Share or read later
5 minute read

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 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 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 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

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 skills 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 skills 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

Share or read later
Share or read later
6 minute read

What is 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 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

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

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

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

Share or read later
Share or read later
6 minute read

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 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

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

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.

Part of practice learning events

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

Share or read later
Share or read later
4 minute read

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

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

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

Examples: 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

Share or read later
Share or read later
3 minute read

What are Component Skills?

In Merrill’s view, the teaching of most subject matter content involves a combination of some fundamental types of knowledge and skill. When Merrill uses the word skill he is referring to a combination of both knowledge and skill. Building on the work of Gagné (1985), he defines a component skill as “a combination of knowledge and skill required to solve a complex problem or do a complex task.” Merrill’s use of the word skill to refer to a combination of both knowledge and skill is also addressed by the recent work of ED Hirsch who argues that most skills are domain specific: “there are few all-purpose, free-floating skills. Skills are dependent on specific knowledge.”

As these fundamental skills rarely occur in isolation, Merrill uses the term ‘component skills’ to indicate that they work together as components of a whole problem. Learners need to acquire these component skills in order to carry out tasks or solve problems. In First Principles of Instruction (2012) Merrill further refined these ideas which were first published in 1983 as Component display theory (CDT). CDT is an instructional design theory which focuses at a micro level on the design of instruction by providing instructional strategies for achieving any cognitive domain objective (Merrill, 1983).

The five Component Skills

Merrill identifies five types of component skill which he believes can be used to describe learning content in a way that cuts across all domains of knowledge: (1) Information-about (Acquisition of facts), (2) Part-of (Part-whole relationships), (3) Kind-of (Concepts), (4) How-to (Procedures) and (5) What-happens (Principles or Processes). These different types of skill are components of all complex problems or tasks. Merrill also sets out instructional strategies which he suggests are effective for helping learners to acquire these specific types of knowledge and skill.

Component skills are taught using different combinations of information provision elements, demonstrations, questioning elements and application elements (such as recognising a new portrayal, carrying out a step in a procedure, predicting a consequence or finding a faulted condition in a process). The factual information, the demonstration and the application tasks for each of the component skills must be consistent with the skill goals.

General information and specific portrayals

The subject matter content to be learned can be represented in two ways: general and specific. Merrill uses the term information to describe general content elements which consist of “a description of the parts, properties, steps, conditions, or consequences for a class of objects, events, or processes” which apply to many cases or situations. He uses the term portrayal to refer to a specific content element such as “an illustration, representation, vivid description, or graphic image of a specific event, person, or thing”. A portrayal refers to one case or a single situation. Both types of content element are needed for effective learning.

Research on Component Display Theory

In a recently completed PhD (Antwi, 2017) found that “the presentational sequence of CDT’s primary presentation form (i.e., generality + instance + practice) could engage the learner in concept knowledge acquisition”.

Developing interactive examples for the component skills using H5P

Merrill used PowerPoint to create interactive content demonstrating each of the component skills. You can enrol on his Instructure course to view a series of tutorials he developed which show how to create instructional templates in PowerPoint. Some of these templates use macros to capture learner interactions and would, therefore, require quite a high level of technical skill to implement. PowerPoint isn’t a universal medium, it isn’t mobile friendly and it provides no pre-built learning interactions to reduce the technical learning curve. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend using PowerPoint to develop interactive learning content. Instead, I will be using the open source software H5P to develop interactive HTML5 content. If you are interested in the reasoning behind this decision, then read my analysis of the different software tools for creating interactive digital content.

Next in this series: The Acquisition of facts component skill

In the next five posts in this series, I will cover each of the five component skills in more detail, starting with the Acquisition of facts component skill.

For each component skill, I will develop interactive examples using H5P.

References

Antwi, S. (2017). Formative Research on Component Display Theory (Ohio University). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/pg_10?0::NO:10:P10_ACCESSION_NUM:ohiou1510679208927503

Ashman, G. (2016). E D Hirsch Jr’s article on why specific knowledge matters [Blog]. Retrieved 28 March 2019, from Filling the pail website: https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/e-d-hirsch-jrs-article-on-why-specific-knowledge-matters-2/

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.

Share or read later
Share or read later
6 minute read

Merrill defines instructional interactions as “procedures designed to promote learning; they prescribe how the instruction and the learner work together to promote learning”. He describes four different types of instructional interaction (Tell, Show, Ask and Do). His use of these words is intended to make his ideas more accessible, but I find the following terms more precise: Information-centred, Demonstration, Questioning and Application, so will use these instead. These interactions have two purposes: providing content to the learner and having learners respond to the content. I will refer to these as (1) Teaching events and (2) Learner-centred events.

  1. Teaching events

Information-centred and Demonstration interactions are used to teach content. Multiple examples, guidance and multimedia are used to support these interactions.

Instructional interactions: teaching events

Information-centred

Information-centred interactions are content-centred and provide abstract, generic information to learners rather than portrayals (specific examples of the information). Information-centred interactions are the most common type of teaching interaction; examples include face-to-face lectures and presentations and multimedia in the form of textbooks, PowerPoints, screencasts, graphics, animations and videos.

Demonstration

Demonstration teaching interactions are used to show portrayals of the information. Portrayals can be demonstrated in a face-to-face context such as a tutorial, workshop or lab session and also through multimedia in the form of text, PowerPoints, screencasts,  graphics, animations and videos. Interweaving Information-centred interactions with Demonstration interactions is a common and effective teaching sequence.

Multiple examples

A single example or demonstration limits teaching effectiveness. Providing multiple examples or demonstrations gives learners greater opportunities to interact with the content and can help them to develop their mental models. The number of demonstrations and examples required to effectively communicate specific knowledge or skills depends on the complexity of the knowledge or skill and on the prior experience of the learners. As a rule of thumb, Merrill suggests a minimum of three demonstrations or examples because multiple interactions with the content increase the chance of learners’ developing their understanding and skills.

Guidance

Learners should be given guidance (referred to as scaffolding by Bruner), as the relationships between general information and specific task or problem-centred applications may not be clear to learners. Learner guidance provides directions for processing the information and for paying attention to the critical aspects in a specific situation. Guidance can also help learners to relate the new knowledge to previously acquired knowledge or skills and to organising structures provided by the teacher. Merrill highlights four types of guidance:

  1. Attention focusing guidance directs learners’ attention to critical aspects or properties of a specific portrayal or situation. Highlighting the properties which enable learners to discriminate instances of one class from instances of a related class can be done with explanatory text, graphics, animation, highlighting, audio overlay, or other attention-focusing devices. As learners become more proficient they should be given opportunities to independently identify discriminating property values.
  2. Matched examples pair an example with a non-example in order to focus learners attention on discriminating properties.
  3. Divergent examples are where learners are provided with a sequence of examples which differ from each other in significant ways that reflect the range of difference that occurs in the real world.
  4. Range-of-difficulty guidance is where learners are provided with a sequence of examples that vary from those that are easy to solve to those that are difficult to solve.

One important aspect of using guidance effectively is that it must be gradually reduced so that learners do not become reliant on it, but instead begin to carry out tasks and solve problems independently.

Multimedia

Multimedia needs to have a specific, relevant instructional purpose, which exemplifies the content or provides a pedagogic interaction for learners to engage with. Without an instructional purpose, multimedia is reduced to being a superficial, decorative element whose purpose is pseudo-motivational and which is unlikely to contribute to learning and may even interfere with learning. See Richard Mayer’s excellent research on multimedia for more on this.

2) Learner-centred events

Questioning and Application interactions enable learners to respond to and apply the taught content. Multiple tasks or problems, coaching and feedback are used to support these interactions.

Instructional interactions: learner-centred events

Questioning

Questioning interactions are the second most common type of learner-centred interaction and require learners to recognise or recall information from memory. Questioning interactions are most commonly used with application interactions. Questioning can be made more effective through the use of high-quality corrective feedback. In Merrill’s view asking learners to recall presented information (for example by asking multiple-choice, matching or short answer questions) is largely ineffective as our memories are programmed to decay by default. He contends that an information-centred teaching strategy using questioning interactions is unlikely to be effective for improving task performance or solving complex problems.

However, I think the situation is perhaps more nuanced in that there are well-researched, effective strategies for addressing the challenge of retaining and understanding information. For example, both retrieval practice and spaced practice can make effective use of recall questions. Building foundational knowledge is often an essential precursor to subsequently being able to carry out tasks and to solve complex problems.

Application

One effective learning sequence involves a) presenting information to learners, b)  providing specific examples, demonstrations or cases and c) giving practice or application opportunities. Practice opportunities require learners to apply abstract, high-level information to perform tasks or to solve specific problems.  Application interactions always involve portrayals of specific problems. Instead of asking learners about general information, multiple-choice, short-answer, and matching-item formats can ask learners to solve a specific problem or carry out a specific task.

Multiple tasks or problems

Providing a single task or problem has limited effectiveness because if learners engage with just a single task or problem then they have a narrow view of the task or problem and when later faced with a slightly different task or problem from the same category they may not recognise it and may be unable to adjust their solution process and thinking. As a rule of thumb, Merrill advocates giving learners the opportunity to engage with a minimum of three tasks or problems. However, the number of application tasks required for a specific skill depends on both the complexity of the skill and the prior knowledge and experience of the learners. Giving learners the opportunity to engage with a progression of increasingly more complex tasks or problems helps them to develop more refined and flexible mental models.

Coaching

The function of coaching is to support learners in recalling and using high-level information when they are trying to carry out a task or to solve a problem. The teacher is providing some of the cognitive processing needed for an application interaction. Coaching often takes the form of hints. A simple problem may require only a single hint, but complex problems may require a series of increasingly complete hints. Coaching can help learners focus on the most salient properties of the problem or task, activate previous relevant knowledge and provide a mental model to help solve the problem. Just presenting alternative representations is not sufficient. When learners are explicitly directed to compare different aspects or properties they are more likely to adjust their mental models. Learning will be more effective if coaching is provided early during application, but as with guidance, coaching gradually needs to be reduced to develop learners’ self-efficacy.

Feedback

Appropriate feedback is critical to help learners improve their performance. Simply indicating if the outcome is right or wrong has a very limited effect. Corrective feedback, where learners find out the correct response and why it is the correct response is more effective. Effectiveness can be further increased by providing a demonstration to learners of what correct application looks like. Intrinsic feedback which enables learners to see the consequence of their response is also an effective form of feedback.

Next in this series: The five component skills

In the next post in this series, I will be looking at Merrill’s idea of component skills. What is the relationship between knowledge and skills? What instructional strategies are effective for helping learners to acquire skills? What is Component Display Theory?

Key references

Bjork, E., & Bjork, R. (n.d.). Research | Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab [Website]. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/research/

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. (n.d.). Designing e3 (effective, efficient, engaging) instruction [Website]. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from http://www.mdavidmerrill.com/Papers/Designing%20e3_instruction.pdf

Merrill, M.D. (2002). Summary of First Principles. [Website]. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from http://www.mdavidmerrill.com/Papers/firstprinciplesbymerrill.pdf

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

Smith, M. & Weinstein Y. (2016). Learn How to Study Using… Spaced Practice. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/21-1

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

Share or read later