demonstration learning events (1) (2):

Practice/application learning event (3):

Learners can be asked to: identify specific steps, sequence the series of steps, identify the consequence of a specific step, identify how a change in a specific step can have a consequence for the whole procedure.

Symbol manipulation procedural knowledge example: Using Excel

Learning outcomes:

  1. Explain what the basic mathematical operators are and how they may be used in simple spreadsheet formulas.
  2. Carry out spreadsheet procedures using the arithmetic ‘addition’ and ‘multiplication’ operators.
  3. Apply a formula using the addition operator.

Learning events:

  • One presentation (information-centred) learning event: Present the name of the procedures, their defining properties and describe the sequence of steps required to complete the whole procedure. (1)
  • One demonstration learning event: Show the execution of each of the steps in an instance of the procedure. (2)
  • One practice/application learning event: learners are required to execute each of the steps for un-encountered instances of the task. (3)

I have developed just one presentation event, one demonstration event and one application learning event. In a more fully developed real-life application there would be multiple presentation, demonstration and application events involving additional spreadsheet procedures and combining procedures together. Guidance and coaching would be gradually withdrawn as the series of tasks progressed and the level of task difficulty would increase. For a detailed example see Chapter 5 (Instructional Strategies) of First Principles of Instruction (Merrill, 2012).

Presentation (information-centred) and demonstration learning events (1) (2):

Practice/application learning event (3):

NB This is a live Google spreadsheet with open permissions, so potentially more than one person may be editing at any given time. Assuming of course that it isn’t just my cat who reads these blog posts ; )

  1. Using UK £ as the currency enter an amount for Food and an amount for Transportation.
  2. Using the + operator enter the formula to add these two amounts together.
  3. Check your results.

Next in this series: the Principles component skill

In the next post in this series, I will cover the ‘What happens’ or teaching of principles component skill.

References

Clark, R. E. (2003). What works in distance learning: Instructional strategies. In H. F. O’Neil (Ed.), What works in distance learning (pp. 13–31). Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation.

Druckman, D., & Bjork, R. (1994). Learning, Remembering, Believing: Enhancing Human Performance. https://doi.org/10.17226/2303

Mayer, R. (2016). Principles of Multimedia Learning. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from Center for Teaching and Learning | Learning House Inc. website: https://ctl.learninghouse.com/principles-of-multimedia-learning/

Merrill, M. D. (2012). First Principles of Instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Merrill, M.D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates. pp 279–333.

Worked-example effect (Sweller, 1988). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Worked-example_effect

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What is a concept?

In order to understand Merrill’s conceptual knowledge component skill it helps to first be clear about the definition of a concept. The Oxford English dictionary defines a concept as “an idea or mental image which corresponds to some distinct entity or class of entities, or to its essential features.”  For Merrill “almost all words in any language, except proper nouns, are category words called concepts.” Instances within a class can be distinguished from one another by comparing their properties, which are characteristics or attributes that are shared by members of the class.

Layng (2013), states that each instance of a concept shares one or more ‘must have’ or defining properties with all other examples of the concept. ‘Must have’ properties define something as an example of a concept and do not change from example to example. Layng uses the term ‘can have’ properties for additional features which other examples of the concept may or may not have. ‘Can have’ properties describe the many ways examples of a concept can be different. These non-defining properties are variable amongst examples and cannot be used to define the example as an instance of the concept. The non-defining properties need to be systematically varied so that learners have opportunities to practice responding to the critical defining properties among a wide range of different-looking instances. For learners to securely understand a concept, they must be able to distinguish examples of the concept from very similar non-examples which lack one or more of the defining ‘must have’ properties.

Superordinate, coordinate and subordinate concepts

Merrill, Tennyson, & Posey (1992), describe how concepts can be structured according to superordinate, coordinate and subordinate relationships to one another. Conceptual content often involves a set of concept classes which are called coordinate classes, rather than a single conceptual class. Every member of a coordinate class shares one or more properties of the same superordinate concept class. However, instances within each coordinate class also have varying properties which determine class membership.

Biggs and Tang (2011), offer a useful insight into how students’ deeper understanding of a subject is dependent on understanding these conceptual relationships: “…we should help students to reconceptualize so that what are seen as differences at a subordinate level become related at a superordinate level.”

The conceptual knowledge component skill

Merrill uses the term kind-of component skill to refer to the teaching of concepts. I will use the term conceptual knowledge component skill. This component skill requires learners to identify instances of a class of objects, events, or processes that are characterised by a set of common properties. Conceptual knowledge skills are also important because they are often foundational for procedural and process skills.

The learning content may be object concepts, symbolic concepts or event concepts. Merrill, Tennyson, & Posey (1992), offer the following definitions:

  • Object concepts exist in time and space and can easily be represented by drawings, photographs, models, or the object itself (for example a chair, a dog, or a castle).
  • Symbolic concepts consist of particular kinds of words, numbers, marks and signifiers that represent or describe objects, events or their relationships (for example a verb, a fraction, or an equation).
  • Event concepts are interactions of objects or people in a particular way and in a particular period of time ) (for example acceleration, photosynthesis, or the communication skill of paraphrasing).

A conceptual knowledge component skill has three content elements:

  1. The name of the class.
  2. A definition, which is a list of discriminating properties and their associated values which determine whether an instance is a member of a class.
  3. A set of examples from the class of objects, symbols, or events being taught, including a portrayal or description showing the values of the discriminating properties.

Presentation and demonstration for conceptual knowledge

The presentation should tell learners the name of the class and define the discriminating properties which determine class membership. The class definition should only include properties which are used for discrimination. Other properties can be described but the presentation should clearly state which properties and values are required to define members of the class. The demonstration should show learners both matched examples and non-examples of the class.

A matched example is an example of an instance which is a member of a specific class shown next to a counterexample of an instance which is not a member of that class. Merrill defines a non-example as an instance from a class of objects, events, or symbols which has enough similarities to an instance in the target class to cause confusion. A well-designed demonstration learning event helps learners to discriminate whether any given instance belongs in a class or not. The examples used should clearly illustrate each of the defining properties of the class. The class definition and the demonstration of the instances should occur simultaneously, rather than sequentially to avoid the split-attention effect.

Guidance should focus learners’ attention on the discriminating properties which define whether an instance is a member of a class or not. It should also show matched examples among classes. Multimedia should follow Richard Mayer’s principles for designing pedagogically effective multimedia. A divergent set of examples should be used with at least three examples from each category. The examples and non-examples should become increasingly difficult for learners to identify.

Presentation and demonstration of concepts

Practice / Application for conceptual knowledge

Learners should be given practice opportunities to classify non-examples and un-encountered examples of the class. An un-encountered example is a new example which is different from those examples used during the demonstration learning event. Using the same examples for both application and demonstration would be ineffective because learners would just be remembering demonstrated examples rather than practising the ability to apply the defining properties. The goal of this practice is to help learners to transfer their understanding to new situations or new instances.

Learners should be given the opportunity to classify a divergent set of examples. They should receive coaching on early items in order to focus their attention on discriminating properties but coaching should be faded out for later items. They should also receive corrective feedback which focuses their attention on discriminating properties which determine class membership. Learners should be asked to classify a series of three or more divergent examples. Ideally, learners should be asked to explain how they discriminated between different instances.

Practice / application for the concept component skill

Object concepts example for conceptual knowledge

Learning outcome: To be able to classify un-encountered instances of objects as belonging to the class of chairs.

Learning events:

  • One presentation (information-centred) learning event: Present the concept definition to the learners. (1)
  • Three demonstration learning events showing examples and non-examples. (2) (3) (4)
  • One practice/application learning event where learners are required to classify three or more un-encountered examples. (5)

This example is based on an example from Layng (2013). To teach a concept successfully we need to identify:

  • The ‘must have’ or defining properties which are shared by each instance or example of the concept.
  • The ‘can have’ or variable properties which are not shared by all instances of a conceptual class.

One presentation (information-centred) learning event (1):

Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Course Presentation

Three demonstration learning events showing examples and non-examples (2) (3) (4):

Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Course Presentation

(5) One practice/application learning event (5):

  • Merrill advises providing coaching for at least one of the practice learning events.
  • Ideally, feedback should be corrective or intrinsic rather than just right/wrong.
  • If corrective feedback is used, then it should show and explain specific illustrations of each of the key properties.
  • If intrinsic feedback is used then it should clearly demonstrate the consequences of the actions taken during the practice learning event.


Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Find the Hotspot

Next in this series: the Procedural knowledge component skill

In the next post in this series, I will cover the Procedural knowledge component skill.

References

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Layng, T.V. (2013): Understanding Concepts: Implications for Science Teaching. Retrieved 18 April 2019, from http://news.mimio.com/understanding-concepts–implications-for-science-teaching

Malamed, C. (2010). How to Avoid Designs that Split Attention [Blog]. Retrieved 15 April 2019, from Understanding Graphics website: http://understandinggraphics.com/design/how-to-avoid-split-attention/

Mayer, R. (2016). Principles of Multimedia Learning. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from Center for Teaching and Learning | Learning House Inc. website: https://ctl.learninghouse.com/principles-of-multimedia-learning/

Merrill, M. D. (2012). First Principles of Instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Merrill, M. D. (2015). Lesson 8  ‘Matched Example’  Instructional Template. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kUx1WormJ4

Merrill, M. D., Tennyson, R. D., & Posey, L. O. (1992). Teaching Concepts: An Instructional Design Guide. Educational Technology. Retrieved from: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Teaching_Concepts.html?id=MEg_EEHjoOYC&redir_esc=y

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A part-whole relationships component skill is associated with any entity, activity, or process which can be divided into parts. Merrill states that the defining property of this component skill is that “the name, location, and description of the parts to be remembered are associated with a single specific entity, activity, or process and cannot be generalised”. The learner’s goal is to locate, name, or describe a part of some object, event, activity or process.Like an acquisition of facts component skill, a part-whole relationships component skill is usually not the primary goal of a course but most commonly plays a supporting role. It is often prerequisite for the other component skills. For a conceptual component skill knowing the parts may be an essential property of a specific entity, activity, or process. For a procedural component skill, knowing the parts may be necessary to execute a specific step. For a process component skill, knowing the parts may be necessary to identify the adequacy of a condition in a specific process.

Part-whole relationships component skills require four content elements:

  1. An illustration of the whole object or system.
  2. A location indicator for each part.
  3. A name for each part.
  4. Descriptive information associated with each part.

Presentation and demonstration for part-whole relationships

For each part, the presentation should tell learners the part name and information about the part. The demonstration should show the location of each part with respect to the whole, avoid location cues and use chunking. Multimedia should follow Richard Mayer’s principles for designing pedagogically effective multimedia. Learners should be given control over which items to view and how often to view them.

Presentation and demonstration for part-whole relationships

Merrill advises against a passive approach in which a part is highlighted for learners along with the associated information because this may result in learners not fully paying attention to the location. He recommends that learners are asked to select each part in the whole in any order they choose. Once they have selected a part, then the name of the part and the information associated with the part are shown. In this way, they actively associate the location of the part with the name of the part and the information about the part. Learners should be allowed to explore the parts and to select any part they wish as many times as they feel necessary to learn the location, the part name and the associated information.

Location cues

There is a risk that learners will associate the label with the location of the label rather than with the location of the part under consideration. In the example below, two views of the brain are shown. If learners are first presented with only the lateral view they may then associate the label ‘frontal lobe’ with the location to the left of this specific brain diagram, rather than with the frontal lobe part itself. If learners are subsequently shown a variation of the diagram (for example the superior view) where the parts are located in different places, then they may not be able to locate the parts:

Lateral and superior views of the brain

One way of preventing these location cues is to present all of the labels in the same location on the screen while highlighting the part under consideration:

Function of the parietal lobe

Chunking

If there are a large number of parts, then this can overload learners’ working memory, therefore Merrill recommends that chunks of parts are used where chunk contains seven or fewer parts. I assume here (as Merrill doesn’t cite a source) that this is a reference to the work of Miller (1956 ), who speculated that people can remember about seven chunks in working memory tasks. However, later work by Cowan (2001), based on actual research, found that the average human adult can only keep four items in working memory. Cowan’s work also found that these four chunks can only be familiar or simple information (as opposed to four new complex concepts). Merrill advocates that learners should be presented with a chunk of the parts and then allowed to practice. The next chunk of parts should then be presented and learners should be allowed to practice this second chunk but it should also include items from the first chunk as this spaced retrieval builds deeper long term knowledge.

Practice / Application for part-whole relationships

Learners should be given practice opportunities to locate, and name or describe each part:

  • Given the location of a part identify its name.
  • Given the name of a part identify its location with respect to the whole.
  • Given the location of a part, recognise some information about the part.
  • Given information about a part identify its location with respect to the whole.

Learners should be given corrective feedback for both correct and incorrect responses, the parts should be shown in random order (to help prevent learners from memorising a sequence), location cues should be avoided and learners should have multiple opportunities to identify each part.

Practice and application for part-whole relationships

Part-whole relationships example: Regions of the brain

This example uses five instructional events:

  • A Presentation (Information-centred / Demonstration) teaching event. (1)
  • Four Practice / Application learning events. (2) (3) (4) (5)
  1. Learn about the different regions of the brain and their functions.

Learn the names and functions of the different regions of the brain and what the consequences are if a region is damaged or injured:

Learning design and development notes

Development: H5P Image Hotspots

  1. Given the location of a part identify its name.

Identify each of the six highlighted regions:

Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Quiz (Question Set)

Learning design:

  • Questions manually sequenced to a random order.
  • Answer options randomised.
  • Hints enabled on earlier questions but then phased out as learners become more proficient.
  • A meta-analysis indicates that three answer options are optimal. (Rodriguez, 2005).
  • Blake Harvard has an excellent summary of the recent cognitive research on designing MCQs on his Effortful Educator blog (Harvard, 2018).
  1. Given the name of a part identify its location with respect to the whole.

Answer the following question:

Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Find the Hotspot

  1. Given the location of a part, recognise some information about the part.

What is the function of x region of the brain? If y region had suffered damage or injury which of these consequences might you expect to see? Answer the following four questions:

Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Quiz (Question Set)

  1. Given information about a part identify its location with respect to the whole.

Select the region which is responsible for x function. Answer the following question:

Select the region which may be damaged or injured if an individual has been diagnosed with x disease or y injury. Answer the following question:

Learning design and development notes

Development: Technology used: H5P Find the Hotspot

Next in this series: the Conceptual component skill

In the next post in this series, I will cover the Conceptual knowledge component skill.

References

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(1), 87–114. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X01003922

Harvard, B. (2018, September 26). Writing A Better Multiple-Choice Question: What Does Research Indicate? – The Effortful Educator [Blog]. Retrieved 12 April 2019, from The Effortful Educator website: https://theeffortfuleducator.com/2018/09/26/wabmcq/

Mayer, R. (2016). Principles of Multimedia Learning. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from Center for Teaching and Learning | Learning House Inc. website: https://ctl.learninghouse.com/principles-of-multimedia-learning/

Merrill, M.D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates. pp 279–333.

Merrill, M. D. (2012). First Principles of Instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Miller, G. A. (1956 ). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81–97. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0043158

Rodriguez, M. C. (2005). Three Options Are Optimal for Multiple-Choice Items: A Meta-Analysis of 80 Years of Research. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 24(2), 3–13. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-3992.2005.00006.x

Smith, M. & Weinstein Y. (2016). Learn how to Study Using… Retrieval Practice. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/6/23-1

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In my previous post, I provided an overview of Merrill’s Component Display Theory which is a micro level instructional design theory setting out instructional strategies for achieving any cognitive domain objective (Merrill, 1983). Information-about or acquisition of facts is the first component skill described by the theory.

Merrill states that the defining property of an acquisition of facts component skill is that “the information is associated with a specific single entity, activity or process and cannot be generalised”. The learner’s goal for this skill is to remember and identify facts associated with a specific entity, activity, or process. In most cases, an acquisition of facts learning event is a component skill for a more complex problem or task. It is often prerequisite for the other component skills; for a conceptual component skill, learners need to use factual information to identify instances from conceptual classes. For a procedural component skill, knowing facts may be necessary to execute a specific step. For a process component skill, knowing facts may be necessary to decide the adequacy of a condition in a specific process.

An acquisition of facts component skill requires two content elements:

  1. The name of the information.
  2. The facts associated with the name and any graphical information associated with the name.

Merrill’s example for this component skill in First Principles of Instruction (2012) included several detailed paragraphs about each item of information. However, research by Harp & Mayer (1997 ) termed this kind of additional information as ‘seductive text’ and they found a detrimental effect on learning. More recent research has produced similar findings; Park, Flowerday, & Brünken (2015 ) and Daley & Rawson, (2018 ). As this research is sitting behind a paywall, you may find Connie Malamed’s excellent summary on the research into seductive details useful.

Presentation for acquisition of facts

The name and associated facts provide information that learners are expected to remember about a given entity, activity, or process. The presentation should offer guidance which directs learners’ attention to key properties, differences and relationships. Multimedia should follow Richard Mayer’s principles for designing pedagogically effective multimedia. Learners should be given control over which items to view and how often to view them.

Presentation attributes

Practice / Application for acquisition of facts

Learners should be given the opportunity to practice their recognition and recall of information. Practice interactions are most commonly achieved using multiple-choice, matching, or short-answer questions. Sequence cues should be avoided, learners should be given corrective feedback and as many opportunities to practice as they need to achieve fluent mastery of the information.

Practice attributes

Acquisition of facts example: Renowned physicists

The examples below were all developed using H5P. If you are interested in the reasoning behind this decision, then read my analysis of the different software tools for creating interactive digital content.

This example uses four instructional events:

  • A Presentation (Information-centred) teaching event which allows learners to examine the information about each person/item for as long as they wish to and to view the content as many times as they need to.
  • Three Practice / Application learning events using Questioning instructional interactions. In a more developed learning sequence these events would occur in random order throughout the unit of learning.

Presentation (Information-centred) teaching event

Tell learners:

  1. The name of the information (any specific entity, activity, or process).
  2. The facts associated with the name.
  3. Any graphical information associated with the name.

Three Practice / Application learning events

  1. Give learners the name then ask them to recognise the picture:
  1. Give learners the name then ask them to recognise or recall the description:
  1. Give learners facts, or a description, then ask them to recognise or recall the name associated with the information:

Next in this series: the Part-whole relationships component skill

In the next post in this series, I will cover the Part-whole relationships component skill.

References

Clark, D. (2018.). Donald Clark Plan B: Why is online learning ‘all fur coat and no knickers’? Media rich is not mind rich. Retrieved 1 April 2019, from Plan B website: http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2018/03/why-is-online-learning-all-fur-coat-and.html

Daley, N., & Rawson, K. A. (2018 ). Elaborations in Expository Text Impose a Substantial Time Cost but Do Not Enhance Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-018-9451-9

Harp, S. F., & Mayer, R. E. (1997 ). The role of interest in learning from scientific text and illustrations: On the distinction between emotional interest and cognitive interest. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 92–102. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.89.1.92

Malamed, C. (2017). Watch Out For Those Seductive Details. Retrieved 13 December 2018, from http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/seductive-details-and-learning/

Mayer, R. (2016). Principles of Multimedia Learning. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from Center for Teaching and Learning | Learning House Inc. website: https://ctl.learninghouse.com/principles-of-multimedia-learning/

Merrill, M.D. (1983). Component Display Theory. In C. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates. pp 279–333.

Merrill, M. D. (2012). First Principles of Instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Park, B., Flowerday, T., & Brünken, R. (2015 ). Cognitive and affective effects of seductive details in multimedia learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 44, 267–278. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.10.061

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